When I came to New Zealand in 1965, "pommy immigrants" were about as popular as the Wallabies who had just beaten the All Blacks – "bloody know-alls" from the "old country". We were both needed and resented. New Zealand was very conservative.
On arrival, the first thing that happened was that you were asked, "How do you like New Zealand?"
This question is never asked after one has been here long enough to form a reasoned opinion. Immigrants from Britain were then told how soft the English were on dogs (true) and that New Zealand had real dogs – working farm dogs (also true).
How things have changed. New Zealand has certainly caught up with other countries in their "soft attitude" to dogs. Lap-dogs are now a fashion statement in New Zealand. The fouled state of Palmerston North's pavements attests to irresponsible pet owners. While many collect the faeces, I pity the poor dogs which, while trying to defecate, are clearly being dragged down the street during the process. One certainly has to be on the alert when walking round Palmerston North's streets.
As I leave the house, after my morning walk, in my 2.0-litre four-wheel-drive Honda CR-V "soft-roader", the late dog walkers regard me with distain. But are their dogs any more eco-friendly than my four-wheel-drive?
Victoria University architects Robert and Brenda Vale think not. John Barrett, of the Stockholm Environment Institute in York, supports their views. The heavy carbon footprint of meat is the problem. A formula comparing carbon footprints in hectares has been devised. The Victoria University scientists analysed pet foods and found that a medium-sized dog consumed 90 grams of meat and 156g of cereal a day in its recommended 300g portion of dried dog food. Taking into account wet weights, the dog eats 164 kilograms of meat and 95kg of cereals a year. The area of land required to produce a pet's food intake is calculated at 0.84 hectares.
Back to the gas guzzlers on the road. The example used is a 4.6-litre Toyota Land Cruiser, more than twice the engine size of my Honda. With a yearly mileage of 10,000 kilometres, it uses 55.1 g.joules of energy, making an eco-footprint of 0.41ha, less that half the medium-sized dog. I can hear the howls of protest from here.
In addition to their eco pawprints, pets kill a lot of wildlife. For example, the 7.7 million cats in Britain kill more than 188 million wild animals a year. They can be so voracious that wild animals such as hawks and other carnivores are left short of food. Dogs also share in this carnage, although less efficiently.
Let's not forget the faeces. Rain run-off from gardens and pathways contaminates waterways, making water unfit to drink and increasing the level of bacteria and therefore the cost of purification, reducing oxygen and killing aquatic life. Cat faeces carry a causative organism of a brain disease, which is spread via cat faeces to wild animals such as otters and dolphins.
Reducing the amount of meat that pets eat can help, because meat is so eco expensive.
We can thus categorise animals and cars as land guzzlers, relating to their eco footprint: large dog, 1.1ha; medium-sized dog, 0.84ha; Toyota Land Cruiser, 0.41ha; Volkswagen Golf, 0.18ha; cat, 0.15ha; hamster, 0.014ha.
So I think I'll just take my Honda CR-V for a non-faecal walk.
- © Fairfax NZ News