News: Guest Posts
Your dog’s hair can help clean up the Gulf oil spill
Every day news of the expanding oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico gets worse. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil gush into bio-rich waters. Looking at satellite images and reading the stories, it’s easy to feel helpless. But there is a unique opportunity for pet owners to help out. The nonprofit charity Matter of Trust is facilitating donations of clean pet fur, mostly from groomers—as well as human hair, mostly from salons—which are woven into hair mats that are extremely effective at soaking up oil or stuffed into donated nylons to create oil containment booms for the Gulf clean up. Matter of Trust estimates that one pound of dog hair can soak up one quart of oil in one minute! I have a new respect for my dogs' furballs.
We learned about this ingenious reuse program from two participants: Pet Paradise Resort, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based pet boarding, daycare and grooming operation, with 13 locations including several along the Gulf Coast; and Camp Bow Wow, a boarding and daycare operation with more than 200 franchisees in the U.S. and Canada. Both organizations are collecting and donating hair and fur to the effort, which won’t end with this spill. There are an estimated 2,600 oil spills each year.
Learn more about the program and witness hair mats in action in this video from Matter of Trust:
News: Guest Posts
Video: Recycled Pug sets high bar for Earth Day
Have you seen the “Green Pug Recycles” video? The short by Amanda Bradshaw, a 37-year-old dog photographer in San Francisco, stars Puglet, a recyclables-sorting, water-conserving, carpooling Pug. “The Green video was inspired by Puglet’s mission to help ‘recycled dogs.’ I thought Puglet’s talents might earn him 15 seconds of fame—then he could use the spotlight to campaign for recycled dogs.” (Rescuing dogs is a pretty righteous shade of green.) We’re happy to jump on the bandwagon.Follow Puglet’s adventures on The Daily Puglet, a blog Bradshaw started a year ago when “this goofy little pug came into my life and made me laugh … whether I wanted to or not. Every. Single. Day.”
News: Guest Posts
Book on sustainability takes aim at pet ownership.
In Time to Eat the Dog: The real guide to sustainable living, Robert and Brenda Vale of Wellington, New Zealand, condemn pet-ownership claiming companion animals guzzle resources, devastate wildlife populations, spread disease and add to pollution, according to reviews in New Scientist, Salon and The Telegraph. Many of these complaints aren’t new (since I haven't read the Vale's book yet, I can't testify to the soundness of their science), although I was startled by one their oft-quoted conclusions: The production of a protein-rich diet of a mid-size dog has the equivalent environmental impact as a Toyota Land Cruiser driven 6,000 miles per year. Time to turn the Land Cruiser in for a Husky?
My gut reaction: Get out. And the sensational title will probably drive more than a few dog lovers away. From what I’ve read about the book so far, the authors aren’t putting dogs in a larger context that is essential for a serious consideration of the topic. Choices about sustainability don’t take place in a vacuum. Nearly everything we do has a cost, and we make our choices on a cost/benefit basis. Are all the good things that dogs bring to our lives worth an impact? Not only do dogs provide enormous benefits (companionship, assistance, protection, engagement, access) that can’t be waived away, they may even offer some positives for the planet. Blogger Jim Gunshinan attempted to quantify these eco-advantages, such as providing love and comfort, necessitating less travel to see friends and family, and additional exercise, which should cut down on our food intake.
Still, I think there is probably food for thought in here. As in our choice to buy a car, light bulbs, food, to have children, to build a house, and on and on, we shouldn’t ignore the environmental costs of our choices have—including living with dogs. Of course, I’m not suggesting we eat our dogs (horrors), but we need to be responsible and accountable. An editorial in New Scientist recommends simple modifications such as feeding dogs more table scraps to offset some of the industrial pet food production. That sounds like a pragmatic start.
News: Guest Posts
Will Black Soldier Fly grubs in biopods be the worm bins of the future?
Last week, I wrote a post about municipal efforts to cope with dog waste. Today, the Green Inc. column in The New York Times takes up the conversation with a story about a poop-composting pilot program in Ithaca, N.Y. Unfortunately, Ithaca's "strategy" involves a growing pile of yard clippings, wood trimmings and poop in biodegradable collection bags made from corn. Exactly, what to do with the pile is unclear. While this appears to be serious case of putting the pile before horse, the reader comments are filled with constructive and informed suggestions. I'm intrigued by the idea of deploying the Black Soldier Fly to do our dirty work. Will biopods filled with fly grubs be the worm bins of the future?
News: Guest Posts
Buyer beware of over-the-counter, spot-on pesticide products.
Reading between the corporate disclaimers and regulator hedging, my takeaway from the thorough and impressive investigation into over-the-counter, spot-on pesticide products for pets by The Center for Public Integrity is: Why risk it? And it’s beginning to look like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) might be asking the same question.
Based on an unprecedented review of 10 years’ worth of adverse-reaction reports filed with the EPA by pesticide manufacturers, The Center reported in December an alarming number of deaths had been linked to topical pesticide products with pyrethrins and pyretroids. These reports include chilling accounts of chemical burns, nerve damage, anorexia and 1,600 deaths over the past five years. On April 16, the EPA “announced that it would intensify its evaluation of these products ‘due to recent increases in the number of reported incidents.’”
I strongly urge anyone currently using over-the-counter, spot-on pesticide treatments to read the report through to the end. (If you’re wondering about the reporters’ angle: The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization dedicated to producing investigative journalism on a broad variety issues of public concern. Past stories have included an expose on the use of the Lincoln Bedroom for political contributors in the Clinton administration, publishing secret Patriot II Act draft legislation, and reporting that Halliburton was the largest private contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan.)
Certain details in the story jumped out at me, including the fact that the high concentrations of pyrethroid used in pet products range from between eight to 17 times stronger than the strongest pyrethroid product currently approved for use on humans. Plus, recent findings that pyrethroids in young rats “could result in detrimental effects on neurological function later in life” even when there are no immediate, acute symptoms.
The report also points out that EPA approval is no guarantee of safety. Since 2000, pet products with chlorpyrifos, diazinon and phosmet were successively “approved, defended aggressively by the chemical industry, and then yanked off the market.”
Green transportation for around-town travel.
These days, anyone who slaps Bark’s bumper sticker—Dog Is My Co-Pilot™—on a car is conscious of rising fuel prices and looming environmental crises. More and more, people are paying attention to the fuel economy and emission levels of that bumper-sticker-bearing vehicle. Some, especially in urban areas, have opted to go the old-fashioned route and get around town on two, or in some cases three, wheels. And, more for fun than for grocery shopping, there’s even a dog-powered scooter. “Emission” levels notwithstanding, is there anything more eco-sensitive than paw power? Whatever mode we choose, one thing’s for sure: Our pups will want to come along.
Purchasing a vehicle that makes a low contribution to air pollution and greenhouse gases is one way to do less harm to the world. Last fall, J.D. Power and Associates published the Automotive Environmental Index, a study based on information from the Environmental Protection Agency as well as on data collected from consumers. In the study, they listed 30 of the top environmentally friendly cars, eight of which were, as expected, hybrids. One interesting statistic that came out of the survey was that more than half of consumers who were thinking of buying a new car in the near term were considering a hybrid.
In fact, the research firm forecast that hybrid vehicles (which use gas to get the car going and power from a battery when cruising) would increase to a 5 percent share of the U.S. market by 2013.With fuel prices rising to a national average of nearly $3 per gallon and with images of drowning polar bears and shrieking hurricanes scrolling across our TV and movie screens, these results are no great surprise. (For a rundown of hybrids currently available and in development, visit Hybrid Cars.)
Though hybrids have been getting most of the attention when it comes to environmentally friendly cars, there are other ways to hit the road these days. For example, if you’ve got the dollars, you can join the likes of George Clooney and Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page and plunk down a cool $92,000 for a Tesla—a new, 100-percent-electric car that’s slated to hit the streets this year. These aren’t just emission-free vehicles, they’re also truly performance cars that go from zero to 60 in four seconds and have a top speed of 130 MPH. Their technology is also notable. Rather than a heavy lead-acid battery (such as was used in the original fleet of GM-developed electric vehicles, for example), they employ a lithium-ion battery—a larger cousin of the battery used in laptops—which is lighter, energy dense and much more efficient when it comes to miles-per-battery-charge.
Another attention-grabbing motorized vehicle new to the U.S.—but a familiar sight on streets from India to Sri Lanka—the Bajaj autorickshaw might be just the ticket if you’re looking for something that, with its three wheels, is more stable than a two-wheel scooter and gets a whopping 80 miles per gallon. When he was looking for a clean alternative vehicle, Bark reader and Santa Cruz resident Larry Lewis did his homework. As he says, “I chose the Bajaj autorickshaw, which is low in cost and just a complete work horse and charmingly ugly, but burns clean and is simple to maintain.” It may be the only one in town, but Lewis likes the fact that it makes a statement.
ArgoUSA started importing these autorickshaws from Pune, India, about two years ago, making sure that, unlike the golf carts they somewhat resemble, they were street legal and safe; among the added features are dual headlights and a fully hydraulic braking system. At about $6,400, the Bajaj autorickshaw is also priced right. In terms of emissions, the autorickshaws have a clean four-stroke engine, though ArgoUSA President Al Kolvites thinks the fact that they come only with manual transmissions may limit their popularity in the U.S. Nevertheless, these vehicles, which are designed to go no more than 40 mph on city streets, are definitely a novel and environmentally friendly driving alternative.
In cities these days, it’s not just bike messengers who are pedaling the streets. It doesn’t get much more environmentally friendly than pedal power, and manufacturers have taken notice and are producing a wider range of recreational cycles for those of us who aren’t quite up to the Tour de France. For example, you just might see a tricycle pass you by on the way to the store. That’s right, three-wheeled tricycles aren’t just for kids anymore (actually, tricycles—or trikes—for use by adults actually date back to the 1860s).
Today’s trikes offer a range of amenities. You can opt for a cool (and expensive) electric version, such as the eZee Carro, which includes a front-mounted motor that, with the turn of a throttle, takes over the pedaling chore. Among the more traditional, non-electric trikes are the Port-o-Trike three-speed and the folding Trifecta single-speed, both of which are sold online and at some of the big-box stores and go for between $300 and $400. Most tricycles come with wide seats, safe and efficient dual brakes, and a large basket that fits between the two back wheels.
For those who wouldn’t be caught, um, dead, on a three-wheeler, the Dutch Citybike from Vancouver-based Jorg & Olif supplies buckets of retro panache. With its wide seat and traditional bell, this bike is built for city riding; among its niceties are fender guards; pre-installed lights; and Shimano gear systems that come in one, three, and eight speeds (great for those hilly cities). The technical styling and beautiful design don’t come cheap, however—the Citybike runs between $795 and $1,295. (According to the manufacturer, a lower-cost but equally reliable model will be available soon.)
A Dog’s Place
Speaking of city streets (and bike paths), many are too crowded for your dog to run safely at your side, which is another good reason to look into these handy accessories. Dog trailers come in a variety of styles, support a range of weights and incorporate several safety features; most are easy to assemble and to attach to your bike.
The base kit usually includes the dog wagon itself, a towing bar that attaches to the bike and the bike connection. Since there are no American Society for Testing and Materials standards for pet carriers, it’s up to the consumer to take a close look and do some comparisons when making a buying decision. Among the things to look for are a strong but lightweight base, a low center of gravity to keep things stable, reflective materials for visibility, good ventilation and a frame that can be zipped closed. Three to consider are the Burley Tail Wagon, the Pet Ego Sport Wagon and the Wike Wagalong.
The newest Burley Tail Wagon (about $400 with the stroller kit), has a 75-pound carrying capacity and is suitable for most dogs. For more than 30 years, Burley has been known for its well-crafted bike trailers for children, and the company applied this expertise to its dog trailers. The Tail Wagon has a UV-resistant, water-repellent, fabric-enclosed frame; a suspended floor; and large mesh screens that allow the free flow of air through the trailer. It comes with a bright orange flag for good visibility in traffic, and the zip-up frame helps ensure that your dog doesn’t make an unscheduled exit en route. Factor in the fully removable sun and rain cover and optional We! Ski kit and you’ll have everything you need for year-round dog transporting.
The Pet Ego Sport Wagon is another new trailer on the market, and at about $500, one of the most expensive. But for big dogs, its size and strength—it holds up to 165 lbs.—make it a good option. This one also has zip doors for easy access, and to keep your dog (or dogs) cool, it has a nice sunroof that can be removed and stowed. (If you have a smaller dog, there’s a Sport Wagon sized for her as well.) For small dogs, the Wike Wagalong ($300) may be the way to go. A lightweight trailer, it comes in two versions, one of which is appropriate for dogs under 30 pounds. It has ventilation panels, a bug screen in the front, and rear and side reflectors. Your pooch will also appreciate its two-inch cushioned floor.
Just because a dog is elderly, less mobile or recuperating doesn’t mean she wants to stay at home, and optional stroller kits make outings both practical and safe. Attach the front wheel and a handlebar and voila! The kits make it possible for even bikeless dog folks to take advantage of these trailers, which can be particularly useful for navigating crowded sidewalks with your dog.
As you might imagine, this scooter is practical for medium to large dogs. To determine whether a dog is strong enough to power a rider’s weight, Schuette’s rule is to add 100 pounds to the dog’s weight; so, for example, a 60-pound Boxer should be able to power a 160-pound person. As Schuette joked with San Francisco Chronicle writer Paul McHugh, “People talk now about generating energy by combusting pet poop. Well, using this, you get work out of the kibble before it even leaves the animal.”
It’s doubtful that dogs care whether your vehicle is powered by gas, diesel, ethanol, a battery or muscle power. But in the long run, if we think green, our co-pilots will benefit.
News: Guest Posts
Wearing your heart on your lawn.
Lawn jockeys, flamingos, gnomes and windmills—our front yards have long been a platform for inorganic self-expression. For my part, I have always exercised restraint in these matters, but after receiving an email from Bark contributor Helene F. Rubinstein, I’m thinking that’s been my loss. During a recent drive on the roads outside Reno, Rubinstein saw lawn ornaments for sale—the sort you never see in traditional stores. You know what I’m talking about, silhouettes of a cowboy leaning against a fencepost, grazing sheep, a gardener’s posterior, and dogs in variety of poses. “I couldn’t resist this one [see photo] and had it shipped back home,” Helene wrote. “I finally put it up yesterday. I love it!" Her dog has been growling at it like crazy. Fun for the whole family, but what will the neighbors think?
These aren’t that easy to find. Other than a rural road trip, your best bet is probably D-I-Y. I’m eyeing plans for a digging dog.
Dog's Life: Humane
Animal shelters save homeless dogs and cats, fight cruelty, and educate the public about pet overpopulation. But shelters themselves are rarely eco-friendly. When many of them were built, energy efficiency wasn’t a priority, air circulation systems were poor and there was a reliance on toxic materials, especially for cleaning. The good news is that this trend is beginning to take a green turn, one shelter at a time.
Among the early adopters is the Tompkins County SPCA, which opened its new upstate New York facility in 2004. Certified as the first green shelter in the country, Tompkins received a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver rating from the U.S.Green Building Council. Since then, other shelters have followed its lead— take the Potter League for Animals in Middleton, R.I., for example.
According to Pat Heller, director of development, the league plans to open its approximately 19,500-square-foot green shelter in November. Since they take in nearly 2,000 animals every year, and also receive dogs from several animal control agencies, they can definitely use the space.
“Our building has many green features that will not only benefit the animals but the local environment as well,” says Heller. Because the area receives ample precipitation, the design firm, ARQ Architects of Kittery, Maine, incorporated an innovative water reuse system, a 15,000-gallon cistern to capture runoff that can be recycled for cleaning. Considering that shelters use thousands of gallons of water every month for this purpose, that’s a significant step forward. Further, the parking lot is covered with a permeable surface to prevent runoff into nearby wetlands. “Rainwater gets polluted with gasoline and oil from the parking lot, then it drains into the wetlands. This will cut down on contamination,” Heller observes.
Other eco-friendly aspects include sensors that control the heating and ventilation systems, toxin-free paints and dual-paned windows for insulation. Heller adds that the shelter will also recycle or reuse as much of the construction waste as possible, which will help reduce the landfill burden.
In California, the Humane Society Silicon Valley (HSSV) has a green facility— an innovative Animal Community Center—scheduled to open in early 2009. Laura Fulda, vice president for marketing and communications, says their plans include an efficient water-cleansing system, which will reduce water consumption and ensure appropriate cleaning and disinfecting of kennels. HSSV also set its sights on reducing energy consumption. “We’ll install a photovoltaic system on the roof, over part of the dog park and in our parking areas,” says Fulda. “That will generate up to 40 percent of our energy needs.”
Additional green features designed into the new community center by Moraga, Calif., architects George Miers & Associates include drought-resistant plants, dual-flush toilets, synthetic turf in the dog park and play areas, and passive heating/cooling. Earth-friendly practices currently in place, such as the use of biodegradable cat litter and eco-sensitive janitorial products and the recycling of office products, will, of course, continue.
Though LEED certification is a good thing to have, shelters don’t need it to go green. Maricopa County Animal Care and Control in Phoenix replaced one of its two aging facilities in May 2008. Though the municipal shelter lacked the criteria for LEED certification, Linda Soto, shelter division manager, says they still incorporated energy-efficient features. “The outer walls are constructed using a foam and concrete [material] that’s super-insulated. The roof is also coated for additional heat reduction.” That’s crucial in Phoenix, where daytime temperatures rise above 100 degrees for at least four months each year.The building is climate-controlled for maximum energy savings, and lighting in offices and restrooms is sensor-equipped.
When it comes to reducing our environmental footprint, every little bit helps. Even if a shelter has no immediate plans for a green building, they can still recycle, for example; shelters generate large amounts of recyclable material, including cans, newspaper and cardboard. The North County Humane Society and SPCA in Oceanside, Calif., has an informal program. As Julie Bank, executive director, explains it,“We put recyclables into a bin and a volunteer collects it and takes it up the road to the recycling center.” That small program ultimately keeps hundreds of pounds of material out of the county landfill.
The Michigan Humane Society runs a more sophisticated program called the Green Sweep.Among the items recycled are office paper, cardboard, plastics, glass, metal and newspaper. The organization also recently started to recycle cell phones and cell phone accessories. One program helps the environment while the other raises money for the animals.
A sample of other green shelters either open or in the works includes Canada’s Winnipeg Humane Society and Bow Valley SPCA,Michigan’s Humane Society of Huron Valley,California’s Sacramento County Animal Care and Texas’s Dallas Animal Services. More shelters will no doubt be added to the list as cities begin to require that new private buildings meet environmentally appropriate standards.
When it comes to planning, going green requires a commitment not only of time and money but also dedication to eco-friendly principles. James F.Owens, project manager with Boston’s Rauhaus Freedenfeld and Associates, says it’s more economical to start with something new rather than try to retrofit a project that’s already under way.
For example, water reuse and/or reduction projects are good for the environment and can slice utility bills, but they have to be carefully planned. As Owens notes, “Water must be properly filtered and cleaned in the animal areas, where infection can be a concern.” (For shelters that opt not to recycle water, Owens recommends high-pressure washers because they use fewer gallons per minute than traditional hoses.)
Air filtration designed to prevent the spread of disease, particularly upper respiratory varieties, is also crucial. According to Lucinda Schlaffer of ARQ Architects, the system should use 100 percent outside air and circulate 10 to 12 air changes per hour. It’s also true that such a system is costly to run, and most shelters operate on slim budgets.
Dr. Wendy Swift, veterinary medical director at the Kent County Humane Society in Grand Rapids, Mich., adds a caveat, noting that unless shelters also employ a disease prevention protocol, an air filtration system—no matter how advanced or eco-friendly—will be worthless. “Disease is spread from animal to animal and from human contact.An air filtration system alone will not save lives.”
Switchboards are busy at architecture firms like ARQ, George Miers and Rauhaus Freedenfeld. Going green isn’t a fad—it’s a necessity, the only way to reverse climate change, reduce pressure on overflowing landfills and combat pollution. By doing as much as they can given their individual circumstances, shelters are helping animals and befriending the environment at the same time. “Constructing a building with a social conscience fit into our mission of making a difference and enriching lives for both people and animals,” says Heller of the Potter League for Animals—an admirable mission indeed.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs love grass—eating it, rolling on it, playing on it and, unfortunately, “fertilizing” it too
Dogs love grass—eating it, rolling on it, playing on it and, unfortunately, “fertilizing” it too. Urine can cause a nitrogen overload on most grasses, and females, because their squatting produces a steady, concentrated stream, are more likely to create the brown ring pattern on lawns, which some horticulturists call “female dog spot disease.”
So if you’re planting—or replanting—a lawn, chose your grass type with that in mind. Fescue and perennial ryegrass have been found to be the most urine tolerant, while bluegrass and bermudagrass seem to be the most sensitive.
There are also several species of taller grasses (used in meadow cultivation) which are salt tolerant and fairly urine resistant including Zoysia, Paspalum and Distichlis. A tall meadow is a natural alternative to a traditional lawn. But you could also consider another lawn substitute like white clover or O’Connor’s strawberry clover, both of which are easy to maintain. Another plus: they require less water and, being nitrogen-fixing themselves, require less (if any) fertilization.
Dog's Life: Home & Garden
DIYing it—build your dog an eco-friendly retreat
“Green” isn’t just about recycling and planting trees—it’s also a way of thinking, of being creative with design, materials and overall aesthetics and ending up with a product that provides a better quality of life. Can you apply green principles when building a shelter for your dog? Of course. Here’s one way to do it.
First, study your dog. Based on climate, the role you play in each other’s lives, and his characteristics and preferences, establish what he needs. This will help determine shelter size, potential material choices and construction type. Use this information to arrive at a design solution that best addresses the issues you’ve identified. Following are some sample issues and solutions.
Issue: Dog needs to see what’s going on.
Issue: A long-haired dog overheats in warm weather.
Issue: Dog is easily startled.
Then, think about materials. You may sometimes have to choose between long lasting and recycled, but, ideally, you’ll be able to find materials that are both. For my gazebo, I used painted steel, poured concrete, western red cedar (which is naturally rot-resistant) and metal roofing. Other long-lasting exterior materials include stone, brick and several types of wood.
A few tips: Avoid pressure-treated wood, and use nontoxic glue and zero-VOC paint/sealants; on the latter, since you’ll be using small quantities, the cost is minimal even if you wind up purchasing them. Using weather-resistant screws and bolts instead of glue and nails to attach material will make repairs easier and allow for more accurate placement; they also can be incorporated into the aesthetic of the structure.
When it comes to finding these materials, start by looking around the house. Maybe you have some home improvement–project leftovers, or a piece of cast-off furniture—a table, perhaps—in the garage, just waiting for a new life. Check out thrift stores, habitat or recycle/reuse centers (which are popping up everywhere), lumberyards and local home improvement stores for scraps headed for the trash because of some minor flaw. Be creative; there are many places you can find good scrap cheaply.
You can design based on the materials you find, or you can look for materials based on your design. A combination approach is ideal, so before you rush to your local lumberyard, sketch out what you want your dog’s shelter to do and how you’d like it to look. If you need ideas, magazines and the Internet are good sources of inspiration.
Initially, I based my dog gazebo on the principles of Rietveld’s Chair, an approach that pares down a design to its essentials. Some of my ideas for this green gazebo included a sloped roof for water collection, good ventilation, a small porch and a protected back.
You might want to try a green roof or wall (see sidebar), or perhaps a roof onto which your dog can jump and sun himself. The shelter could have openings in both the front and back for ease of access, or be higher off the ground if your dog likes a view. Also, consider the intended orientation; the angle of the sun affects the shelter’s interior temperatures, so take advantage of that to help control inside temps.
To recap: Many design ideas can be incorporated into your structure—just be sure to base them on your dog’s specific needs and characteristics as well as your environment. Explore all the options when it comes to finding materials, and be creative. This can be a weekend or a summer-long project—it depends on the time you have and the detail you want. Most of all, remember that this is for your dog’s benefit, so let that be your ultimate guide.
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