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Ed Said - Pets or pests?


dadThough there is considerable angst relating to livestock numbers and unsatisfactory farming practices, the growing number of motor vehicles, battery hens and air travel in relation to pollution and climate change, there is a major problem much closer to home that few have thought about – or want to think about. 

While dogs are considered man’s best friend, those who believe in the scientific evidence that expounds climate change should also be aware that dogs and cats might rather be man’s greatest enemy. If you believe one area of science relating to climate change, you should also believe this.

Dogs are pets, companions and most useful on farms as ‘employees’, by police for security, and as rescue animals. However science has proved that a medium to large dog (like a labrador) has a greater carbon footprint than a regular SUV which travels around 15-20,000 km per year. Dogs are not alone in this. Dogs and cats are responsible for a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions caused by animal agriculture, which adds up to a whopping 64 million tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent emitted in the production of their food according a study from 2017. 

Do dog and cat owners not want to know this or are they conveniently disregarding it, concentrating on glaciers, rising tides and single use plastic bags?

A couple specialising in sustainable living at Victoria University of Wellington have published a book ‘Time to Eat the Dog’ in which they compare the eco-friendliness of family pets with other elements of everyday life – one of which is driving. To find an eco rating for the average dog, they worked out what it ate and how much land it took to generate that food. A medium-sized dog consumes 90g of meat and 156g of cereal in every 300g portion of dried dog food. That takes 0.84 hectares to generate annually. Meanwhile, their gas-guzzling 4.6-litre Toyota Land Cruiser does around 10,000 kms a year. They calculated it used 55.1 gigajoules of energy annually over its lifetime, which includes what’s needed to build the car and run it. The SUV’s eco footprint is about 0.41 hectares – less than half that of the dog. 

While they are not praising the SUV it is interesting how such vehicles have been vilified for their damage to the environment, while pets have been completely ignored. Cats aren’t much better, either. Taking the estimated feline population for the top 10 cat-owning countries, the land needed to feed them every year was bigger than the whole of New Zealand. The research found that an individual cat has an eco footprint comparable to a Volkswagen Golf.

A 2017 survey says in America there were over 69 million dogs and 74 million cats. This number is rising by 5-10 per cent annually, similar to New Zealand. Many flat dwellers in Metropolitan cities have no motor vehicle but may have up to four dogs and/or cats in conditions completely unsuitable for a large animal and which is far from environmentally-friendly.

Can you balance the benefits against the costs which are the negative effect on the environment? It’s an emotional and emotive discussion but one we will need to have at some point if we are true to the cause. People with whom I have broached this subject tend to agree that there is – or will soon be – a need to reduce cat and dog numbers but have no intention of doing so themselves. I believe most pet lovers will respond similarly. We want to save the planet but by means that don’t really effect our lifestyle. (Dog) food for thought?

Don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger. 


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