Feeding Fido and Fluffy
Yesterday I created a new Facebook group, called Animal Family. Within an hour, the page had 100+ members! Dozens of portraits of fur-family, mostly dogs and cats, were posted within a few hours. Most of these were rescued, picked up off the street in various dire conditions or brought home from shelters. These family members were not purchased with pedigrees from puppy mills but rescued, sometimes with great expense and effort from their humans.
And into this celebration of the way we live as fur-family comes news from a recently published study by Gregory Okin, a geographer who has calculated the environmental impact of pet food. He reports that "In the US, there are more than 163 million dogs and cats that. . . through their diet, constitute about 25–30% of the environmental impacts from animal production." There is that familiar ache in the pit of my stomach where the burden of guilt has settled over me, and now over my innocent fur-babies too.
It's a good study because it's always better to know than to stick your head in the sand and go about your business with your hind parts so vulnerably positioned. But let's also acknowledge that ethical uncertainty is both necessary and burdensome. We choose to bear the burden of imperfection and uncertainty while we do what good we can and avoid what bad we can. Half-assed ethics is an expression that came across my radar a few years ago, the idea being that it's better to do some good, and to avoid some bad, than it is to look the other way or to just do whatever appeals in the moment, or to sit down depressed and give up because it's all too confusing, too difficult.
These cats and dogs are alive and in need. They matter because they are living, because without our help they suffer. So helping them is good. Do it (you can read a bit of philosophical explanation on the about section of my website). Yes, of course there are cautions we should take from this study. We should check the impulse to make a mini-me of an animal companion, a little consumer who must have the best cuts of meat and the best toys. Fido doesn't need fine cuts of meat (and he can eat grain). Consider reducing your own meat consumption as an ethical price paid for the pleasure of his company. Fluffy does need meat; cats are obligatory carnivores. But we don't.
And if you really want to do something that is better for the environment, avoid plastic packaging, plastic toys, plastic crates. . . plastic anything. This is to say that everything we do has environmental impact and that some environmental impacts are bigger than others. Rescue that dog and take one fewer flight somewhere. Trap, neuter, and release that feral kitty, and use less plastic. Bring that old feral cat in and give her some canned food, but drive less! Walk more, and perhaps take Fido along instead of buying some compensatory treat.
If you'd like to join the discussion, see you on Animal Family!