Carbon footprint is a phrase tossed around fairly frequently to get people thinking about the extent of their environmental impact. People aren't the only beings with carbon prints, though. Pets consume plenty, too, leaving carbon pawprints all over the earth. Like people, they eat, have toys, need space, and, occasionally, demand luxuries. Fortunately, the greening of pet ownership is possible. Following are some tips to reduce your dog or cat's carbon footprint to be less clown-sized, even if they won't stop acting like clowns.
Spay or neuter your pet.
More animals in the world mean the use of more resources to feed and care for them. Even if you cannot fathom how your intact pet might meet another intact pet - it happens! The Humane Society of the United States recommends spaying or neutering most pets when as young as eight weeks old. In addition to being green, this prevents crowded, unpleasant conditions in animal shelters.
Adopt a pet from a humane society or rescue organization.
Designer pets are very chic, but there are many lovable and loyal animals in shelters. Not to sound callous, but you can look at pet adoption as a kind of recycling. You benefit by both getting a new furry friend and not supporting a breeder who is creating more pets when there are already so many that need homes.
A bonus is that most humane societies will have animals spayed or neutered when they arrive, so your adopted pet will be doubly green before even reaching your home.
Buy locally made pet food.
This does not mean you will need to start bringing another bag to the Farmers' Market to carry your pet's grocery needs. There are at least three pet food companies making their products in Wisconsin, which reduces the amount of fuel used to transport it to Madison - and supports our state's economy.
Stella & Chewy's dog and cat foods are made in Muskego and contain free-range meat, as well as organic fruit and vegetables. Find it at Bad Dog Frida, Noah's Ark Pet Center, Nutzy Mutz and Crazy Catz, and Tabby & Jack's.
Fromm Family Foods in Mequon makes dry food and treats for cats and dogs using human-grade meat, local eggs and even Wisconsin cheddar cheese. It's available at Mounds, Noah's Ark Pet Center, and Mad Cat.
Companion Natural Pet Food is based in Milwaukee. Its cat and dog food is made of human-grade meat, produce and supplements. Bad Dog Frida and Mad Catz carry this brand locally.
Choose toys wisely.
Teeth and claws tend to make short work of some toys, and discarded toys fill up landfills just like other garbage. To green-up your pet's toy box, shop for more durable products. For dogs, Kong's thick rubber toys withstand the test of sharp canines and are made in the U.S.
Cats may enjoy Kong's soft toy filled with catnip that can be refilled whenever the catnip (itself a renewable resource) loses its potency. Kong products are available at most pet supply stores.
West Paw Designs of Montana makes eco-friendly toys, bones and accessories from recycled plastic bottles. This keeps bottles from reaching landfills, and using the recycled fibers is less energy-intensive than using raw materials. West Paw products are carried locally at Bad Dog Frida, Nutzy Mutz and Crazy Catz, and Mounds.
Decrease pet home energy use.
Heating or cooling your entire house for your pet while you're gone is definitely causing their carbon pawprint to swell. Pets need not suffer while you are away, though. If it's possible to heat or cool only the room your pet hangs out in, do it. Even turning the temperature a few degrees in the green direction, depending on the season, will save energy and money. Your pets likely will not even notice the slight change, especially if they have a warm place to curl up in the winter and plenty of water to cool them down in the summer.
Do you admit to leaving a radio or television on all day to keep your pet company? Doing so is another source of pet-induced energy drain - try finding a fun durable toy for a greener diversion.
Make pet waste earth-friendly.
First things first: If your pet makes a mess, pick it up. Aside from being unsightly, pet waste will eventually become mixed with stormwater runoff and contribute to harmful bacteria counts in our local waters. Madison's lakes need all the help they can get!
Also, use biodegradable pet bags when disposing of the waste. This way, fewer of the plastic bags that take 1,000 years to decompose will end up in landfills. For litter boxes, use a litter material made from sustainable materials. No trees are cut to produce Feline Pine, a litter made from sawdust, a byproduct of timber production. Yesterday's News litter contains post-consumer newsprint. Neither brand contains clumping agents, which are often made from chemicals that may make your cat ill. Both are available at stores around town.
Pet shampoos labeled "certified organic" are helpful to the environment by eliminating the need to grow ingredients with the use of harmful pesticides. This is true for any grooming product - if you have a mini-pet salon in your cupboard, with bottles for conditioning, adding shine or giving massages (pet products do actually exist for all of these activities).
Home cleaning products you use to get rid of smells and accidents can also be earth-friendly. For instance, use biodegradable materials like baking soda to absorb order from cat boxes, instead of conventional chemical-laden room deodorizers.
Keep cats inside.
Cats are excellent hunters and will use their talents on small prey if they are given a chance to roam. The problem with this is that their prey is often songbirds, especially nestlings in the spring. Songbirds are already suffering from habitat loss and environmental toxins. Also, cats are taking away important prey for other wildlife, such as hawks and weasels. Keeping your cat indoors is also better for its longevity. Indoor cats live about three years longer than outdoor cats due to the diseases and hazards (like cars) associated with roaming, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
There are many other ways to green up your pet. Choose products wrapped in less or recyclable packaging, and recycle what pets do use (food tins, for example). What is important is recognizing that, although adorable and blameless, pets do use resources, and you have the power to make environmental decisions on their behalf. If you feel a little nutty considering your pet's environmental impact, know that you are not the only one with green pet ownership in mind.
"People either ask for green products or they don't," says Carmen Alcade, owner of Bad Dog Frida, "but they're thrilled when they find out something is green."
Places to go to help green your pet
Bad Dog Frida
2094 Atwood Ave., Madison, 608-442-6868
Mad Cat (products vary depending on the location)
2623 Monroe St., Madison, 608-204-7447; 1012 Williamson St., Madison, 608-255-4450; 7820 Mineral Point Rd., Madison, 608-833-5800
2110 S Stoughton Rd., Madison, 608-221-0210;
5350 King James Way, Fitchburg, 608-271-1800; 8311 University Ave., Madison, 608-831-3000
Noah's Ark Pet Center
603 N. Sherman Ave., Madison, 608-249-8646
Nutzy Mutz and Crazy Catz
330 W. Lakeside St., Madison, 608-256-3647
Tabby & Jack's
631 Struck St., Madison, 608-316-6483
West Paw Design