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Dog Is My SUV?
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.

Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of, most recently, Dog Park Wisdom. lisawogan.com
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Submitted by Carolyn | October 26 2009 |

As someone who tries to live as "greenly" as possible, the New Scientist piece was certainly a wake up call. A couple thoughts spring to mind as ways to improve the situation such as promoting shelter adoptions and spay/neuter so that shelters are not crammed with unwanted companion animals. I always appreciate and try to incorporate The Bark's DIY tips that suggest ways to reuse and recycle for our dogs. As much as I enjoy the ads for all the wonderful pet products in the marketplace, there are often many more eco-friendly substitutions I can make for my dog. Finally, I have home-prepared my dog's food according to Dr. Pitcairn's recipes in his "Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats." Meat is used in the recipes but often legumes stand in for a portion of the protein requirement (there are some vegetarian options offered as well). There are many suggestions in this book on how to reduce your companion animal's "eco-pawprint" that I have taken to heart. I think companion animals are here to stay and clearly there are many well documented benefits to sharing one's life with one (or more) and I would have it no other way... but there is also plenty we can do to reduce their eco-impact along with our own.

Submitted by Anonymous | November 1 2009 |

Reading this blog makes me wonder how much it takes to feed children and their ecological footprint. I agree that 10 dogs is probably excessive, but so is 3+ children. Maybe it is "Time to Eat the Children"?

Submitted by Lisa Wogan | November 7 2009 |

Clark Williams-Derry takes on the Vales' contention that a dog's environmental footprint is equal to an SUV by poking holes in their underestimating an SUV's impact and overestimating the impact of a dog's diet. I'm glad to see someone look hard at the science.

Here's the link: http://daily.sightline.org/daily_score/archive/2009/11/02/dogs-vs-cars

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