Is man's best friend the environment's worst enemy? That's the claim from a new book, which says your pet has a carbon footprint that far exceeds your gas-guzzling SUV. Sound far-fetched, Fido? On the surface, yes. But when you delve into the facts, a case can be made.
That case is made by a New Zealand couple named Robert and Brenda Vale. Their book, "Time to Eat the Dog: The Real Guide to Sustainable Living" focuses on how much land space is needed to raise the animals that pets eat.
Dogs, for example, eat an average of 360 pounds of meat every year. Two acres of land is needed to generate this amount of food. That footprint is double the amount of driving an SUV 6,200 miles a year, including the energy used to build the car. The footprint for a cat is a little smaller -- it's the same as driving a Volkswagen Golf for a year.
To confirm the results, the New Scientist magazine asked John Barrett at the Stockholm Environment Institute in York, Britain, to calculate the footprint based on his own data. The results were essentially the same.
"Owning a dog really is quite an extravagance, mainly because of the carbon footprint of meat," Barrett concluded.
The Vales' book also says pets' environmental impact is not limited to their carbon footprint, as cats and dogs devastate wildlife, spread disease and pollute waterways.
But animal rights activists say don't give up your pets so soon. They say the advantages of having a pet far outweighs its supposed negative environmental impact.
"Pets are anti-depressants, they help us cope with stress, they are good for the elderly," Reha Huttin, president of France's 30 Million Friends animal rights foundation told the international news agency AFP.
"Everyone should work out their own environmental impact. I should be allowed to say that I walk instead of using my car and that I don't eat meat, so why shouldn't I be allowed to have a little cat to alleviate my loneliness?"
Ways to reduce your pet's footprint include feeding your cat parts of fish that would otherwise get thrown away, and walking your dog away from environmentally sensitive areas.
The Vales have one more tip -- make sure your pet serves a dual purpose. They propose getting a hen, which lays eggs, or a rabbit, which will eventually end up on the dinner table.
"Rabbits are good, provided you eat them," Robert Vale said bluntly, not taking into an account a child might get a little upset about eating Bugs, the family bunny.