You can take my pets when you pry the leash from ... you know the rest

Did you or your family get a puppy for Christmas? Perhaps you adopted an older dog, a very responsible thing to do. Or maybe you already have a dog or two, and you included them in your Christmas celebration, buying gifts for them because you consider them members of your family.

Good for you. Dogs are wonderful pets. They’re smart and loyal, playful and great listeners. They can join you in outdoor sports, help with livestock if you’re a rancher, provide assistance if you have physical impairments or simply offer much-needed companionship. You are to be congratulated for having dogs in your life.

Now get rid of them.

Your pets are helping to destroy the planet.

At least that’s the conclusion of New Zealand authors Brenda and Robert Vale. Their book, “Time to Eat the Dog? The Real Guide to Sustainable Living,” says that the carbon footprint of having a dog is more than double that of driving a gas-guzzling sports utility vehicle.

The reason is what they eat.

The Vales analyzed popular brands of dog food, based on the assumption that a medium-sized dog eats roughly 360 pounds of meat and 200 pounds of cereal each year. They computed the energy required for raising that food, as well as the land needed to produce it. When you add in things like dog feces, and the destruction dogs can do to wildlife, they concluded that dog ownership is having a devastating effect on our planet.

Cats are only marginally better, with the average cat having the carbon footprint of a small sedan, according to an Agence France Presse article about the Vales’ book that I found on the Internet last week.

I haven’t read the book. In fact, I couldn’t even find it in my preliminary search on I had to go to Amazon’s United Kingdom version to find it. There I learned that the book is not just about the impact of dogs. It has all sorts of helpful hints for sustainable living. For instance, if you’re thinking of a divorce, don’t go through with it until you’ve found a new partner. That way you will save the environment from the cost of running two households.

Saving the environment, of course, is at the forefront of everyone’s minds when a divorce is pending.

Just so you know, I am not going to follow the advice I offered above. Judy and I are definitely not going to get rid of our hounds, Lila and Zen. In fact, this holiday weekend, we are playing host to several guest dogs — those belonging to our children, Derek and Kara, who made the trip over from Denver.

In fact, I suspect few people will seriously consider giving up their pets in the name of the environment. Some of the most environmentally conscious people I know are every bit as attached to their dogs as we are.

It’s not just an American extravagance. When we were in Prague a few years ago, we were amazed at the number of people walking their dogs at all hours of the day and night on downtown streets. It was apparently also appropriate to take a leashed and muzzled dog on the city’s electric trolley cars.

Other Western countries are equally enamored with their dogs. The Agence France article I mentioned also quoted a French animal-rights advocate who was appalled at the suggestion of humans giving up dogs. “Pets are anti-depressants, they help us cope with stress, they are good for the elderly,” said Reha Huttin.

The goal of science is not to confirm for us that our comfortable lives are just what this planet needs, of course. People like the Vales can perform a real service by examining what is, in fact, a big part of many people’s lives and alert us to the impact it has. But they should stop with “the sky is falling!” rhetoric.

Already, we have been told we must give up our SUVs, alter our eating habits, change our light bulbs, curtail our air travel and limit the size of our families, all in the name of reducing our carbon footprints. Now someone says we should give up our pets, as well?

Meanwhile, we hear the incessant news stories about the dire effects of global warming — some true, some highly exaggerated. We watch world leaders do nothing but pontificate in Copenhagen, while flying into the conference on large jets and cruising around in limos. And we learn that several of the world’s leading climate-change scientists manipulated data to strengthen their research and tried to quash dissenting opinion.

Is it any wonder that more and more people seem to be tuning out the climate-change concerns? According to a variety of polls, global warming is now far down the list of most Americans’ concerns.

I had thought I might try to purchase a copy of “Time to Eat the Dog,” if only to get my blood pressure up as I read it. But then I read some of the customer reviews on the Amazon-UK site. They were not exactly positive, to put it kindly. At least one raised questions about the authors’ knowledge of statistics. Nearly all of the others, including from people who seemed to agree with the concept, said it was ponderous, heavy reading. One called it “dangerously dull.”

So, I won’t be waiting for a copy of the book. Instead, I think Lila the Labrador monster and I will take a hike this weekend, blissfully destroying the planet as we go.


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