Study: owning a medium-sized dog is like driving an SUV 12,000 miles per year
By BEN FORNELL
Staff Writer / Telluride Daily Plant
Published: Wednesday, October 28, 2009 8:12 AM CDT
In the mountains, a 4×4 SUV is almost a necessity if you plan to drive when it’s snowy. But if you live almost anywhere else, the “gas guzzlers” are a target of green scorn.
A pair of researchers in New Zealand ask: Should someone walking their Labrador be equally eco-outcast?
Yes, according to a book released this month by Robert and Brenda Vale, who study the science of sustainability at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.
In “Time to Eat the Dog: The Real Guide to Sustainable Living,” the Vales calculate the ecological paw prints of our pets. The authors encourage the green-minded to look at their decision to buy a companion animal like they would consider buying a plasma television or SUV.
Their statistics show that owning even a medium-sized dog is like owning a 4.6-liter Toyota Land Cruiser and driving it 12,000 miles per year.
The research focuses largely on what dogs and cats eat, calculating the diet of a medium-sized dog to contain 90 grams of meat and 156 grams of cereals in the recommended 300 grams (or about 11 ounces) of dried dog food per day. That works out to about 450 grams of meat and 260 grams of cereal in pre-dried weight.
Environmental “footprints” are calculated in terms of land required to produce the energy, food and other resources a particular human, or pet in this case, needs to survive with its current lifestyle.
Chicken, per kilogram, requires 43.3 square meters of land to generate. Lamb and beef require much more than that, and a kilogram of cereal requires 13.4 square meters to grow.
In all, that gives a medium dog a footprint of 2.07 acres per year. A larger breed (the authors mention a German Shepherd) is more like 2.71 acres per year.
That Land Cruiser, to build and drive 12,000 miles per year, requires about 2 acres worth of energy.
Other ecological impacts of dogs are less dramatic, but the study shows that wildlife areas where owners walk their canines are about 33 percent less diverse in bird populations than similar habitats banned to pets.
Cats are not let off the hook in the study, though dogs are definitely the gas-guzzlers of the animal kingdom. The average cat has an ecological impact of about .37 acres (roughly equivalent to a Volkswagen Golf). Even keeping two hamsters is like owning a large plasma television.
In a town noted for both dog ownership and a commitment to environmental sustainability, the study was received with mixed reactions.
“I feed him like I feed myself,” said Lydia Leonard of her medium-sized pooch. “I think there’s issues with dogs, but I think (the comparison to an SUV is) pushing it.”
Leonard said that she has serious problems with factory pellet food, the kind of diet the study is calculated with, and often gives her pet scraps from the table, which are largely produced locally.
“I don’t see owning dogs like owning 1,000 head of cattle,” Leonard said. “Dogs are not SUVs, and no one is raising a herd of dogs.”
Justin Bridge said he feels a life of mountain recreation isn’t particularly green in the first place. He said he owns snowmobiles and 4×4 SUVs, both because he loves to ski and needs to get to where the stashes are.
“I try to respect a lot of things, but I do use a lot of carbon,” Bridge said. He also said he often feeds his dogs what he’s eating, which mitigates some of the problems stated in the study.
But like Leonard, dogs and carbon output are a non-issue for Bridge.
“She doesn’t drive my truck that much,” he said.
reprinted from the Telluride Daily Planet website