You can have your cat and your planet, too, with these five earth-friendly tips

I am a cat person. Go ahead and roll your eyes, dog people, but I’m far from alone; an estimated 46 percent of U.S. households included at least one cat in 2012, for a whopping total of 95.6 million pet cats purring on the laps of my fellow American cat people. I am also an environmentally conscious individual, and I think it’s safe to assume that there are many others like me in some of those millions of cat-owning households.

The author's cat Zaida waiting for ... dinner. (Photo provided)

We face a conundrum, my fellow cat-loving, eco-friendly people and I. Pets are serious waste-generators and place a fair amount of stress on the planet, and cats in particular have a reputation for doing damage to native ecosystems. But you can have your cat and your planet, too; here are five ways to make cat ownership a little greener.

1. Keep your cat inside. Cats are skilled hunters, even when they’re well-fed and not looking for a meal. One of the most common complaints about cats is that they have a serious impact on songbird populations, and it’s true. Given the opportunity, cats can and will kill birds, small mammals, lizards, frogs and just about anything else that looks like prey. The solution is to simply not give them the opportunity; keep them inside. Your cat benefits from the indoor life, too. Indoor cats, on average, live well into their teens, while outdoor cats live only an average of three to five years due to a combination of disease, predation, exposure and injury.

2. Spay and neuter. A big part of the reason that cats have such a negative impact on native wildlife is that there are just so many of them; the 95.6 million figure quoted earlier in this column only accounts for the ones kept as pets and does not take into account the untold hundreds of millions of feral, or wild, cats that no one claims. Cats are capable of reproducing extremely quick – think 45 kittens born for every person born in the U.S. – and are wildly overpopulated in terms of what shelters and homes can support. The only effective way to control cat populations is to slow down their rate of reproduction by having as many of them fixed as possible – not just the pets you have at home, but also roaming populations of feral cats. Most animal shelters run very low-cost or free spay-neuter programs for feral cats, commonly referred to as TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) programs; call your local shelter and ask for more information if there are cats in your home, in your neighborhood or on your property that need to be fixed. Your songbirds will thank you for it.

3. Switch to biodegradable litter. Traditional cat litter – the stuff that looks like little gray rocks – is bad news on a few levels. It’s strip- and pit-mined clay, so its production is extremely destructive. It’s not biodegradable, and millions of pounds of it are bagged up in plastic and tossed into the trash every year. It’s also silica-based, and the dust that billows up when you pour it in the box, or whenever your cat digs in it, is a carcinogen. Luckily there are several healthier, more ecofriendly options on the market, and due to their growing popularity they’re becoming easier and easier to find. One of the most popular options is pine litter made from sawdust reclaimed from lumber production; others are made from secondary wheat, walnut shells and corn cobs, to name just a few. All-natural litters are biodegradable, compostable (for use on nonedible plants), and sewer- and septic-safe; and as an added bonus, they’re much healthier for you and your cat.

4. Ditch the junk food. Like our food, pet foods range from healthy, holistic, organic and nutritious to junk food that causes nothing but trouble. Choosing a high quality food for your cat is a cornerstone of good care, but it’s also good for the planet. When cats are fed a lower-quality diet, they need to eat more of it to get the nutrients they need, and the production of meat and grains has a huge carbon footprint. By buying a high-quality food, you can ensure that your cat gets the most nutrition out of the smallest volume of food. You can even find USDA Certified Organic pet foods to make sure your dollars are supporting farming practices you believe in. Although feeding your cat a vegetarian diet may seem like a potential solution here, please don’t do it; cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that their physiology requires an almost exclusively meat diet. Removing meat from the equation may be a good way for you to reduce your carbon footprint, but it is extremely unhealthy for your cat.

5. Recycle a pet. Want to add a cat (or dog) to your family? Don’t go out and buy one from a pet store; all that does is encourage people to continue breeding pets for profit and adding to the overpopulation epidemic that generates tons of waste, costs millions of pets their lives and negatively impacts native wildlife. Instead, head to your favorite shelter or rescue and take home a preowned, 100 percent recycled cat! You’ll save money, a cat in need will get a home, and your life will be a little greener…and full of a lot more purrs.


Beth Oleson is an outreach specialist for Bluegrass Greensource, working primarily with Lexington businesses to help build a more sustainable community. A Lexington native, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in marine science and environmental studies from the University of South Carolina before returning home to the Bluegrass to pursue non-profit work. When she’s not busy with Greensource, Beth’s other passion is animal rescue and welfare.

This article appeared in KY Forward on June 5, 2014.


It’s not always easy being green with a puppy in the house, but it is important

My wife and I were fortunate enough back in November to adopt a beautiful golden retriever that we named Bailey. She just hit the four-month-old mark and is constantly keeping us on our toes as we have adapted our lives around her.

What was once an easy process of getting up and getting ready in the morning now includes an extra meal to be served, walks when the weather is nice and several trips outside to let her do her business. We can’t leave anything on the floor now as she loves to take socks and shoes into her mouth and prance right past us, as if to show off her new chew toys.


Bailey (Photo provided)

And as she grows, no food is safe, whether it’s on the coffee table, the dining room table or the counters in our kitchen. Basically everything we do around our house has to be thought about from a new perspective, which is: Can the puppy get to this and if so, will she either try to eat it or destroy it? Needless to say it has been quite an adventure.

As an environmental educator, though, it has also forced me to think about dog ownership from an environmental standpoint. One of the most common thoughts regarding dog ownership, especially with dogs, is their waste. Most people in Lexington are aware that it is law that you must clean up after your dogs on a walk and that you can be cited if you don’t.

What most don’t know is why this is so important. During a rain event, or perhaps through some other means, a lot of that waste ends up in our roads, which means that it eventually washes into our storm drains. Unfortunately, the water that ends up down these drains isn’t cleaned or filtered and, instead, flows directly into streams and creeks throughout the city.

As the waste builds up in these areas it starts to have a negative impact on our water. The waste can spread disease and bacteria as it sits in areas where it shouldn’t or as it flows in the water. That can have a negative impact on the quality of the water itself, putting additional material in the water that can throw off the different components that make up water quality.

Needless to say picking up after a pet is a fantastic way for dog lovers to have a direct impact on their local environment. Here are some other ideas on how to be a green pet owner:

  • When it’s warm out and you’re bathing your dog, rather than running the hose nonstop, fill up a bucket or kiddie pool.
  • If a toy has fallen out of favor, rather than throwing it away, try to find someone else to take it or donate it to a shelter.
  • Likewise, old blankets and towels are always needed at local animal shelters.
  • If you prefer to leave the TV on for the pet at home for the noise, either put it on a timer or try using a radio instead.

As we continue our journey as dog parents I am sure there will be many more lessons either taught or learned from experience, and I hope that finding new ways to limit our environmental impact is one of them.


1 Ryan.KYForward

Ryan Farley serves Bluegrass Greensource in a hybrid role, working as an environmental educator with several outreach specialist responsibilities. Ryan received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Georgetown College and a master’s in recreation and park administration from Eastern Kentucky University. He has worked at wildlife rescue and rehabilitation in Texas and with Kentucky 4-H in various roles. Farley provides educational programs to several Fayette County schools and works with downtown businesses and the greater Lexington community to educate and empower residents to become better environmental stewards.

This article appeared in KY Forward on February 13, 2014.