GREEN LIVING COLUMN
ENVIRONMENTALLY RESPONSIBLE PET OWNERSHIP
By Wong Ee Lynn
Some environmentalists claim that the best way to be an environmentally-friendly pet owner is to have no pets at all, because pets consume so much water and food and generate so much more disposable packaging and waste that it will put a strain on the Planet. However, most people would agree that animals bring us joy and happiness and improve our physical and mental health. Here are ways to ensure that you and your beloved animal companion do your part for the environment:
1. Adopt only animals that have been selectively bred to live with humans and depend on humans for care and companionship, such as dogs, cats and rabbits. Do not support the wildlife trade by purchasing exotic animals such as sugar gliders, raccoons, green iguanas and Indian star tortoises.
2. Opt to adopt – Our animal shelters and pounds are full of animals in need of good homes. By adopting from shelters and pounds, you are not only preventing the needless killing of healthy animals, you are playing your part in reducing the numbers of unwanted animals that may end up abandoned. Animal breeders contribute to the problems of pet abandonment and stray overpopulation by bringing more animals into the world when there is already an existing shortage of natural resources and fresh water.
3. Spay or neuter your pet – Pet overpopulation creates social and environmental problems such as noise and faecal pollution. Hungry stray animals scavenge in landfills and waste bins, chase people in their search for food, and contract and transmit diseases. The easiest and best way to end the plight of stray animals is by ensuring that your pet is neutered before he or she has had the chance to reproduce. You will save yourself the agony of trying to find good homes for the offspring, and feeding and caring for more animals than you could afford to.
4. Clean up after your pet – Letting your pet eliminate waste in public areas is antisocial, and could lead to groundwater pollution. There are several eco-friendly ways of disposing of pet waste. Flushing it down the toilet will ensure that your pet’s waste ends up in the sewage treatment plant. Try getting a pet waste composter where available. These bins are buried halfway into the ground and then filled with pet waste. From time to time, digester powder and water or activated charcoal is added to help the pet waste break down safely. Burying pet waste in ornamental garden beds (not in your compost bin or vegetable patch!) is an acceptable way of dealing with pet waste. Just ensure that it is away from water sources (lakes, streams, wells, irrigation canals). Dig a hole between 6 inches and 1 foot deep, fill it with pet waste and cover it thoroughly with soil to prevent flies and other disease vectors from being attracted to it. It is advisable
to bury pet waste a little distance apart each time to allow time and space for decomposition. Putting too much pet waste together in a hole may result in the formation of leachate or may attract flies and rodents. You can bury pet waste together with newspaper scraps, biodegradable litter, garden waste, lawn trimmings, sand and/or vegetable waste.
5. Go organic – If you could afford it, make or buy organic food, treats and/or toys for your pets. Organic products are better for the environment because they are produced without chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides, and thus are less likely to pollute water, soil and air or disrupt the ecosystem. In addition, organic products are better for your beloved companion because they contain no artificial colouring, flavouring, phthalates, preservatives or animal by-products from diseased animals.
6. Reuse old items and repurpose them into pet toys – Who says your pet needs plastic knick-knacks to be happy? Cut old t-shirts up and braid or knot them into tug toys, or sew 2 pieces together and stuff them with t-shirt scraps to make cushions and rugs for your pampered furry one. Old shuttlecocks, tennis balls, wine bottle corks, cardboard toilet roll tubes and small (but secure!) containers make great cat toys. Unwanted cardboard boxes of all sizes make great hideaways and cubby holes for cats, puppies and other small animal companions.
7. Use natural cleaning products – Your pet’s nose and paws may be more sensitive than the average human's nose or hands, so make sure you do your pet and the environment a favour by using only natural cleaning agents. Fruit or veggie waste enzyme can remove dirt, and lemon juice helps to deodorise ‘accident’ spots and deter pets from using the same spot as a toilet again. Lemon and orange peel work well as a chemical-free deterrent to stop your cat from climbing up the kitchen counter or scratching the furniture. A drop of multipurpose organic/biodegradable cleaning solution in a pail of water is good enough for cleaning the floor, gutters and kennels/cages. Choose biodegradable soaps and shampoos with natural ingredients.
8. A Friend Is For Life – A companion animal is a long term commitment, and he or she will depend on you for food, shelter, medical care and companionship for his or her entire life, so never treat your pet as a fad or an accessory. We depend on them for love, security and companionship – at the very least, we owe them a better life.