Choosing an Environmentally-Friendly Pet
Just because an exotic animal is available in a pet store – or on the Internet – does not make it an environmentally wise choice. In many cases, the animals are endangered or threatened species, caught in the wild and then smuggled into Europe.
The origin of exotic pets is not the only threat posed to the environment. Often, these animals find their way back into the wild – in the wrong eco-system. This might be because the animal escaped or because the owner tired of it and intentionally released it. The introduction of new species into an eco-system can disrupt the balance of nature, with the new species either preying on existing species or consuming or destroying their habitat and source of nutrition.
The most ecologically sound pets are the most common domestic animals: cats, dogs, rabbits, goldfish, guinea pigs, etc. Even better are the same animals, but adopted from a shelter (There are many in Belgium. Search using the following: dieren asiel or asieldieren in Flemish and/or refuge d’animaux, refuge animalier, refuge SPA in French). Before taking home a new pet, always ensure you understand the commitment it will require of you: e.g. some wild animals (notably parrots and tortoises) have remarkably long life spans.
Fluffy the Ferocious?
Even the most common of domestic animals can be threatening. Fido and Kitty are both natural predators. Each month, wildlife rehabilitation centres, such as Bird’s Bay Revalidation in La Hulpe, receive dozens of wild animals injured by pets.
The most common problems are hedgehogs attacked by dogs left outside at night and birds molested by cats. Some simple steps can reduce the impact of your pet:
- bring dogs indoors at night and keep them on a leash in parks and forests
- attach a small bell to the collar of your cat, or even better, try to keep him or her indoors at night, especially at dawn and dusk.
Spring and summer are especially vulnerable times for wildlife, as young babies are born. At those times, your cat or dog presents a very real threat.
What Goes In…
What goes in must come out. When someone finds a pet that produces no feces I’ll be first in line to get one. Until that day, we are left cleaning litter boxes and scooping poop.
Owners who don’t clean up after their dogs are a common complaint in Belgium. But if you think you are doing the right thing by re-using your plastic grocery bags to clean it up, think again. Dog waste in a plastic bag cannot decompose until the plastic bag decomposes. For the eco-friendly dog owner, there are several options:
- Use public dog toilets
- Buy and use biodegradable doggie bags
- Compost it (see box for instructions on building your own dog/cat waste composter.)
Cat owners need not feel too smug here. Clay based cat litter is made of bentonite, a product retrieved through strip mining. It isn’t the by-product of anything else, and it won’t break down any further than it already has.
Cat owners have the following possible options: letting their cat find their own spot outside (not my favourite), using a biodegradable litter available at pet stores (an inexpensive option is to use rabbit wood pellets, which will clump when wet) and composting the waste in their own home pet waste composter (compost exposed to cat feces should not be used as an additive for food gardens because of their association with toxoplasmosis) or check with your commune which waste bin it can be put into. And remember to use a biodegradable bag!
Putting a little extra thought and effort into how we care for our pets can make a large difference in their environmental impact. For those of us concerned with our carbon footprint, it’s only logical that the carbon paw print of our pets is given equal consideration.
By Leanne Halewyck, for Sunbeams
Building A Dog Waste Composter
A dog waste composter is simple to build if you have a spare half a meter or so in your garden. Purchase a large plastic garbage bin with a lid. Cut out the bottom of the bin and drill several random holes into the body. Dig a hole in your garden large enough to bury all but the top two inches of the bin. Put a layer of rocks or gravel into the bottom of the hole to serve as drainage. Place the bin in the hole, and the lid on the top. When you add dog waste, you can add a little septic starter as well (available at Brico and other DIY shops). The waste will then decompose and join the subsoil.