What your Dog Can Teach you About Being Green

By Paula Zevin

Who can look at this puppy and not melt? Our bundle of joy was only 10 weeks old when we took him home and became pet owners again after a number of years without a dog in the house. Yes, we had “puppy-proofed” the house, gated off forbidden rooms and were ready to tackle the responsibilities of pet ownership.

Hold that thought for a moment! Were we really ready? Sure, the pup came with instructions for care and feeding, sheaves of information on veterinary care, grooming, treats (yes, treats!), exercise, play and training. I bought the quintessential reference book for the breed, puppy training pads, made well care appointments with a vet who came highly recommended, and prepared to feed this precious new thing a rather unusual diet, the likes of which involves absolutely zero commercially produced pelletized or canned pet food. So, we were ready. Or were we?

The author's puppy strikes a pose - who wouldn't go "green" for that face?

If you’ve never owned a puppy, or don’t remember how your child or children were when they were babies, you have a lot to learn. Sure, we’re greener than green: we eat local and organic as much as we can; we recycle faithfully everything that is recyclable in our town; we replaced all light bulbs as they burned out with energy-sipping CFLs, and we reuse and repurpose everything we can.  Our appliances are Energy Star rated and the thermostat settings might make someone else freeze or bake, depending on the season. That’s why sweaters, fans, open windows and iced drinks were invented, don’t you think so? No compost pile in our back yard – the local wildlife precludes that.  Suffice it to say that those critters love our vegetable garden in containers on the deck, and that I haven’t seen a tulip bloom since I planted the bulbs almost two decades ago.

Well, it turns out that babies and puppies have a lot in common: they’re low to the ground; they put everything in their mouths; they have to learn the meaning of “no” sometimes the hard way, and they are very curious. So, you sit up and begin to take a new inventory of your house and property. This time it’s about the lawn, greenery, cleaning stuff, the toys, the bedding and your rugs. I’ll get to the rugs later.

The results of my investigation were not pretty – we were not that green! We put pesticides on our lawn and trees, used cleaning agents and household products, all of which could be lethal to a dog. I had even bought the wrong puppy shampoo! And the crate pad was a choking hazard for little and for big dogs. That was a wake-up call. After all, who’d want any harm to come to that precious pup? So we changed. Vinegar-based products work quite well in most cases, Valencia Orange extracts are pet-safe and make for sparkling floors, chemistry-free cleaners and detergents can be found hiding in the back of the bottom shelves in your supermarket, there’s an entire market for holistic and organic pet stuff, and there are pesticide-free alternatives that actually work for lawn and tree care. Toys should be without stuffing and made from sturdy materials. If you search and don’t give up easily, you will find them. Of course, now we look closer at our neighbors’ lush greens lawns for those little stakes from lawn care companies and steer clear of the area as soon as we spot them when out on a stroll with the dog. I am happy to report that the pup is thriving and growing in leaps and bounds.

Ah, almost forgot about the rugs: if you have a nice one or a family heirloom, roll it up and put it away for about 12 – 14 months. If you have a latex- or rubber-backed one, say goodbye to it, unless you already put it away. And if you don’t like the look and feel of “unchewable” jute, well then you’re out of luck. Puppy teeth may be fragile, but they’re razor-sharp and can easily chomp wool, cotton batting and the non-skid backing of rugs and mats.

Yes, our pup is ruling us with a velvet paw. And it’s all for the better.

About the author: Paula Zevin is currently an Environmental Engineer in the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment at the Edison Environmental Center. Her work is centered on the technical and programmatic aspects of ambient water monitoring. She is also the volunteer water monitoring coordinator for EPA Region 2. Paula has been with EPA since 1991, and has worked in the chemical, pharmaceutical, textile and cosmetic industries prior to joining EPA.

About the puppy: The ‘Best Puppy Ever’ came into the lives of the Zevin family at precisely the right moment.  When not busy doing puppy things and being very serious about naps, food, play and growing, the ‘Best Puppy Ever’ is hard at work being the catalyst for more positive changes than anyone could have imagined.

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