The Carbon Pawprint by Plansky Hoang and Alex Jannini

The old adage “a dog is a man’s best friend” has long proven true. A series of experiments published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2011 found that pet owners were able to better cope with feelings of social rejection, had higher self-esteem and tended to be more active. But what may surprise those of us who try to be environmentally conscious is that Fido leaves a large carbon footprint.
In 2009, a study out of New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington found that due to meat-based diets, dogs have as much adverse effects on the environment as a standard-sized SUV. This study may leave a bitter taste in the mouth, and perhaps thoughts of having to give up the family dog. But with all the mental and emotional benefits, there is a desire to find sustainable pet ownership options. One option available is to adopt from the local shelter.
Adoption is a better option because it helps to reduce the stray population. A large number of homeless pets can have negative impacts on the environment. Since strays must fend for themselves, they often rummage through garbage, presenting problems with littering. They also hunt small animals, like birds, which can create problems with local bird diversity. Adoption has always been promoted as a method to reduce dog overpopulation and to minimize the consequences of irresponsible breeding.
By adopting, the abusive and inhumane breeding practices of breeders who run “puppy mills”, establishments that commercially breed animals in order to make profits, are reduced, as dogs that may have otherwise been thrown out on the streets find loving homes. However, there is still a massive population crisis in shelters. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), there are 6.5 million companion animals entered into shelters every year, but only about half of them get adopted. This unfortunately means a large fraction of the remaining half must sacrifice their lives to make room for another.
To help reduce the number of dogs in adoption centers, Helping Hounds Dog Rescue (HHDR) in Syracuse, NY uses a different approach to rescue strays. Their mission is to provide “a compassionate approach to dog rescue by matching homeless dogs from overcrowded shelter systems with loving homes.”
About twice a month, HHDR transports 40 to 50 dogs at a time from Texas and Alabama. HHDR is partnered with organizations in these areas that pull dogs out of overcrowded shelters, finds them foster families in their respective states, and transports them to the Central New York (CNY) area, where there is a higher demand for adoptable dogs.
About twice a month, HHDR transports 40 to 50 dogs at a time from Texas and Alabama to CNY. HHDR is partnered with organizations in these areas that pull dogs out of overcrowded shelters, finds them foster families in their respective states and transports them to the Central New York (CNY) area, where there is a higher demand for adoptable dogs.The organization was established in 2009, after a group of pet-loving individuals united to rescue a litter of beagle puppies and their mother. Ever since, HHDR has been matching dogs with families to free up space in traditional shelters, both locally and in Texas and Alabama. These shelters, now having more space for incoming dogs, have seen significant drops in the amount of euthanizations.
“Locally we have definitely had an impact...because they were euthanizing at a much higher rate,” says Vanessa Malone, the volunteer coordinator at HHDR since 2014. As for the south “they have seen a decrease in the percentages of the dogs that are euthanized in the particular shelters that our sister programs are pulling from,” she said. Euthanasia rates in the southern states are upwards of 80% for dogs that are taken in due to overpopulation and limited resources.
Adopting from a shelter or a rescue, rather than purchasing a dog, is one of the best ways to help with the dog overpopulation, and subsequently reduce the environmental impact of our canine companions. Vanessa has two Italian greyhounds, both of which are rescue dogs, and she stresses the idea that you don’t have to get specific breeds from breeders or puppy mills.
“Education has to be a huge part because it’s about getting people to understand that you can get breeds through rescue and you don’t have to go through a breeder,” said Malone. There are responsible breeders out there but there are also some that aren’t, who see breeding as a business, that doesn’t ensure that each puppy is going to have a permanent home. Many of these dogs, unfortunately, end up in shelters or on the streets. She also emphasized that very dog that leaves HHDR is also spayed/neutered. The program won’t adopt out a dog until they have been spayed/neutered because, as Malone states, “we don’t want to add to the problem of overpopulation and homeless pets.” And as a practical way to be green, they also use biodegradable waste bags!
The rescue has adopted out over 1,400 dogs per year for the past two years. That number is believed to increase in the next few years, as there are no signs that the demand for dogs will decrease. In order to meet the demands of the region, and to also free up more space in local and southern shelters, HHDR hopes to expand their space in the future and open an education space for humane education.
References: A.R. McConnell, C.M. Brown, T.M. Shoda, L.E. Stayton, and C.E. Martin. "Friends with Benefits: On the Positive Consequences of Pet Ownership." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol. 101. 2011 "Time to Eat the Dog? The Real Guide to Sustainable Living." By Brenda and Robert Vale. London. Thames and Hudson.

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