Pets and the environment: Cute or catastrophic?
On an episode of the UK comedy quiz show QI it was once mentioned that the worst thing you could do for the environment was own a pet. The show claimed that a large dog, for example, creates more greenhouse gases than an SUV (from its meat consumption presumably, rather than its biological functions).
I’m assuming the numbers referenced in QI were crunched based on averages, and did not account for individual lifestyle choices of pet owners, like becoming vegetarian, not having kids, feeding their pets home grown organic mealworms, keeping their cats locked inside or whatever.
There is no doubt that pets enrich our lives and as individual beings deserve to exist and not be abused. Nevertheless, millions of people keeping pets can tax the environment quite a bit. Cats kill incredible amounts of wildlife; dogs consume lots of resources and produce huge amounts of nasty waste. Non-native species or “pets gone wild” are transforming local ecosystems in fascinating and perhaps dangerous ways.
Take these examples:
- The Stephens Island Wren, a species discovered in 1894 was subsequently wiped out within a year by a single house cat, named Tibbles.
- There are now estimated to be 150,000 wild Burmese pythons living in the Florida Everglades, not to mention untold numbers of Nile Monitor lizards.
- London parks are home to around 40,000 wild parakeets, originally from Africa and India.
The Guardian recently ran a “crowd-sourcing” piece to get feedback from readers on what they think and feel regarding whether or not pets are environmentally harmful – or whether or not they care. There has been some interesting discussion.
Here are a couple of highlights:
[…] in total a British population of approximately 9 million cats was estimated to bring home an average of 92 million prey items in the period of this survey, including 60 million mammals, 27 million birds and 5 million reptiles and amphibians.
While there are shelters overflowing with unwanted companion animals, we have a moral duty to adopt these creatures if we are able and willing (and ensure they are neutered). It is totally unacceptable to support the puppy and kitten mill industries, and that includes small scale breeders, as this just perpetuates the cycle of cruelty, unwanted pets and euthanasia for the thousands who can’t be rehomed. There is no such thing as responsible breeding.