I was all set to take my dogs out for quality time in the park, taking full advantage of the snow that’s blanketed the Northeast — but now the dogs will have to wait until I finish this piece, a response to an article in Agence France-Presse identifying man’s best friend as “one of the environment’s worst enemies.” So, once again, pets are a conveniently silent scapegoat for the ills of modern living.
In their unfortunately titled book Time to Eat the Dog: The Real Guide to Sustainable Living, New Zealanders Robert and Brenda Vale — self-described specialists in sustainable living at Victoria University in Wellington — charge that the carbon paw-print of a pet dog is double that of an SUV driving 6,200 miles a year, while a pet cat has an eco claw-print slightly less than driving a Volkswagen Golf for a year. Confirming these results, John Barrett of the Stockholm Environment Institute in York, Britain, said, “Owning a dog really is quite an extravagance.” Pets’ detrimental impact on the environment is not limited to their carbon footprint, the Vales insist; if permitted to roam, predatory dogs and cats devastate wildlife (squirrels, birds, frogs) while their fecal matter spreads bacteria and disease in rivers and streams, killing aquatic life.
What about the tons of chemicals poured into the environment every day by completely non-pet-related individuals and entities? If you happen to live in a city affected by Sunday’s blizzard, such as my home town of New York, you may notice the sidewalks and roads paved with ice-melting crystals. This toxic chemical “salt” may prevent pedestrians from slipping and vehicles from hydroplaning, but it’s corrosive enough to eat away at metal and poses serious health hazards to people, especially children, if ingested or splashed in the eyes. It also harms the environment by burning lawns and plants and contaminating well and drinking water supplies.
People with pets have first-hand and -foot experience with this caustic stuff. Walking a bare-pawed dog on a salted street, you’ll notice the dog pitifully stopping to lift a paw as if he or she just stepped on a nail — that’s how harshly this stuff stings. Yet it’s impossible to avoid, so wintertime dog walks are complicated by strapping on dog booties, if Spot will tolerate them, or following every outing with a thorough paw-washing (and, if the burn is severe enough that Spot keeps licking at his toes, an application of soothing Neem oil).
Interestingly, there is a non-toxic alternative — and it was developed by and for pet lovers. Safe Paw Ice Melter works just as effectively as the toxic stuff. It’s even used at airports, where metal corrosion is not good for business, yet it’s totally safe for children, pets, and the environment. So when dogs and kids are out sledding or making snow angels in the park, they won’t run the risk of exposure to toxic chemicals.