Dog's Life: Home & Garden
Simple strategies for reducing your paw print
Nosing out planet-friendly options when we shop, eat, clean, work and play not only helps preserve our planet for future generations, it makes our environment safer and healthier — for us, our pups and all the other creatures on the planet — right now. So, to inspire better choices, we offer ideas and reminders on greening up indoors and out.At Home
From cleaning with natural substances to building with resource-smart materials, there are many ways to keep a greener, pet-safe home. Start small. Clean with traditional substances, such as beeswax polish, vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice — they’re effective and safe.
Vinegar, one of the oldest (and least expensive) cleaning substances available, is perfect for “green” cleaning. Among its many virtues, it can be used to:
While white vinegar is recommended for cleaning, apple cider vinegar can be your dog’s friend. Use it to soothe hot spots and clean ears.
For more tips on vinegar’s many uses and other cleaning ideas, check out: frugalliving.about.com and earthclinic.com.
Baking soda is an awesome odor-eliminator for more than those strange smells in the fridge. Tackle canine-created aromas in your carpet by sprinkling baking soda on the surface, waiting 15 minutes (or longer for strong smells), then vacuuming. You can do the same with your dog’s bedding. (By the way, running only full loads of dog towels and bedding can save up to 3,400 gallons of water a year.)
Pet accident on a rug or carpet? Soak up as much as you can, wash the area with club soda and let dry. Then, sprinkle with baking soda, wait a bit and vacuum. (Test this technique on an outof- the-way spot to be sure it won’t discolor your carpet.)
Baking soda is also a fantastic dog-grooming helper. See details.
Also, look into incorporating reclaimed materials in your project. You’ll get lots of character and earn good landfill karma.
Did you know that dust has a dirty little secret? Many environmental health and veterinary experts believe that chronic exposure to the synthetic industrial pollutants, such as PFCs and PBDEs used in flameretardants and stain-repellants that end up in house dust, may be at least partially responsible for skyrocketing cancer rates in dogs these days.Dog Do's
Consider feeding your dog organic, natural, locally sourced food — always in ceramic or stainless steel bowls. Avoid plastic, which can leach chemicals.
Seek out safe, planet-friendly toys without preservatives, toxic metals, chemicals or latex that dogs can absorb with they lick and chew.
Skip the car for errands. Train your pup to ride in a cart or basket, and take your bike.
Some portion of the grooming products you use will end up in your dog’s belly and wash into waterways. Use shampoos and conditioners with nontoxic, organic and biodegradable ingredients and free of coloring, preservatives and fragrance. Bonus points for shampoo bars that cut down on plastic waste.
Fight Off Fleas
For a complete breakdown of good, bad and ugly fleaand- tick control methods, go to greenpaws.org and check out NRDC’s GreenPaws fact sheet.In the Garden
Grow your own organic produce in a dog-friendly garden. Planting a garden doesn’t mean excluding your dogs from the yard — instead, include them in your plan. Set aside an area (or areas) for your pup, with shade in the summer and protection from wind, rain or snow in the winter. If your dog is a digger, create a digging pit.
One of the easiest green investments you can make is to grow vegetables, fruit and herbs for you and your dog, organically of course. That means no chemicals — no pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers. Use allnatural compost, and bone up on ingredients, absorption rates and application instructions before applying such products; even organic fertilizers such as manures and fish emulsions can be harmful to your dog.
Plant shrubs and grasses in masses to discourage dogs from entering an area. Raised beds also act as a deterrent to digging or unauthorized “harvesting.”
Avoid cocoa-bean mulches; their chocolaty smell makes them pup catnip, but they contain theobromine, which is toxic for dogs and causes serious gastrointestinal problems.
Create dog zones. Not all fruits and vegetables are safe for dogs to eat. Put a barrier around plants of the nightshade family, including eggplant, tomato and potato; their leaves contain alkaloids that can harm a dog.
Do not use slug or snail bait, even those that purport to be nontoxic, such as Sluggo. Alternatives include setting out a dish with beer in it (snails love the odor and so do dogs — cover the dish so only mollusks can enter); placing copper strips (available at most gardening stores) or pet fur around the base of plants; or scheduling early-morning “snailgathering” forays. (For more snail-defying schemes, visit sustainable-gardening-tips.com/garden-snails.html/.)
Need help with yard work? Enlist your dog. Think of easy chores for her to do, perhaps fetching a small tool, such as a hand trowel. Large breeds can be taught to pull small carts to help move soil, plant trimmings and other garden material (be sure not to overload the cart). Help with digging? Great for dogs who are trained to dig on request; dogs have also been known to help turn the compost!Waste Control
Keep pet waste out of landfills and waterways.
Want to make a dog-loving environmentalist’s heart sink? Collect dog poop in non-degradable plastic and pitch it into the garbage. Or worse, leave it; uncollected waste is not only a source of bacteria, but also may contain chemicals from canine medications that can be washed into local waterways. Luckily, there are other options.
Consider installing an underground pet-waste digester. These devices, such as the Doggy Dooley, work like small septic systems and involve minimum hassle. Find step-by-step instructions for making and installing a DIY version at TheBark.com/green. City dwellers without yards might want to try flushable poop bags, reportedly safe for pipes or septic systems. Once flushed, dog waste is processed along with human waste in your local sewage-treatment facility.
Some municipalities do their part. If you live in a progressive enclave like Cambridge, Mass. (and someday, Gilbert, Ariz.), your dog’s poop might be converted to methane and used as a power source. The Tompkins County off-leash area in Ithaca, N.Y., provides bio bags for collection and a poop-composting program.
Reduce: Avoid products with unnecessary packaging and skip disposable products altogether. The petproducts industry is filled with a disappointing array of convenience items, from food-bowl liners and shrinkwrapped chews to toothbrushes pre-loaded with toothpaste for one-time use.
Think durable. Skip the plastic flea comb that breaks easily and choose a metal comb that will last. Saves money in the long run.
When traveling, carry your dog’s water in your own aluminum or stainless-steel container. Americans use 3.3 million plastic bottles every hour, but recycle only one in five.
Reduce pet overpopulation: Spay or neuter your dog.
Reuse: One man’s trash is one dog’s treasure. For example, take the humble but worn-out yoga mat. It has many uses beyond keeping you from sliding out of position in downward dog. Cut out a square to use as a placemat that will catch splashes and keep dog dishes in place; roll it up as a draft stopper (your old pup will thank you); or slice it to create safety treads for slippery stairs.
Convert old dishtowels into dog toys by tying a knot at the center.
Old inner tubes (and waterproof tape) are all you need to create cheap waterproof dog booties — a reuse idea hunters employed back in the 1970s.
Recycle: Of course you compost or recycle food containers — paper, aluminum and recyclable plastic, but remember to clean them well first. Food contamination of recycled goods is a major contributor to these materials ending up in landfills.
Look for manufacturers of beds, collars and leashes who incorporate second-life materials, such as reprocessed cotton filler or fleece made from recycled plastic bottles.
Seek out companies with proven commitments to recycling packaging materials and waste products on the production end. (A helpful starting point for research is Goodguide.com, which rates the safety, environmental sustainability and sourcing of nearly 150,000 consumer products.)
Collect your dog’s fur and spin it into yarn, then make a sweater — 40 ounces will do the trick. Or felt it and make a dog collar from it. Or just leave it outside for birds to pick up for their nest-building.
“Recycle” a dog: adopt a rescue or shelter pup!
Dog's Life: Home & Garden
1. Take an old plastic garbage can and drill a dozen or so holes in the sides.
When you add poop to the bin, sprinkle in some septic starter (available at hardware stores) and add some water.
“Within 48 hours, the septic-tank starter (which is noncaustic and promotes natural bacterial growth) will have begun its work and you can add more dog doo,” explains Michael Levenston, executive director of the City Farmer program in Vancouver, Canada, from which these instructions are adapted. “You can then begin to add it daily. This waste biodegrades and flows into the subsoil.” (Do NOT use composted dog waste in your garden.)
While burying a garbage can to compost dog waste might seem like overkill if you live near the woods or close to a patch bushes, dealing with dog waste in an environmentally friendly manner is always a good thing.
By the way, if you know someone who lives in a city, the cityfarmer.org website is loaded with all kinds of helpful urban agriculture tips.
Dog's Life: Home & Garden
A fantastic dog-grooming helper
Baking soda is a key ingredient when it comes to grooming.
•Keep your dog brushes clean by soaking them in a small basin in a solution of warm water and 1 teaspoon baking soda. Rinse and air dry.
•Give your dog a dry bath by sprinkling her with baking soda. Rub it in, then brush it out.
•For a wet wash, combine 3 tablespoons baking soda with 1 teaspoon dishwashing liquid and 1 teaspoon baby oil in a spray bottle. Spritz your pets, then wipe them dry.
•For healthy teeth and gums, dip a damp, soft brush in baking soda and gently brush your dog’s pearly whites.
•Maintain your pet’s dental hygiene by rinsing her mouth regularly with a solution of 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon baking soda in 1 cup of warm water.
•If you trim your dog’s toenails and accidentally cut too close and draw blood, dip the affected nail in baking soda, then apply pressure to stop bleeding.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Arizona city considers a street lamp powered by dog waste
Last year, Lisa Wogan blogged about a Cambridge, Mass., artist who created a dog poop-to-methane converter used to fuel a local park lamp. Visitors pick up after their dogs and stick the biodegradable waste bags in the converter to power the light. I happen to think this is an ingenious idea. It puts dog waste to good use, while encouraging people to pick up after their dogs.
Although the idea of poop-powered lights hasn't caught on yet with other cities, Gilbert, Ariz., is the latest town to consider the alternative energy source for street lamps.
The town is currently debating whether to approve a project that would use dog waste collected from the local dog park to power a street lamp, with the option of expanding to other uses later.
Students from Arizona State University are hoping to design and create the converter necessary to power the street lamp. Although a similar machine has already been created, there will be unique challenges in designing one suited to Arizona's climate.
I would love to see more cities embrace this alternative energy source and it's a great way to get students involved in green initiatives with a “real world” project.
I also hope that one day this technology will be accessible for home use. Imagine having a poop-powered porch light!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs trained to find elusive flowers and butterflies
Earlier this year I wrote about dogs trained to find animal droppings for environmental research. More and more canines are being used to help scientists study endangered species and habitat loss. The role of the dog in this type of research is incredible.
The preservation of two species in Oregon can thank a Belgian Sheepdog named Rogue and his highly sensitive nose. Rogue is trained to seek out a rare plant called the Kincaid's lupine. Not only is this plant endangered, but it happens to be the one place where the elusive Fender's blue butterfly lays its eggs.
The one-inch wide butterfly lays one egg at a time, on the back of a Kincaid's lupine leaf. Each egg is no larger than the head of a pin. On top of that, the Kincaid's lupine's peak flowering period is only two weeks long. So as you can imagine, they're near impossible to find.
When Greg Fitzpatrick, Corvallis Land Steward for the Nature Conservatory in Oregon, read about using dogs to track rare turtles, he knew the working canines could be the key to helping the Kincaid's lupine and the Fender's blue butterfly. Fitzpatrick approached Dave Vesely, the executive director of the Oregon Wildlife Institute, and Debbie Smith of the Working Dogs for Conservation Foundation with his idea.
They soon discovered that dogs were incredible at the job. While some humans can detect the odor of lupine when they are flowering, canines can find the plants with or without flowers, and can cover an impressive area of land in a little amount of time.
Vesely plans to submit details of their work to a journal of conservation biology to share the program's success.
News: Guest Posts
Putting pullers to work—for the fun of it
We’re always looking for opportunities to green up our lives with dogs. So when Daphne Lewis sent us this video of her Chinooks hauling bamboo, we knew we’d hit one of those eco trifectas: Enlisting dogs who love to pull in the enterprise of helping to thin an ur-sustainable crop with no power tools. It was so simple and—based on the sacked out forms of Brett and Rosy after a day’s work—satisfying.It turns out Daphne and her dogs have a long history of pulling. She got into the game trying to find an exercise outlet for her energetic Rottweiler, Rubromarginata (Rubro, for short), years ago in Seattle. She began on rollerblades, which lacked a good braking system, and so soon graduated to scooters and sulkies. She launched a dog scooter business and then set about creating a market for them by starting a scooter group and writing Dog Scooter: The Sport for Dogs Who Love to Run. She sold her scooter business, and three years ago, moved to Perry, Ga., to farm bamboo. But she kept her hand in the pup-powered vehicle biz, as the owner/operator of Chalo Sulky, which makes a light, two-wheeled cart (like those used in harness racing) and harnesses. The sulkies look like so much fun. Watch Rosy and Brett nearly pass cyclists on a trail. Her other passion is adapting the harnesses and techniques for people with disabilities, especially to pull wheelchairs. She’s created several demo videos including a really wonderful short with her mother being pulled in a wheelchair. I love how calm Rosy and Brett are when they aren’t in pull mode. The day after we talked, Daphne was off to meet with a disabled vets group to help them train their assistance dogs to pull their wheelchairs. She’s also working on developing a tricycle, which some people may find easier to balance than the sulky or scooter.
Do you have a puller who helps at home, in the garden or on the road?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A green option for waste
Recently, I posted a blog about how friendly people are when they see me carrying a bag of poop. One great comment was that people would probably offer even bigger smiles if I carried the poop in environmentally friendly biodegradable poop bags instead of plastic newspaper bags. Fair point.
I looked into the biodegradable poop bags and want to share what I learned. They are made from corn and contain no polyethylene, and are completely compostable and biodegradable. Depending on the exact conditions, they typically decompose in a compost bin within 6 weeks. Because they “breathe,” odor is kept to a minimum since there is less bacterial build up than in bags that don’t breathe. They will not decompose or start to decay in any way just sitting on your shelf. They will also fail to decompose with any sort of speed if put in the trash and taken to a landfill, which is not an environment conducive to such chemical processes. So, using them in an environmentally green way involves composting them, burying them, or disposing of them with yard waste, depending on whether that is allowed in your community. Biodegradable bags are available in two sizes—the regular size is 8 by 12½ inches and the big size is 10 by 14 inches. They are available in packages of 50 regular bags for $7.49, which comes to 10 cents per bag. The big size is just over 20 cents a bag. Buying in larger quantities can reduce the price to as little as 5 cents each for regular and about 14 cents each for big bags. Have you tried these bags, and if so, what is your experience with them?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Finding non-dog oriented uses for supplies
The items needed for our dogs form an extensive list—leashes, collars, food, books, training treats, bowls, gates, toys, things to chew on, poop bags, tags, seat belts and on and on. Having spent years accumulating these items instead of a hefty savings account, I appreciate their value. In fact, I consider much of the pet gear I have to be so worthwhile that I use it for purposes that extend far beyond dogs.In 2000, I fostered a puppy named Who, and to help make our time together better, I invested in a puppy pen. Now, without a puppy in the house, I primarily use it for keeping young children away from the wood stove. When my own kids were younger, the pen was up almost all winter since the wood stove is our primary heat source. Now that they are old enough to stay away from the stove without this barrier, it is only up when we have tiny visitors. Many dog trainers and behaviorists use enzymatic cleaners in their offices and training spaces to properly clean up after accidents and marking incidents, and I am no exception. Even thoroughly house-trained dogs can occasionally goof in an area that smells of so many dogs, and I’ve found that cleaners such as Nature’s Miracle are the best at removing the smell completely. As a mother of two boys, my bathrooms are not always pristine. (Actually, they’re NEVER pristine, but sometimes they are moderately clean for at least an hour after being cleaned.) I used these enzymatic cleaners extensively during the toilet training phases. Even now, I periodically catch a whiff of an odor I could do without and I clean the entire bathroom with one of these enzymatic miracles. And during a recent bout of the stomach flu, we had a level of gross in our house that I don’t feel the need to give details about (you’re very welcome!), but let’s just say I’ve never been so glad to have Nature’s Miracle in large quantities on hand at home. In my own bathroom, I use a large fancy dog bowl that was the base for a gift basket full of dog goodies to hold my hair dryer, curling iron, and some hairbrushes. It is a metal bowl with a bone-shaped rubber base and really quite decorative. Have you found new—non-canine oriented—uses for your dog gear?
News: Guest Posts
Spin it, stuff it, let it fly
I live with two very committed shedders. At certain times of the year, their output stuns. Even with consistent furminating (is this a verb yet?), I sweep soft, dirty tumbleweeds of fur onto my dustpan and out to the garbage regularly. And, until recently, I believed the highest and best use of their fur was to make sweeping more satisfying. But in the pursuit of shrinking their environmental pawprint, I’ve discovered a few ways to recycle their surplus.Spin fur into yarn. Dog fur is a fiber, and like wool, mohair and angora, it can be spun into yarn. Longer fur is best, but even short fur can be spun if blended with wool. It’s an idea that’s been around for a while but never seems to entirely catch on (except maybe in Russia)—probably because of reports that when dog fur sweaters, mittens, scarves, etc., get wet, they smell a little like wet dogs. Check out these instructions. Fight oil spills. We learned about the oil-absorbing magic of dog fur during the Gulf Oil spill, when fur and human hair clippings were stuffed into booms and woven into mats to absorb the petroleum. Now, the folks at a Matter of Trust, the ecological public charity behind the hair/fur boom effort, wants to expand the use of these wasted materials for preventing toxic run-off, soil erosion and creating marina bilge pads. Learn more at a MatterofTrust.org.
Build nests. When you groom outside, don’t worry about small tufts carried away by the breeze. Many birds like to weave fur and hair into their nests.Is there more we can do with all this leftover fur?
Another health bonus from walking your dog
The New York Times had an interesting article about studies examining the health benefits of nature. Researchers have found that spending time in places with trees aplenty, such as parks and forests, is good for us and has a positive affect on our immune functions. Seems as if stress reduction is one factor that the scientists attribute to phytnocides, the “airborne chemicals that plants emit to protect them from rotting insects.” The Japanese have taken this to heart and even partake in a practice called “forest bathing.”
As The Times notes, “the scientists found that being among plants produced lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, and lower blood pressure, among other things.” So for all of you who walk your dogs in the woods, not only are you doing the right thing by providing sensory stimulation and exercise for them but you too get a healthy boost from the trees!
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