Pet cause

Sustainability and animals go hand in paw

Adopting from a shelter helps reduce the population of homeless pets, which for cats alone exceeds 30 million.

Adopting from a shelter helps reduce the population of homeless pets, which for cats alone exceeds 30 million.

Valerie Reddemann has a soft spot for animals. She and her husband, Rob, have three dogs—all rescues—in their Chico household. Two they adopted within 24 hours of planned euthanasia at a North State shelter.

“We just couldn’t see that happening,” she said by phone. “We took them before we had the opportunity to meet them; we just grabbed them, because we didn’t want to see them put down.”

Their pack consists of a 14-year-old black Lab, a 3-year-old boxer mix and a 1-year-old black Lab mix. Brought home as puppies, the dogs all get along.

“I’m very big on the adoption of rescue animals,” Reddemann said.

Not only has the practice yielded a cozy canine clan, it fits within her broader sense of sustainability. She and other environmental lifestyle experts consider adoption one of the foremost ways to go green with pets.

Reddemann, vice chair of the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission, served on the city Sustainability Task Force and contributed to Chico’s Climate Action Plan. She founded, an online retailer of eco-friendly home products that operated 15 years (until 2012), and for five years co-hosted the podcast “More Hip Than Hippie” focused on green living.

In her experience, Reddemann said, people who integrate sustainability into their lives extend the same sensibility to pets.

“I always remind people that cheap treats and cheap pet toys are the equivalent of letting your children eat really bad junk food and play with toxic toys,” she continued. “If we wouldn’t let our kids do it, why would we let our pets do it? But it depends on your relationship with your pets, I guess.”

She’s careful to check what’s in food, toys, treats—even collars and leashes.

“Am I perfect? No,” she added, “but I certainly try.”

For other pet owners who want to try, too, here are 10 ways to be more sustainable, from Reddemann and eco-oriented websites and

1. Adopt, don’t shop

That’s Reddemann’ mantra. Look to shelters and rescue organizations over stores, unless the store is hosting an adoption drive.

“A lot of people forget or don’t realize that oftentimes they can find purebreds at shelters,” she said. “But I find that mixes typically are more healthy and have longer lifespans; they don’t have the hereditary problems that pure breeds get.”

2. Spay/neuter

Along with the 6 million to 8 million dogs and cats entering shelters each year, tens of millions live—and breed—out in U.S. communities. The U.S. Humane Society estimates the homeless cat population alone at 30 million to 40 million.

As TreeHugger notes, “when strays multiply, they can severely impact the surrounding ecosystem.” Follow Bob Barker’s advice from The Price Is Right: “Help control the pet population; have your pets spayed or neutered.”

3. Get green products

From bedding to grooming, toys to attire, manufacturers use a wide range of materials in their products—some safer than others.

For Small Footprint Family, Dawn Gifford recommends reading labels to look for natural fibers and ingredients. Avoid plastics with vinyl, phthalates or BPAs. Use shampoos, conditioners and clean-up products free from toxic chemicals.

4. Feed healthfully

Counterintuitively, perhaps, pet food promotes sustainability. Gifford points out that the meat, grains and produce that go into kibbles and cans consist of byproducts—animal parts and damaged crops not sold in grocery stores.

“Pet food production greatly reduces waste in our industrial agricultural system,” she writes, “keeping valuable food resources out of the landfill.”

That said, not all pet food is the same. Check ingredients. Higher quality may cost more but can pay dividends.

“As I talked with my vet, it was, ‘Pay me now [or] pay me later,’” Reddemann said.

5. Make treats

Cut down on packaging by whipping up dog snacks at home. has an array of recipes. For cats, consider growing catnip or cat grass (Dactylis glomerata).

6. Compost pet waste

Fecal matter is a growing problem. American dogs produce 10 million tons a year, while cat litter adds 2 million tons to landfills. Neither animal’s waste is usable as manure due to bacteria and pathogens. (See Weekly Dose, page 13.)

Pet feces can be composted, however, as long as it’s done separately from vegetable garden composting. The process requires special enzymes; for cats, biodegradable litter as well. This compost requires 18 months and shouldn’t be used on edible flora. Check for suggestions.

7. Protect wildlife

According to the American Bird Conservancy, domestic cats kill 2.4 billion birds a year—the top human-related threat to avian species in the U.S. and Canada. Cats also kill 12.3 billion small land animals such as lizards, frogs, snakes and chipmunks.

If your feline is particularly fierce, consider limiting its outdoor time; otherwise, put up an enclosure or remove features that attract vulnerable creatures, such as feeders and fountains.

8. Buy in bulk

In the same vein of making treats, pet owners can reduce trash by purchasing food and care products in large quantities. Added bonus: Fewer trips to the store!

9. Don’t overindulge ’em

As Gifford writes, “The needs of dogs and cats are very simple …. But the $60 billion pet industry would have you believe you need an ever-increasing amount of consumer goods for your furry friend.”

A few toys are fine. When dog bones fill the den or your cat needs a closet …

10. Look for “Made in the USA”

Buy local is a great philosophy overall, but Reddemann has a specific reason for this recommendation.

“The regulations are much stricter here,” she said, “especially for toys and for food.”