Last week, TreeHugger came out with a somewhat controversial article, Worried About The Planet? Avoid That Extra Kid. By and large, I agree with what they had to say. Of course you can’t shame people for the kids they already have, but it underscores the need to have a dialog about family planning and make safe family planning methods affordable or free to women and men alike.
But what about our pets? What are the carbon footprints of our furry, four-legged friends?
People love pets, and that includes me. I have a dog and a cat, both of whom I rescued from the pound. For the sake of being better educated about the carbon footprints of animals, I decided to dive into the numbers. Here’s what I found.
Meet Ham. Ham’s my 3-year-old medium size mix of something or other. According to the authors of ‘Time To Eat The Dog?’, feeding Ham for the duration of his life, say, 12-15 years, will require .84 hectares of land, more than the total ecological footprint of a Vietnamese citizen and almost twice as much as the ecological footprint of driving an SUV 10,000 km.
There’s not much I can do to drive down the carbon footprint of Ham. Dogs aren’t vegan, and though some people try to push the idea that a dog can be fed a vegan diet, it’s not based in reality and you can harm your pet by doing so. Dogs are omnivores and they cannot survive without meat. If having a 100% vegan household is an important thing to you, get a rabbit or another type of herbivore as a pet.
For my existing dog, there’s just about no way to drive down his carbon footprint. For future dogs, I have options.
Adopt a shelter dog.
In the United States, 3.3 million dogs are delivered to animal shelters each year. 670,000 of them will not make it out of the ordeal alive. There are a lot of dogs who are born and have nowhere in particular to be. If you’re thinking of adding a dog to your family, consider looking to your local animal shelters and rescues first.
Avoid pet stores and breeders.
I’d never tell you that you can’t have a special breed of dog, no more than I’d tell you you can’t have another kid. It’s your life; you do you. If you have a very specific reason for adopting a pure bred dog, like requiring a hypoallergenic breed or a breed bred to perform a specific work function, then by all means.
But pet stores tend to carry puppies born at puppy mills, places that imprison adult dogs and force them to breed and give birth, often discarding them when they’re no longer of use. There is no excuse for adopting a pet store puppy unless it’s specifically a rescue dog.
Spay and neuter your dog.
That happy dog you see above was neutered before I adopted him, and it’s for the best. With more than half a million shelter dogs facing euthanasia every year, Ham doesn’t need to be contributing to the surplus population.
There are some who argue it’s inhumane to do so and that animals should be left intact, but I don’t subscribe to that belief. Talk with your vet about the best time to spay or neuter your dog.
Meet Sylvie. She’s old as hell and full of piss and vinegar. She’s loud, demanding, and wakes me up about a thousand times a night. Her favorite hobbies are walking on my face, shitting on the bathroom mat, sleeping, and being on the wrong side of the door.
What were we talking about again?
Oh yeah. Carbon footprints. According to a study conducted at New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington in 2009, a cat has about the same carbon footprint as a car driven for a year. With cats, there are more options to decreasing their ecological impacts than dogs. Though like dogs, cats are not vegan. Do not try to put your cat on a vegan diet. If you can’t handle a meat eating pet, get an herbivore, like a rabbit.
Keep your cat indoors.
What kills the most outdoor birds? Hunting? Oil spills? Wind turbines? None of the above.
Windows. But second to windows are cats. High estimates indicate that cats, both feral and domesticated, result in about 3.7 billion bird deaths a year. Kitty kills a bird and you probably shrug it off. It’s just one bird, right? But there are 75 million cats in the US. If they all kill a bird or two each year, that’ll really add up fast.
Of course, I don’t see Sylvie catching much of anything these days.
Spay and neuter your cats.
I’ve had it happen before. While cat sitting for a friend’s cat who wasn’t spayed, cat gets loose for a couple days, comes back, and pops out 6 kittens after a few weeks. So now the world has 6 more cats when, every year, 860,000 cats are euthanized at animal shelters. My bad, ya’ll.
I found homes for the kittens, but at the end of the day, those kittens have a negative impact. The mother cat should have been spayed and the kittens shouldn’t have been born. Plus I gave one of them to a friend and he turned out to be kind of a dick.
Ignore pet store cat toys.
Every time I see cat toys in the pet store, it just strikes me as a waste of money. A cat will enjoy a cardboard box about as much as they enjoy a cat tree. They’re not hard to please. Or they’re impossible to please. Cats vary widely.
Adopt from shelters and rescues.
The same rules for adopting dogs applies to cats too. Always choose a shelter cat over a pet store cat unless of course you need a specific breed for a specific reason.
Rabbits are awesome. Their poop makes great garden fertilizer, they have unique personalities, and when raised well, they’re pretty relaxed creatures. They also eat a vegetarian diet and can eat some of your food waste like carrot tops, the bases of lettuce and celery, and more.
I had trouble finding data on their overall ecological footprints. Due to the nature of their diet and their (usually) smaller size, I can surmise it’s dramatically less than cats or dogs. But there are still things you need to watch out for.
If you can, don’t buy from a pet store or a feed store.
Rabbits are not as common in animal shelters as cats and dogs, but they still wind up there pretty frequently. If your family wants a pet rabbit, consider keeping an eye on your local animal shelter’s website or look for a local rabbit rescue. Check craigslist and other local postings for anyone looking to rehome their rabbit.
If you have a rabbit and can’t care for it anymore, don’t just leave it somewhere in nature. It will not survive.
Spay and neuter your rabbits.
This tip is often overlooked. Rabbits should be spayed and neutered. Spayed rabbits have a reduced risk of reproductive cancers and neutered males tend to live longer too, as they are less tempted to be aggressive.
Rabbits, domesticated and wild, are prolific breeders. And just as with dogs and cats, there are plenty of rabbits in shelters right now, some some accidental rabbit babies should be avoided at all costs.
Also, and I can’t stress this enough:
So to summarize:
Dogs have a large carbon footprint due to the meat in their diet. Don’t try to make a dog vegan. Spay them, neuter them, and adopt before you buy.
Cats have a smaller carbon footprint, but it’s still high because of the meat in their diet. Don’t try to make a cat vegan. Spay and neuter your cats, don’t let them go outside, and rescue if you can.
Rabbits have the smaller carbon footprint, but some considerations are needed. If having a vegan household is your goal, rabbits are the right pets. Try to rescue if you can and always spay and neuter your pet rabbits.
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