Green My Ballard: Greener living with pets
Cat litter. It's the bulk of my trash, and cleaning cat boxes is a house chore I despise. Yet, I can’t imagine my world without my three little fur-kids. So, for now at least, that means litter boxes.
While there are many fine reasons for having pets, contributing to our personal sustainability effort isn't ordinarily one of them. Most pets aren't particularly environmentally friendly.
So, just how can we live more sustainably with our furry, fuzzy or feathered housemates? In the last few weeks, I’ve posed this question to a number of green-minded friends, neighbors and colleagues, who in some cases were as perplexed as I am.
During a recent visit, Ballard massage therapist Carmen suggested we make our own pet food. And, she’s right – a lot of the stuff we buy, even the good stuff, still comes in (often BPA-lined) cans that were possibly produced in China (or at least not in our area) and, unless we pay the big bucks for fresh or organic, probably have some questionable ingredients compliments of Big Ag.
Liberté, a Ballard aesthetician who touts green practices and products, brought up the topic of poop bags, something she has to contend with for her wee pooch.
Just because they say they’re biodegradable doesn’t always mean they are. As with anything else, it pays to read labels and to purchase from trusted sources. She said the idea of all that waste sitting in plastic bags in our landfills, not degrading, made her shudder. Me, too.
I recently had coffee with Dr. Anna (Esser) Kihara at Aster Coffee Lounge. She’s established a new service in our little part of the planet (and beyond): She makes house calls for our two and four-legged critters, emphasizing green and holistic practices.
An animal magnet long before she became a vet, she entered veterinary school with the “romantic notion, given her love for animals, that all the vets-to-be would want to follow in the footsteps of James Herriot,” the English country vet known worldwide for his heartwarming chronicles, “All Creatures Great and Small.”
Not so, she quickly learned. After 10 years working at a clinic, she decided it was time for a break. Rather organically, she began making house calls. Now, in addition to the cats, dogs and birds she saw at the clinic, she counts among her clients goats, sheep, chickens and even one albino turkey.
Dr. Anna made some conscious choices as her business grew this last year. Already an organic gardener and proponent of local, organic food, she’s building her business sustainably, too.
Using earth friendly products for the internal workings, she’s also quick to suggest holistic and environmentally friendly treatments for our pets, drawing from naturopathic and eastern herbal medicine. (If she visits your pet, it’s quite likely she’ll bring some fresh eggs from her own chickens or a homegrown treat for your pet.)
She agreed that homemade pet food is one way of living more lightly with pets but recognizes this isn’t possible for everyone. She did note that with homemade food, it’s imperative to be mindful of proper trace element dosage (too much or too little can both be harmful). She recommends nutritional sites over recipe sites when exploring homemade options.
That said, Forrest and I (well really Forrest) decided to give it a try last Saturday night.
First step – a trip to Ballard Market for fresh and relatively local ingredients, among them Oregon Country Beef, Draper Valley Farms chicken and chicken parts (I’d prefer a more sustainable source than Draper Valley, even though they're just up I-5, but our options were limited late on Saturday), eggs, fish oil and a few nonlocal items, such as iodized Morton's salt.
Second step – grind the meat thanks to a vintage hand-cranked meat grinder retrieved from the basement.
Third step – mix it all together.
Fourth step – taste test with the cats. They liked it!
Now we have a good month's worth of healthy, earth-friendly cat food, at, so it seems, no greater out-of-pocket cost than the stuff we buy at the local pet store.
Next step – more ingredient sources and options for storage other than plastic freezer bags. One thing at a time.
The good news is it wasn’t difficult. It only took about an hour after shopping, and they seem to like it.
Rather than harsh medicines or chemicals, food can also be used as treatment. Dr. Anna cites many cases where food has made things … ahem… come out alright, be it sauerkraut as a pro-biotic or yeasty bread to coat and help eliminate a swallowed darning needle. Herbs grown at home can be good for digestion, pain relief or mood enhancing.
Even weight control is an environmentally sound decision, noted Dr. Anna. Many store-bought foods are carb-loaded, which isn’t good for carnivorous animals, and can contribute to obesity-related diseases, which can lead to toxic treatments.
I hadn’t thought much about toys (everything is a toy in my house), but even toys can be toxic and made from eco-unfriendly plastics and unknown chemical compounds. As with all things pet related, it’s good to ask a trusted pet retailer which products are better for your pet and the environment.
And then of course, there’s cat litter. Traditional clay-made cat litter is probably one of the worst offenders environmentally, from strip-mined clay to its lack of biodegradability. Seattle’s own online Grist addressed the issue in a recent Ask Umbra column.
One of my cats, the aptly-named Nightmare, doesn’t like the more planet-friendly options, such as pine pellets or corn or sawdust-based litters, a variety of which are carried at our local pet stores, including the independent Crown Hill Pet. I’ll keep trying.
Perhaps most importantly, an Internet search about green living with pets turned up a moving article on the Green Living Tips site that I’m sharing with everyone I know – and now some I don’t. I think the message is just too important not to pass along.
The article, “Recycled Pets,” states that two of the best things we can do are 1) recycle pets, or rather, adopt a “used” pet from a shelter or animal rescue organization like PAWS; and 2) spay or neuter your pets.
My neighbor cat, Buster, was a rescue (as were mine). Neighbors Jackie and Bill estimate he was about 7 years old when they adopted him. And, he’s the sweetest cat ever.
Point being, don’t overlook the more mature for the little guys. They all need homes and can make loving pets. Good for the soul, good for the critter and good for the planet.
Laura McLeod is a Ballard native who returned 12 years ago. She has a community garden in her yard that was a family garden for more than a century. She's a passionate advocate for sustainable food systems, environmental stewardship, gardening, conscious consumption and cultural difference.