(for the version with links and pictures, click here
Every homestead needs its Jack, the brindle bull dog that in one chapter of Little House you think drowns while they're fording the river in the covered wagon and you cry, maybe as recently as age 23, only to -spoiler alert-! get to the part where they hear a noise outside and it's Jack, he hasn't died, and he swam and walked for miles to get back to the family he loves, to protect them from wolves and the rightful inhabitants of the land they've stolen.
This Bed-Stuy homestead has Donut. And he is a massive cunt and is not noble like Jack. And if I was trying to ford a river he'd probably peace out and go look for more Polish orange soda. And sometimes in pictures for some reason I think he looks like character actor Dom Deluise. I'm not sure why.
And actually, this last dog isn't even mine. It's just Pom Deluise living his life the way he needs to.
Anyway, so one thing a person can do if they care about the environment and the living things therein is to adopt a pet who is already alive, out there, and doing its thing from a shelter rather than encouraging the production of more creatures by buying at a pet store that probs got its animals from a puppy mill. If you take that dog into your home and rehab and force it to get its life together, you're keeping it from wreaking havoc on the streets. You're also saving the city from having to pay to house it and, not that this is so cute to think about, eventually euthanize it. To be real, adopting strays mostly falls under the heading of care for animals and preventing animal cruelty, but I do think that there are environmental benefits as well.
Donut's backstory is actually really sad. Yes, I like to say that they found him on the mean streets of Queens, tagging bridges and subway cars, and we all laugh because we're living in newly gentrified New York rather than the crime/crack-infested 80s New York of yore, but it's pretty fucked up that this seven pound tranny was just wandering around Queens. Like, if you're going to get a dog like this, and then you decide you don't want it, just bring it to the pound, asshole. Do you know how many pitbulls roll out in the boroughs? Kind of a lot, as in, even if you're leisurely walking your own dog on a proper leash and what not, sometimes in the Bed-Stuy Do or Die a pitbull will just run out at you and lunge at your dog's neck.
I obtained this small miscreant last October, quite by accident. Leah wanted to get a cat, and even though I'm allergic I wanted a creature in the house, so I met up with her at the Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition (BARC) on N 1st and Wythe. It was close to closing, so we headed to the cat area upstairs, when Leah was like, look! She knew I loved pomeranians and here was this tiny tan pom in a cage, looking pretty scared. We sort of oggled it but we were on a cat mission, so we proceeded upward. We decided to get a pair of cats that were siblings, but as we headed back down one of the trainers was taking the pom out of the cage, and asked if we wanted to hold him.
You're always pretty much done after that, aren't you?
Donut did have some baggage though. I'm going to say he had understandable abandonment issues, and they also believe he was abused by a man, so he is mostly terrified of men. (He does like Alex, Dr. Stashe who weirdly insists on calling him his grandson, and sometimes, Drunk Jeff, who less weirdly calls him D-nut. But everyone loves Drunk Jeff, so that's unsurprising.) I managed to housebreak him, but then when Leah moved out and Melissa moved in he started peeing outside her door. And when we moved to Bed Stuy he started peeing like, all over the place. Before, he never peed in my bed or on furniture, but he's just gone full R. Kelly. I guess it doesn't help that I often step in the name of love and reenact the song "Contagious," but come on.
So beyond mere anecdote, what do I have to say about dogs in an urban homesteading context that might even be vaguely useful to anyone reading this?
1. Standard pet food should be avoided because the ingredients are ubercreepy and unhealthy.
When I first got the creature he had worms, crazy diarrhea, and he was vomiting. The vet assistant recommended Science Diet for sensitive stomachs and queened out when I wanted to feed him an organic dog food instead. But even on Science Diet, he was still sickly. What's more, even this more upscale dog food had creepy ingredients in it like chicken byproducts and whatnot. The problem with pet food is that even though the FDA regulates pet food to some extent, pet foods don't need pre-market approval, and any way, the FDA oversees so much that it is far too stretched to even safely monitor human food and drugs a lot of the time. Further, just because the FDA acknowledges that the ingredients in a food are technically safe, this doesn't mean they constitute the proper diet for the animal. For example, dogs are carnivores. If you look at the diet of wolves and the like, they do eat plant material and sometimes grains when they eat the stomachs of the herbivores they prey on, but what they eat naturally is raw meat. Just like it's bad for cows in the massive concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs- the big ass factories where all the cows are packed in tightly and not allowed access to pasture) who are fed high corn diets, despite the fact that they are ruminants (grass eaters), it's bad for baby dogs to eat an unnatural diet.
For example, here are the ingredients in Purina Dog Chow:
Whole grain corn, poultry by-product meal, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), corn gluten meal, meat and bone meal, brewers rice, soybean meal, barley, whole grain wheat, animal digest, calcium carbonate, salt, calcium phosphate, potassium chloride, L-Lysine monohydrochloride, choline chloride, zinc sulfate, Vitamin E supplement, zinc proteinate, ferrous sulfate, added color (Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 2, Yellow 6), DL-Methionine, manganese sulfate, manganese proteinate, niacin, Vitamin A supplement, copper sulfate, calcium pantothenate, copper proteinate, garlic oil, pyridoxine hydrochloride, Vitamin B-12 supplement, thiamine mononitrate, Vitamin D-3 supplement, riboflavin supplement, calcium iodate, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of Vitamin K activity), folic acid, biotin, sodium selenite.
Not every difficult to pronounce word in an ingredient list is bad, as many essential vitamins have longish names, but this list isn't exactly heartening. Dogs aren't about grainapaloozas, and like I said, Donut remained sickly on standard dog food, so I had to figure something out. I went to District Dog in Greenpoint, which is a small mom and pop pet store that offers a number of organic foods and environmentally friendly pet care products. The owner is really nice, tends to remember your dog when you come back, and he explained to me a little about raw pet diets, which I followed up on at home. Basically, there are a number of pet foods out there that duplicate the wild dog diet that they evolved to eat and work better with their body systems. The one baby bear is on is from the honest kitchen, and it's the "Thrive" dog food. It's a dehydrated raw dog food, and it looks super gross and he looks like a swamp thing after he eats it, but after he switched his diarrhea and vomitting stopped. Here are the ingredients in Thrive:
Hormone-free Chicken, Organic Quinoa, Sweet Potatoes, Spinach, Parsley, Organic Kelp, Rosemary, Vitamins and Minerals
Now, it sounds super pansy, I know. And when we visit my parents' house, it seems like a sign that I'm a terrible pet owner when he goes banana cakes over the standard dog food they feed Lucy. However, these foods are coated with fats and artificial flavors to make them appealing to dogs, so even if they are more appetizing, think about the difference between how you look at a gas station honey bun and some spinach. Yes, if you're me, your fat ass wants that honey bun hard. But obviously the spinach is better for you. I might not really have the self control yet to not put that delicious bun in my mouth, but your dog is a dumb bitch who just has to suck it up and eat what you feed them, so give them something that is healthy for them. Right now I'm actually researching how to prepare your own dog food, which I'm hoping will push me to find ways to add diversity to both his diet and mine. I asked the vet, and she recommended chicken necks and soft fish bones. I'm not the biggest chicken person, but I'm thinking there must be some kind of economical way to buy maybe whole chickens (which should be cheaper, right?), give him parts that I won't eat, cook the other parts, and use the rest in chicken stock. (As a side note, I made stock recently in the slow cooker but it still wasn't as flavorful as I wanted, even when I added beer and a bunch of my herbs, so if anyone has a good poultry stock recipe I'd love to know). As far as soft fish bones go, the fishmonger at the Union Square Farmer's Market said flounder would work, but they don't have the facilities there to debone or scale a fish, so if I bought a whole fish from them I'd have to do that work myself. I looked it up here and found a fairly clear explanation of how to cook a whole fish, but um...that looks hard. So we'll see what happens with that.
2. Bath Time
First I purchased the Dog Whisperer brand lavender scented shampoo. It worked well for Donut, and once I used it and yeah, I liked it. But even better is the Spaw Essentials Vanilla Orchid foaming shampoo. I don't know when I've ever smelled so delightful. I mean, whatever, it works for Donut too, but seriously, I felt like the prettiest girl in my bathroom afterwards. If you are ever showering at my apartment and you want to try it, don't be ashamed. Nobody has to know.
3. The Circle of Life, or How To Get Rid of Dog Waste in an Eco-Friendly Way
Something gross, but actually pretty cool, is that my indoor compost machine can handle dog poop. You can't put human poop in it, because that means you are a serious freekaleek, and there's something potentially toxic in cat poop, but other than that, you can actually put most animal waste into it, as well as stuff like ferret bedding. This solves a dilemma I've come to find as an apartment dweller who no longer has a backyard. Before I emailed the fine people at Nature Mill to double check that I could throw said deposits into the machine, I'd end up with my poop bags (biodegradeable and compostable, of course-I believe they have them at Petco, even) and wonder what to do with them. It seems obvious, and if I was out walking him, naturally I could just throw it into the next garbage can on the street. But in the morning, since a certain baby man enjoys peeing on the floor if I don't rush him outside quickly, usually I run out in front of my apartment, awkwardly wearing the slip I wore to bed and probably not underwear, and I don't want to walk down the corner in this state when I would be in full view of at least two creepy deli owners. And so as I shadily run back into the house, that leaves either putting it in the garbage or flushing it. The garbage option leads to more that has to be hauled to the landfill, and would make the house smell bad. Flushing it wastes water. Since poop is biodegradeable, I figured there must be other, better solutions. And it turns out there are! So, one, like I mentioned, is if you want to shell out the cash for an indoor compost machine that turns and heats the scraps and waste so that harmful bacteria are killed (and features an air filter for the grossness factor). I found it important to do this, but since not everyone probably wants to shell out the cash for the machine, there's another option.
Cityfarmer, a Canadian website, describes how to make a dog poop composter in the ground, if you have even a teeny patch of ground to do this in. This probably depends on the consent of your landlord, but I bet you could actually have a good time coming up with some kind of shady camoflauge, like a seemingly random pile of sticks, or something.
The benefit with the compost machine is that you can actually use the finished compost for growing edibles, whereas with the ground composter you can only use it on ornamentals. Since New York City soil is too potentially polluted for you to plant directly into the ground, and you need to do a raised bed anyway, it might be worth it for you to buy the indoor compost machine. That way, you can compost all of your food waste, including things like grains and meats that you can't normally compost because of vermin potential, and you thus won't have to buy as much soil to fill your bed. Not to mention the fact that it dramatically cuts down on how much garbage you send to the landfill- food makes up 40% of urban waste.
But I digress. In any case, I'm still learning and researching how to be an eco-friendly pet owner. Let me know if you have any questions or tips, as long as your advice is not, "hey, don't let your dog lick the outside of your cocktail glass," because seriously, sometimes he just needs to mellow out at parties and it's not like I'm going to waste my good Xanax on him.