Green dogs

Having a dog is not necessarily an environmentally friendly choice. They consume resources and they produce waste. However, I know that my dogs are good for my mental and physical health, plus both are rescues and, therefore, they were ‘going spare’ so to speak. So, with various issues about feeding, entertaining, maintaining doggy health and dealing with waste in mind, over the past few years I have been making changes to try to reduce my dogs’ environmental pawprints, and I think that I have finally achieved the best I’m going to. If you have dogs (or cats), I think it’s worth doing a bit of an environmental audit and seeing where you can make improvements; perhaps my experience and conclusions will be helpful.

Food

This, surprisingly, has been the final thing that I’ve got sorted to my satisfaction. I have been through a variety of foods, up until recently mainly relying on tinned organic meat (i.e. not a complete diet) combined with organic complete dog biscuits. However, both these products were made in Germany and the biscuits came in a plastic sack. I decided to make a concerted effort, therefore, to seek out some food produced closer to home and plastic free. Some extensive searches led me to Naturaw, which is raw food made from high-welfare meat, available in a variety of flavours and it comes packed in home-compostable cartons made from sugar cane waste. The packaging does include wool insulation that’s plastic-covered, but you simply collect this and when you have eight pieces, you send it back and get £5 off your next order. The dogs absolutely love this food (we’ve fed them a partially raw diet for ages, getting minced offal and trim from an organic butcher) and it’s produced in the UK. It’s worth knowing that the company also sells cat food, so if you are looking to get away from those environmentally disastrous pouches, this might be the answer. I also found Clydach Farm, who sell British-produced complete dry dog food packed in paper sacks, so I’ve bought some of this too, although we’re currently using up the last of the old stuff from Germany.

Both companies I am buying from support British farming and do not use plastics in their packaging (apart from the returnable stuff that gets reused). I am able to home compost all the cartons and sacks so I’m taking full responsibility for dealing with the waste… and it’s adding fertility to my garden.

Snacks

I gave up buying dog biscuits years ago and now make my own: flour, fat, medicinal charcoal powder and water are the only ingredients. Simply rub the fat into the flour, add the charcoal and mix, then add enough water to make a dough. Roll it out, cut it into biscuits and bake in the oven. I usually cook mine when I have the oven on for something else, so don’t even use any extra electricity and the only plastic involved is the bag the charcoal came in.

Dental health

We’ve given up the dental chews and moved over to crunchy carrot sticks. The carrots usually come in bunches from the local organic farm, so there is absolutely no packaging and very few chew miles.

Equipment

All dogs need collars and leads and ours each have a harness, Daisy also has waterproof overalls and Sam has a waxed jacket. Other than that there are beds and towels and crates. I think the important thing to remember here is that dogs don’t care whether their lead matches their collar or whether they are colour-coordinated with your outfit. With this in mind, we keep our purchases to a minimum, so Daisy is still wearing the collar she arrived with and using Max’s old lead and Sam has had the same collar and lead for the past 10 years. Daisy’s overalls were bought new for her last year, but they should last a good long time and can be repaired; Sam’s waxed cotton coat (with warm lining added by me using a bit of scrap fleece) belonged to a dog we had many years ago. Beds are washable and generally made from scraps or are secondhand.

Entertainment

Sam loves a ball – Daisy is indifferent, so we have a few balls. We buy good quality robust balls (not tennis balls) and these last for years. Sam is a strong chewer, so she needs toys that she can really get her teeth into – recently both she and Daisy have been enjoying pieces of antler that we’ve had for a few years (originally bought because Max was allergic to bones) and in her life she has had a couple of Kong chew toys that have lasted ages.

Poo

Although this is probably the issue that most people don’t want to think about, it is one that I resolved a long time ago. Basically my approach is to collect the poo in paper and, if necessary, transport it home in a much re-used plastic bag. Once back home, poo and paper go into a compost bin with a lid that can be secured and a tap at the bottom, so that excess moisture can be drained off. To this we add more paper to ensure that there is plenty of fibre and cold wood ash to increase the pH because poo is acidic. The bin is gradually filled and, after a few months, the contents are transferred to a second bin along with other partly composted material, where it all remains (with a secure lid on) for about a year. Once fully composted, the resultant material (which does not smell) is buried… for example in the bottom of the trench dug for climbing beans each year. We do not use this compost as top-dressing on the vegetable plot, just in case.

There are other approaches – you can buy a dog waste composter that can be buried in the ground, and which releases the nutrients directly into the earth. This was not a viable option for us because we have very shallow soil overlying shale and so digging a pit would have required machinery, plus the soil water is often at the surface, so it would have created surface contamination… our system is contained and controllable. You could burn the waste, but this isn’t very environmentally friendly, or you can simply bin (or even flush it) it and let it be somebody else’s problem – a solution that I was not prepared to accept.

Handling dog waste is necessary for all dog owners – unless you are irresponsible and don’t clean up after them – and care is required. Anyone with health issues needs to be very cautious. Our system requires more than one handling, but with care (gloves, face mask, washing hands, face body and clothes afterwards etc) you can reduce exposure and end up with a useful resource. I personally do not advocate the use of degradable plastic bags – these simply break down into small fragments in the environment and cause additional plastic pollution. If you are not prepared to take responsibility for all aspects of your dog’s life, you shouldn’t have a dog.

So, there you have it – I’ve tried to address all make improvements as far as possible gradually over the years and I think we are all happy with the results.

Wipe-able

When Daisy came to live with us we were told that she was aggressive towards small dogs, that she was incontinent and would require daily medication and that she didn’t like men… but that she travelled well. It turned out, after a bit of experience with her, that none of these things was true. We think that all her problems were associated with stress, and now she’s happy and settled, they have gone away. Except she gets sick in the car.

She’s fine for journeys of up to half an hour, but after that, showing absolutely no signs of stress – no hair loss, no drooling, no trembling – she vomits. Even if we don’t feed her for hours before the journey, she still vomits. We go prepared – spare bedding and towels, plus a big plastic bag to store the soiled stuff – but there’s quite a lot of washing to do at the end of it all.

So, this week I decided to make a waterproof bed for her travel crate – something that could be wiped easily. It will still need to be combined with a small absorbent towel, but it will significantly reduce the volume of washing. I knew that I had enough secondhand materials to achieve this – waterproof fabric for the outer and woolly pads for the inside. First, I removed the wool padding from some WoolCool insulation (more details about this in this post). It is made in relatively long narrow strips, so needed to be cut and stitched together to obtain the right size pad for inside the cushion. I stitched the pieces together with wool yarn so that if there is any felting, the yarn will bond securely to the pads. I could have deliberately felted the whole thing together, but since to bed will sit flat in the crate with relatively little disturbance, I decided that this was unnecessary. In total I stitched three layers on top of each other, with none of the joins aligned in the different layers

The outer was made from a waterproof tablecloth that I bought secondhand. I really like the design and plan to make a bag using some of it, but it’s huge, so there was plenty for a dog bed. I cut out a piece the right size, stitched it into an envelope and inserted the pad before sewing it up.

Then daisy checked it out in the crate to make sure I had done a good job:

On Wednesday, we trialled it on a journey lasting an hour and a quarter. It worked well up to a point, but there was some over-spill, if you’ll excuse the image that conjures. So, phase two has involved the construction of a barrier to enhance containment. I made a long strip of fabric, stitched the corners to give them some support and then mitred the bottom part at each corner, so that 10 cm of the fabric would lie flat under the cushion, whilst 15 cm would stand upright. A few metal pegs to hold everything in place, and we are ready for the next trial run.

If I was making it for someone else, I would use a double layer of the fabric for the upright part, so that the back wasn’t showing from the outside. However, for my own purposes, and because its not designed to be decorative, merely functional, I’m happy to leave it as it is. Hopefully, no further modifications will be required.

The only new material used in this project was sewing thread – not a bad creation from unwanted items.

Watching the world

Four times a year Daisy goes to have her hair done. She’s a very woolly spaniel and without grooming, she gets matted and this causes skin problems, not to mention discomfort. When she first came to us the fur on her ears was very tangled and the only way to deal with the problem was to have them clipped – it was impossible to get through the mats even with a specialist ‘rake’, and attempting to do so caused her pain. So, every 12 weeks or so I take her to Vicky, the groomer at the vets, and she is transformed from a woolly bear:

Woolly

To a sleek, shiny spaniel:

Smooth

Whilst Daisy is being washed and clipped, Sam and I have an hour to spend. Since, it is often raining, we have got into the habit of going to a dog-friendly pub. I buy a coffee and Sam has complimentary dog biscuits, It’s a rather nice building, with big windows that have wide, low sills – just perfect for a small dog to settle down on and watch the world go by:

Sam is happy to be entertained this way for an hour, and she usually gets some fuss from other customers, but I try to take something to occupy my time. One or two of you have received a letter that I have written in this very spot, and another one of you will be the lucky recipient of this my latest epistle. In fact, from the perspective of letters, I could do with weekly trips to catch up!

Sometimes it’s good to have time out like this… and you will notice there was a letter involved, so I’m getting over my writer’s block – hurrah!

Pampered pooches

I regularly support Knit for Peace (a wonderful charity) with donations or entering their regular raffles. I’m not generally lucky, but a couple of months ago I was the winner of their British Wool raffle and very quickly the recipient of this box of delights:

I really, really don’t NEED more wool, but it was such fun to receive, and I will probably give some of it away; however I did want to use some of it. As you can see, Sam and Daisy were very interested, so I decided that they could benefit from this unexpected bonus.

Years ago, when we first got a second dog, we bought a big soft bed for them to share, comprising an inner cushion and an outer squishy surround. Over the years it’s got more and more tatty and the filling had clumped together, so that is was extremely lumpy. Neither Sam nor Daisy was interested in using it, preferring the sofa, the carpet or whatever thing I’m knitting or crocheting. I was thinking about this, and realised that the pooches clearly like to snooze on woolly things, so would probably appreciate a woolly bed. Not wanting to entirely discard the original bed I decided to re-cover it, but first I pulled all the stuffing out of both pieces, fluffed it up and put it all back into the cushion part, supplemented with some extra stuffing and a whole load of tiny wool scraps that I have been saving for just such a project. The outer piece went into the fabric recycling bag because it really wasn’t salvageable.

Then I set to work making some squares, which Daisy kept safe for me:

IMGP6127

MY squares

Interestingly, when turned the re-stuffed cushion over, so that the cotton side was upwards rather than the artificial fleece, both dogs became more interested in sleeping on it (as demonstrated by Daisy below right). However, soon it will have a whole new woolly cover and may be even more tempting. I have completed the first side and it has been tested and approved:

The other half is well underway in slightly different colours, so that we can ring the changes simply by turning it over.

I realise that Sam hasn’t had much of a look-in in this post, despite it being about dog beds, so here she is having fun on the beach the other day:

I’m hoping I will have the completed doggy bed ready to show you later in the month.

Finding Rainbows

We make a special space in our lives and our hearts for our pets, and when we lose them, we are left with a hole. Max was a huge part of our lives and his care was one of our major concerns during the last few months of his life so his departure left me very sad and empty. But, what kind friends I have… in very short order a parcel arrived all the way from Pauline (The Contented Crafter) in New Zealand, with a very special light-catcher made to commemorate Max’s life. There is even a little heart shaped frame in which I have placed a photo.

Isn’t it lovely? And, in combination with my other light catcher (made specially by Pauline for the limery) I have rainbows (which look lovelier in real life)

like the ones that Max left in my memory.

Daisy is doing a good job of making new rainbows in our life and she and Sam seem to be enjoying each other’s company.

What joy to give another unwanted dog a home… although I can’t for the life of me understand why she was taken back to the rescue. Perhaps it was the singing.

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