Carbon Pawprint: Pets Go Green

Jeremy Lehrer

As New Yorkers are becoming more green in their own lives, they are striving to make sure that their pets are as well—benefiting the planet and, most important, their pets' health. Pet owners are using biodegradable bags for picking up waste. They're purchasing accessories and toys made from planet-friendly, recycled and organic materials. And when their companions are feeling ill, they're taking them to holistic veterinarians—and even acupuncturists—to get them back on their feet.

The cat's meow for NYC pet owners (and visitors) interested in all things green is Whiskers Holistic Pet Care, which opened in 1988, long before "green" was a buzzword. At its two locations—one in the East Village and the other in Astoria, Queens—this "Whole Foods for the pet set" carries organic treats, natural foods, eco-friendly pet toys, homeopathic pet remedies, cat litter made from recycled newspapers and much more—enough to send a tree-hugging animal lover, and his or her companion, into panting fits.

The sales staff is eminently knowledgeable about the store's offerings and the issues confronted by urban-dwelling pets. To ensure that everything at Whiskers is up to ecological snuff, owners Randy and Phil Klein and the staff employ rigorous purchasing criteria. For one, Whiskers strives to make sure that all of its food offerings use recyclable packaging. Instead of carrying toys and pet accessories made from noxious materials like vinyl, the store stocks such brands as Simply Fido, a line of dog toys and accessories made with certified-organic cotton materials and all-natural dyes.

Certainly, the City can be an unparalleled wonderland for pets—indoor creatures of numerous stripes and species have comfortable homes and caring owners, and outdoors types like dogs enjoy all the urban pleasures of dog runs, local parks and a vibrant and passionate community of owners. But just as urban living can adversely affect human health—think air pollution and harsh cleaning ingredients—it can present a minefield of environmental dangers for pets both in and out of the home, like exposure to toxins, carcinogens, pesticides, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds. A number of specialty pet stores throughout the five boroughs offer eco-friendly products that aren't harmful to pets—green cleaners and odor removers by companies like Get Serious!, Nature's Miracle and Green Paws, for instance.

The Park Slope, Brooklyn, store Buttercup's Paw-tisserie carries its own line of locally made treats for dogs as well as holistic health remedies, natural foods, biodegradable waste bags and eco-friendly pet accessories made from recycled materials. Treats include peanut butter biscuits, liver and cheese brownies, and peanut butter cakes with yogurt or unsweetened carob frosting that come in both "pupcake" and large-size portions.

Also in Park Slope, Top Dog Shop carries a range of holistic foods and pet products in its diminutive space. Proprietor Malcolm Smart, also the owner of canine-boarding and day-care facility Brooklyn Dog House, is known locally for his proficiency in holistic pet-health care. The company delivers throughout Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan seven days a week.

Crazy for Animals, a Queens purveyor of green products and holistic remedies for pets, has extended the paw-print-reduction ethos to another dimension: that of the shop itself. Incorporating details like bamboo floors and other eco-friendly architectural elements, the store was built to meet the US Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver standards. Crazy for Animals also has an indoor dog run, where canine visitors can enjoy the healthy air quality of the space.

Josh Schermer runs Downtown Pets, a company that walks dogs and babysits pets in homes below 23rd Street in Manhattan. A vegan, an animal lover, a green entrepreneur and an environmental advocate, Schermer has made it something of a pet project (so to speak) to figure out how to lower the ecological impact of pet care. While it might seem a stretch to call a dog-walking company "green," Schermer has instituted several policies to lessen its carbon footprint. For one, all of Downtown Pets' 17 dog walkers use biodegradable doggy waste bags, made by BioBag, to pick up after canines. Employees do not flush "flushable" cat litter into toilets, since the parasites sometimes present in cat feces have been implicated in the death of sea otters. In addition, Schermer gives organic vegan or vegetarian treats to pets whenever possible, the company's promotional materials are printed on recycled papers by a green printer and its office is furnished with eco decor, such as a desk made from reclaimed wood.

A yoga studio may not be your typical pet-food destination, but the boutique at Jivamukti Yoga Center carries a line of vegan pet food for both cats and dogs, made by the company Evolution Diet. Sharon Gannon, one of Jivamukti's cofounders, is an outspoken advocate of animal rights; her book Cats and Dogs Are People Too! provides guidance on how diet and holistic supplements can nurture a pet's well-being.

Dr. Jill Elliot, a homeopathic veterinarian, runs NY Holistic Vet from an office in Chelsea (there's a secondary location on the Upper East Side). Developed by a German physician more than two centuries ago, homeopathy uses remedies derived from natural sources. After assessing both the physical and mental state of the animal—one feline visitor to Elliot's office, for instance, suffered from chronic ear pain and also seemed very nervous—the homeopath will select an appropriate remedy. "A homeopath is looking to cure as opposed to suppress," says Elliot. "If we can't cure, we palliate, which is to have them be happy for as much as possible for as long as possible."

Dr. Steve Chiros' veterinary practice, which extends across the five boroughs and New Jersey, stands out on two accounts: he uses both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine for his patients and he only makes house calls. "A lot of people like that because it's a more intimate relationship, and the pets are more comfortable," he says. The herbal preparations are made from combinations of anywhere from four to 12 different ingredients, all of them organic. Using herbs alone or in combination with acupuncture, Chiros has treated such ailments as arthritis, skin inflammations, cancer, asthma and gastrointestinal problems. Chiros recommends the benefits of acupuncture even for pets that are relatively healthy. "Acupuncture is great not just when you're sick, but also when you're healthy, because the body's always imbalanced," he says. "So it's good to do it preemptively as well."