Is man's best friend one of Earth's worst enemies?
Apparently so, according to a new book by sustainable living experts Robert and Brenda Vale. The Vales have started a minor tempest in a miniature teapot by claiming that the annual carbon pawprint of the humble Canis lupus familiaris is double that of a gas-guzzling SUV.
The news is reported in a new book called Time to Eat the Dog: The Real Guide to Sustainable Living. Curiously, the Vales' book is not available as an environmentally friendly audio download, but only as a paperback. Indeed, an entire grove of old growth forest was felled so the Vales could get out their message of sustainable living.
For that very reason -- among others -- I didn't read the Vales' book, but I did read about their book in the latest New Scientist, which I read rather religiously -- or, perhaps I should say, rather secularly. According to the Vales' research, a medium-sized pooch consumes about 360 pounds of meat a year, and about half that in cereal, which sounds oddly similar to my diet. It takes a lot of land to generate that much meat and cereal annually, about 2.07 acres -- which adds up to twice the carbon footprint required to drive a suburban utility vehicle 6,200 miles, including the energy to build the car.
The editors of New Scientist were skeptical (and grouchy), so they brought in a sustainability expert to assess the authors' findings. The expert, John Barrett of the Stockholm Environment Institute, came up with similar numbers, and even went the Vales one better, calling dog ownership "an extravagance."
This, of course, comes as welcome news to the sort of people who hate dogs. Anyway, it's one more reason not to like them: as if the mess they leave in your yard and the way they jump all over you with their muddy paws and sniff you in naughty places isn't enough. And, believe me, it is.
Cat haters received some good news too. Owning a cat is only slightly less disastrous, environmentally speaking -- equal to that of driving a Volkswagen Golf for a year -- though that raises its own set of troubling questions, such as why anybody want to do either one.
The Vales conclude that pets, regardless of their species, are pretty much bad news all around. They devastate wildlife and spread deadly disease. Doggy doo is not just something I step in every time I walk across the lawn, it pollutes rivers and streams, making water unsafe to drink and "starving waterways of oxygen and killing aquatic life." As for bloodthirsty Mr. Puss-Puss, he's responsible for the deaths of upwards of 25 birds, mammals and frogs per year, which the authors evidently think is a bad thing. How about sea otters? Do you think otters are cute, with their funny little faces and the way they float on their backs cracking oysters? Well, your cats are killing them by the bucket load due to a parasite in cat feces that often ends up in rivers and streams, and, eventually, in the otter's coastal living room.
PET RIGHTS GROUPS were quick to object to the Vales' findings, noting the importance of furry little critters. Pets are essential, they said, because they teach children responsibility -- anyway, they teach parents better than to think children can be responsible -- and, as for seniors, they provide companionship for lonely old people in nursing homes so their adult children don't have to.
The United States comes in for special criticism -- no surprise -- for not only do we drive the biggest cars and watch the biggest TVs, but when it comes to pet ownership, we make the rest of the world look like rank amateurs.
Upon hearing the report, President Obama was quick to announce a plan to reduce the "pet dog footprint" by 2018. He then set an example for the entire nation by taking the First Pet "Bo" out back of the White House and having him whacked by a secret service agent, as First Daughters Malia and Sasha looked on in horror. The shooting was applauded by environmentalists and dog haters, but was roundly condemned by animal rights groups, to say nothing of the reaction of Malia and Sasha's mother.
Like all good liberal intellectuals, the Vales have come up with some far-reaching and completely impractical solutions to the so-called pet problem. For instance, they suggest we put our pets on vegetarian diets. Better yet, three-day old fish heads are good enough for your cat, and if you are worried about Mr. Puss Puss's breath when he comes up and licks you in the face, maybe it's time you gave Internet dating another shot.