Plastic and Pets

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Our newest family member

Last week, my husband and I adopted a puppy. She is fuzzy and black with a little white spot on her nose and is so adorable when she gets tired and her long pink tongue hangs out of her mouth.

She is also peeing and pooping everywhere in our house.

I knew that housebreaking would be a process, taking patience and midnight willpower and constant trips to the backyard to teach her where she’s supposed to “go,” but I didn’t fully appreciate how plastic would factor in to this teaching process, nor to pet ownership in general.

There are of course the plastic poop bags—I realized I’d have to buy these when getting our dog, but I didn’t consider just how often our little precious pup would actually need to poop, sometimes nearing seven or eight times a day. Then there’s the deodorizing spray, “Nature’s Miracle,” for masking the scent of her urine, and also the plastic puppy pads for her to use when my husband and I are at work and she needs to go potty. At her age, approximately 10 weeks, her bladder is the size of a ping-pong ball. So, she has to pee…a lot. This equals constant sprays of “Nature’s Miracle,” so many that we’ve already gone through half of a bottle, and this also means lots of puppy pads that quickly get soaked and thrown into the trash.

And then there’s the wipes for her dirty paws, and the treats to reward her good behavior—items that come in plastic packaging—and the safe-for-puppy shampoo that won’t hurt her eyes when we suds her up after she digs and rolls in the muddy leaves. It’s sold in a plastic bottle, too, naturally.

The list goes on and on. Plastic chew balls, her plastic flea medicine, plastic tags on her new toys.

I’ve been trying to think of plastic-free alternatives to use for our pup, but I don’t want to extend my weird experiment on to her too much. It’s one thing for me to experiment on myself with different shampoos and deodorants that don’t come in plastic, but it seems unfair to hold my pup up to the same no-plastic standards. For example, my husband and I thought about trying some canned dog food for our pouch, but when we picked her up from the shelter, the vet told us to keep her on the same food she’d been eating as this would help with her adjustment to her new home. This food, which she loves, is called “Blue Buffalo,” sold of course in a big old plastic bag.

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The dog food our pup loves, sold of course, in a giant plastic sack.

My plastic restrictions have become very relaxed when it comes to my dog. It’s just so hard to avoid, and I want her to be a healthy, happy dog. Most of the products that will keep her this way are sold in plastic. This is the same dilemma I’ve faced in trying to buy plastic-free products for myself—often, the best stuff is sold only in plastic.

Even though my plastic challenge has slipped with the addition of our furry family member, there are a few great products I’ve found. For example, a very helpful man at Petco recommended some poop-pick-up bags from a company called Earth Rated. We got some of the green bags that, while not totally biodegradable, do have an additive that helps them break down unlike normal plastic bags. The company also makes a plastic-free white bag that’s sourced from vegetable starches and is 100% biodegradable.

I’ve also been following my husband’s lead in using a dog-do-designated shovel to pick up our pup’s poo in our backyard. Our landlord, who lives upstairs and also owns a dog, uses this shovel for his dog’s poop. Directly taking the poop to an outdoor trashcan has helped save us many green plastic bags.

We were also able to find a metal dog crate instead of a plastic one, and we found some great dog bowls that are ceramic. And, shortly before getting our dog, a friend invited me to join a neighborhood swap-group on Facebook where people “re-box” items they no longer use and offer them up to others for free. I was able to get some puppy items—a brush, a collar, and a leash, in this way. Trying to go “plastic free” has made me appreciate how powerful second-hand sharing and reusing can be in eliminating waste and halting the constant accumulation of packaging.

Perhaps the most powerful pet-ownership lesson I’ve learned, though, has been this: the more effort I put in to caring for my dog and listening to her needs—for instance, the more quickly I take her outside when she’s starting to circle and sniff the floor, and the more willpower I can muster in the wee hours of the morning to take her outside before an accident—leads immediately to less plastic. I save the puppy pads I’d have to replenish and the sprays of deodorizer. Plus, I save her the physical discomfort of an accident inside.

This is the same when applied to my own efforts for my self-care. The more effort I put in on a daily basis—from carrying around my reusable bag and hauling my purple coffee mug with me on the train, to making my own food instead of ordering the plastic-bomb of take out—will lead, almost always, to less plastic.

So much improvement in our society, I feel, could come from just a little more daily effort.

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Our cute little monster

We got our puppy from a shelter, and I’ve wondered since snuggling her adorable tiny muzzle with that precious white spot on her nose why we have a problem with unwanted pets in our society. How can we simultaneously churn out animals at an unsustainable rate at the same time that we send so many animals to die? How can puppy mills continue to exist when so, so many darling pets sit waiting in shelters to be taken to a home instead of being put to sleep?

It’s such a strange and awful phenomenon, such a terrible dichotomy, symptomatic of our overarching societal problem of producing too much and not being thoughtful enough about what we do with the excess.

We are a society of waste, reflected not only in the products we use and throw in the trash and the plastic floating and sinking into the ocean, but also, quite literally, in the fact that we throw away lives. Surely, with a little more work, a little less inertia, a little more awareness, we could be better.

I’m trying to remind myself of this at five in the morning when my puppy whines to be taken out to pee.

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