Time To Eat The Dog?

Last week, I had a client ask me if I knew that owning a dog was worse for the environment than owning an SUV. “WHAT?”  I was flabbergasted.  I decided to do some research and found that all the hubbub stems from a book released in 2009 titled, Time to Eat the Dog, The Real Guide to Sustainable Living by Robert and Brenda Vale.

I then found the following blog written by Tim Wheeler for the Baltimore Sun and thought it was definitely worth passing along:

To save the planet, keep your SUV, ditch the pets

Do dogs take a bigger bite out of the Earth than gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles? That’s the contention of a pair of academics in New Zealand, who figure that a medium-sized dog has twice the eco-footprint of a Toyota Land Cruiser.

In Time to Eat the Dog, the real guide to sustainable living, Robert and Brenda Vale calculate that it takes roughly 2.1 acres to produce all the meat and grains consumed by a typical medium-sized pet pooch in a year, compared with about an acre needed to produce the energy burned in the SUV.

The pair, architects who specialize in sustainable living at Victoria University in Wellington, don’t just pick on dogs, but go after all pets as another form of conspicuous consumption that’s taking a toll on the planet. They suggest those who care about living sustainably but just can’t live without a pet consider sharing one with others.  Or, they add, get pets that serve a dual purpose, of companionship and food, like say, hens.

Hmm, our two Corgis better watch out.

For more on this, go here and here.

Obviously, all of this set my wheels turning.  Whether the theories are true or not,  there must be ways that dog owners can do their part for Mother Earth.  The following is a blog about my favorite idea yet:

Composting dog poop!

For a visual guide, watch this video:

City Farmer\’s Dog Waste Composter

By Annemarie Conte, Plenty magazine

My boyfriend had argued for a rottweiler. I lobbied for something that weighed a more manageable 30 pounds and didn’t look like it snacked on children. (Rotties can be very sweet, I know, but I also wasn’t into the uncontrollable drooling.) We compromised and found an adorable, 45-pound mutt at a local shelter. Honey has a yellow lab body with a pit bull head that looks like it was screwed on by a mad scientist. Actually, she is totally adorable and not at all mutant-like. Though nowhere near the scale of a rottweiler’s waste, Honey’s poops are still considerable and, needless to say, unavoidable.

I started getting the newspaper delivered around the same time we got Honey, and because our paperboy insisted on double bagging on even the driest of days, our porch was overrun with yellow plastic sleeves. After a few weeks of grabbing one from the growing pile and using it as a pooper-scooper, I returned home, sunk the knotted-up bag of dog waste in the trash can and felt overwhelmingly guilty.

I was taking a natural product that would eventually degrade on its own and encasing it in plastic. In an airless landfill, my dog’s waste will outlive her. (Hell, it’s gonna outlive me.)

I wish I could get all renegade and tell people to leave the poop where it lies, but a) this isn’t Paris, b) that will make people hate you and hate all dog owners by extension, and c) dog poop is actually really dangerous. Dogs carry E. coli, salmonella, and giardia, among other nasties, so when you just leave the poop there to rot, the rain can wash it into rivers, streams, and oceans (beaches have been closed across the country due to contaminated water caused, in part, by dog doo). So, my moral quandary became: Do I doom it to a landfill or directly contribute to unsafe swimming conditions? My choice was neither, and that’s how I ended up as the crazy lady who composts dog poop.

Turns out there are a few commercial composters out there, like the Doogie Dooley, but since I feel my $89.95 could be better spent on squeaky toys and treats, I decided to make one myself for less than ten bucks. All of the credit goes to Sharon Slack, head gardener of City Farmer at Vancouver’s Compost Demonstration Garden. She’s been doing this for more than twenty years on her own, so I called her up and shamelessly mined her for wisdom after poring over the slide-show instructions on the City Farmer Web site.

Sharon tells me to pick an area with porous soil that doesn’t have a high water table and is at least fifteen feet from my garden, due to the aforementioned contamination issues. Since my basement threatens to flood every time there’s a chance of thunderstorms, I assume I’m okay on the water table front. (And I realize I’m lucky enough to actually have a backyard, unlike some of my apartment-dwelling friends, who refer to their fire escapes as the “lanai,” a la The Golden Girls, to make themselves feel better about their lack of outdoor space.)

1. I choose a flat patch behind the garage, then grab an old, plastic garbage can, cut out the bottom, and drill drainage holes in the sides. While I do that, I try to convince my boyfriend to dig a can-sized hole, but he refuses, saying, “this is your project.”

2. After I’m done digging the hole, I sink the can into it, the top just above ground-level, and add rocks to the bottom for drainage.

3. At last, it’s time to throw in the dootie I’ve stored in 100 percent biodegradable BioBags (get ‘em on the company’s Web site; there are other bags out there that are sold as biodegradable but aren’t).

4. I add in a can of septic starter I bought at a hardware store, then enough water to soak the whole mess. I stick a lid on the thing and ignore it unless I’m depositing a BioBag, an armful of grass clippings, or more septic starter to keep breaking down the mess.

5. In time, Sharon tells me, I should have a nice, rich soil to spread on my non-edibles (go figure–bacteria-laced compost should be limited to decorative plants since it’s not so great for your veggie patch). The whole thing took me less than an hour, which I suspect will make it among the fastest and easiest eco-friendly changes I’ll ever test-drive. What’s the hard part? Teaching Honey to poop directly into the composter.

“Histories are more full of examples of the fidelity of dogs than of friends.”

~Alexander Pope


Stephanie Bennett

Certified Canine Trainer & Behavior Specialist

Professional Dog Training in Houston, TX

GetAlongLittleDoggie.net

323-573-0727

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