As the snow is melting you have may have noticed may…smelly presents… on the sidewalk from our furry friends. It can be easy to assume that taking a little less time in our winter walks won’t make a big impact. However, in addition to stinky surprises, dogs can have significant carbon footprints, waste, and impact on our natural spaces. Nationwide, according to Forbes, 78% owners got a pet during the pandemic which has increased our doggy populations even more. With dog ownership so high in our area, environmental impacts are amplified making it even more important for dog owners to be aware of the most sustainable practices to keep their dogs and our earth happy and healthy. Following these simple guidelines to help be a sustainable dog owner!
1. Dispose of the doo-doo!
Pet waste when not disposed of properly can contaminate waterways, releasing bacteria and excess nitrogen. This alters the ecosystems of streams, lakes, and other waterways causing excess algal blooms and for the water to be intolerable for native species and unsafe for recreation. Picking up after your dog does not just keep our public spaces clean and enjoyable, it protects our water quality. According to the EPA it is also best practice to try and avoid allowing your dog to poop or pee within 200 feet of any water bodies. After picking up the poop, make sure to put the goodie bag you’re left with in the trash. Although made from organic material, pet waste cannot go in the compost, even if you use a biodegradable or compostable bag. This is because any bacteria, parasites, or viruses in dog waste can be passed to humans through compost and does not go away through the composting process. Pet waste and bags will also not decompose if left out on the trail, so please make sure it ends up in the trash!
2. Practice positive pooch purchasing!
Spoiling our pets is a part of life, but our pet related purchases significantly impact our carbon footprints and waste. Being mindful of your purchases, supporting local businesses, and buying durable, reusable options can go a long way to make your dog more sustainable. Think critically about what your dog uses and wants before making purchases. Try a type of toy or bed food in a smaller quantity before buying in bulk and try to donate anything your pet does not go for to a friend or animal shelter such as the Eagle Valley Humane Society. Focus on buying durable and reusable toys to avoid waste. If you know your pup loves to destroy plushies within a few minutes, save those for special occasions and focus on harder to break toys made of plastic or rubber. This helps to reduce waste, the carbon from the toy production, save you some money!3. Be aware of wildlife!
Here in Colorado, we are lucky to have lots of access to the natural world, but this comes with its own environmental considerations when it comes to our dogs. Dogs can exchange diseases with wild animals, scare or kill wildlife, destroy habitat, or be harmed by wildlife. The best practices to keep your dogs and our environments safe is to keep them on leash when out in nature. Although your dog may be well behaved, according to a study conducted by Colorado State University, even the smell of dogs can disrupt the natural patterns of the creatures who live there, and trigger stress responses. There are also some areas that our dogs, sadly cannot come along to, such as areas in national parks and public lands that are being particularly protected for wildlife or habitat restoration. Respecting seasonal wildlife closures for deer and elk herds will also help to keep you and your pets safe, as well as help out the herds. Checking the regulations on dogs before you head out for the day can help you to know what hikes or campgrounds welcome pups and when you should leave them at home.
Elizabeth Baer is the Sustainability Fellow at Walking Mountains Science Center