What's Better for the Planet: An SUV or a Dog

Robert and Brenda Vale, a New Zealand couple and specialists in sustainable living at Victoria University of Wellington, say that keeping a dog can be twice as harmful to the environment than having a fuel inefficient SUV.

According to their study, a medium-sized dog eats around 360 pounds of meat and roughly 200 pounds of cereal a year. Based on the land required to generate the dog's food, this pooch has an annual footprint of 2.07 acres -- around twice the area required by a 4x4 driving 6,200 miles a year, including energy to build the car.

Dog lovers, including some veterinarians, are angered by the findings and question their accuracy. While a dog may have that kind of impact on the planet if his food was solely being produced to feed him, the meat and grains used to feed animals are often the byproducts of food production for humans. Therefore, one cannot accurately state that a dog -- solely for food-based reasons -- is bad for the environment.

The Vales also argue that pet waste is detrimental to the planet and can pollute waterways and the ground. However, many pet owners pick up correctly after their pets and argue that natural wildlife also relieve themselves outdoors, thus affecting the landscape.

Pet lovers claim the benefits of having a pet far outweigh the benefits of driving an SUV. Pets have been shown to be good for one's health, reducing stress, depression and anxiety. Pet therapy is often instrumental in senior housing communities and in area hospitals.

If you own pets and want to cohabitate peacefully in an environmentally friendly way, here are some steps to take.

* Properly dispose of pet waste.

* Ensure your pet visits the vet annually so that he or she is not inadvertently spreading diseases or parasites.

* Instead of feeding your pets only commercially produced foods, supplement meals with acceptable table scraps for your pet that would normally end up in the trash.

* Use "green" pet products to further reduce your dog or cat's impact on the planet.

* And according to the Vales, get a pet that serves a dual purpose, such as a hen that can lay eggs or a rabbit that can eventually end up on the dinner table as a meal. Pet lovers may not be so sure about that final tip.

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