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Monday, July 7, 2008

Pets for the Planet

by James Stevenson, Pinellas County Extension Educator, Urban Sustainability

While we may all be tightening our belts a little, scrimping and saving to pay for rising fuel costs, there is no sign our spending on pets has diminished one bit.

According to the American Pet Product Manufacturers Association, for 2008 it is estimated that $43.4 billion will be spent on our pets in the U.S. That is up from $38.5 billion in 2006 (source:

With more than 60% of US households (that is about 71 million addresses) complete with pets, how can we green our pet-practices? Here are a few tips:

Check the Label
From the foods you feed your pet(s) to the shampoo, conditioner, nail polish, etc. use the same common sense you would for yourself in living the Green Life. Think about the packaging, source, contents, and all other factors of green purchasing when making choices for your pet supplies.

Recycle a Pet
Consider adopting a pet from a local shelter. None of us like to think of the poor critters waiting to be adopted into a loving home, so go get one! Some shelters offer you the opportunity to search online for the perfect pet. Not just dogs and cats, but hamsters, fish, ferrets, you name it. Look up local shelter websites or, for one-stop searching, consult PetFinder ( a site that allows you to search by zip code for the type and location of pet you would like to welcome home.

Remember They Are Not From Here
Our pets, especially dogs and cats, have been domesticated and bred for thousands of years. Many bear little to no resemblance to the wild animals from which they descended. It is important to remember that domesticated animals do not play well with our wildlife. Although we have managed to breed a beautiful coat of fur, excellent retrieval skills, a propensity for life in a handbag, and many other traits into our furred, scaled and winged pets, many innate behaviors remain, including hunting. Feral and non-housebound cats and dogs account for amazing negative impacts on our native wildlife. See this site from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission about the local environmental impact of loose cats.

Dogs play an important role in healthy ecosystems as well. Leaving a dog’s “doo” on the pavement or in the lawn exposes wildlife to the pathogens which may reside there. Your pooch may be fine, but the viral load it is carrying (and possibly unaffected by) may mean death to a wild critter. Uncollected dog excrement has lead to an increase in nutrient runoff to local waters as well. For more information on this important issue, see Pooches For the Planet: Scoop That Poop! from the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Training your pet to be a compatible member of the household need not stop at the front door. Think about the role your Precious serves in the greater scheme of things, and keep a Green Pet, for the good of the Planet. Their wild ancestors will thank you!


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