With a population of dogs as pets estimated at more than 83 million, the United States has more dogs than Germany has people. Individually and collectively, the canine and human citizens of America leave a substantially larger carbon footprint than dog-free members of the population. Finding ways to cut down on negative environmental impacts that come with sharing your life and home with furry friends makes sense for you, your pets and your community.
Rescue a Homeless Dog
According to data compiled by the U.S. Humane Society, of the 83.3 million dogs in households in the country in 2012, only 20 percent were adopted from animal shelters. That left about 2.7 million healthy, adoptable shelter dogs and cats to be put down because nobody came forward to offer them homes. Every time someone gives an existing dog a home, it frees up a space for another needy dog, thereby reducing the homeless population at large. The perfect dog might be waiting for you at your local shelter. But even if your heart is set on a purebred, you don't have to order through a breeder. For every breed, the American Kennel Club-recognized parent club provides links to volunteer rescue groups that arrange adoptions.
Make Your Own Dog Food
In addition to the ecological virtues of food that isn't processed, packaged and transported to retail outlets, cooking for your dog guarantees that you know exactly what he's eating. Your vet or a veterinary nutritionist can advise you on balancing food groups. After you've got that down, preparation need not be expensive nor unduly time-consuming. Buy what you need, including meat, in bulk. By using a rice cooker, rice or other carbs such as potatoes cook on the bottom while the heat rises to steam the meat and veggies on the top layer. If your dog is a dainty eater and you worry about toughness, a pressure cooker can tenderize meat in a fraction of the time as traditional stove top cooking.
Get Proactive About Poop Management
People who don't pick up after their pets not only give responsible dog owners a bad rap, they create a public health hazard for other dogs and humans, especially kids. More than 10 million tons of poop are generated by dogs in the U.S. every year, which breaks down to 30,000 tons of foul-smelling feces daily. Buy extra biodegradable poop bags and put them in a prominent place with a "please help yourself" sign. When you see a deposit left by someone else's pooch, pick it up and dispose of it.
Buy Eco-Friendly Dog Products
Dog ownership isn't cheap. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, all told, first-year expenses for a medium-size dog average about $1,580, with much of that going towards pet products. You can reduce your dog's carbon paw print by buying food, treats and chews in bulk rather than prepackaged. For such products as bedding, toys, leashes and collars, pass on synthetic fibers and plastics and opt for cotton, hemp and recycled materials. And look for "green" grooming products such as shampoos, checking the labels to make sure they don't contain ecologically unfriendly ingredients and chemicals.
- CNN Living: Mother Nature Network: Reduce Your Dog's Carbon Pawprint
- On Earth: Susan Freinkel: Material World: The Poop Problem
- Doody Calls: The Real Scoop on Dog Poop
- The Humane Society of the U.S.: Pets by the Numbers
- The Humane Society of the U.S.: Pet Overpopulation
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: Water: Best Management Practices: Pet Waste Management
- American Kennel Club: AKC Rescue Network
- ASPCA: Pet Care Costs
- World Population Statistics: Population of Germany 2014
- Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images