MARQUETTE - It may be a rather small overall contribution to a "greener" lifestyle, yet pet owners are discovering a few things they can do to make life with their animal friends easier on the environment.
Erin Putvin of Deerton has two cats who uses a litter box filled with wheat instead of more traditional litter. Wheat-based litter like the one Putvin uses - or other litters made from pine sawdust pellets or other plant materials - are biodegradable.
"It's not clay-based and clay is not biodegradable," she said. "It doesn't break down whereas wheat or pine breaks down."
Heidi Stevenson holds her cat Maceo. Stevenson tries to use eco-friendly products to take care of her three cats. (Journal photo by Miriam Moeller)
Putvin also stays away from plastic dishes and toys, which are petroleum-based products that can increase a household's carbon footprint.
"I use metal dishes just to make sure there is no toxicity from plastic," she said. "I think I make the same choices for pets that I would for myself."
When it comes to cleaning her house, Putvin tries to stick to natural cleaning products that are healthier for pets, humans and the environment. For instance, she uses baking soda for deodorizing and vinegar for antibacterial cleaning, such as cleaning the litter box.
Heidi Stevenson of Marquette has three cats and she said she believes what's good for her is good for her pets.
"Making ecologically friendly choices is important for me and my surroundings, so of course I think it's important for my pets," Stevenson said.
For instance, in her cats' litter box one can find biodegradable, corn-based litter.
"There are also a lot of litters out there that are just made out of recycled newspapers and wood," Stevenson said. "Grains are very good because they don't have a strong smell and they absorb well."
Stevenson also has a lot of cloth toys for her cats - recycled or hemp toys - instead of plastics.
Jenny Magli, a natural health consultant from Rumley, said it is not rocket science to nurture a pet naturally.
"It's getting back to the basics," said Magli, who has two dogs and two cats. "It's not that difficult."
Magli advises avoiding toxic cleaning products and using cat litter that is biodegradable, which she said is becoming widely available at local pet and other retail stores.
"It's getting to be mainstream because people want it," she said.
Natural pet foods that are produced in an environmental conscious way can also be a good choice when trying to be more eco-friendly, according to Magli. A side benefit, she said - they are also healthier choices for her pets. She often gives her cats and dogs raw vegetables and meat in addition to store-bought whole pet food.
"It's like giving them all the stuff that they used to get before they were domesticated," Magli said. "A good healthy diet is going to create a healthier environment and body."
Keeping ticks and fleas off pets is another area where organics can stand in for synthetic products, Magli said. She adds a mixture of olive oil and garlic to her dogs' food every day, which helps keep the nasty bugs off.
"It's more economical and non-toxic," she said, adding that good animal grooming and housecleanings help to prevent bug infestations in the first place. There are also herbal tick and flea collars available, Magli said. Herbs and essential oils such as rosemary, rue, wormwood, pennyroyal, eucalyptus, citronella and sometimes tobacco powder also help against bugs. Magli advised to research herbs and oils thoroughly before using them on pets.
Among other ideas for "green" pet owners to pursue are dog beds made from hemp and even biodegradable poop bags made from soy and corn, according to an article in the New York Times Magazine.