Our Brother’s Keeper

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It’s impossible to honor Earth Day without reflecting on the animals that share the planet with us. Although great strides have been made in animal protection and endangered animal conservation, we still have a long way to go. In our rapidly overpopulating world, where habitat is disappearing and animal species are declining, we have no choice but to see the animals as our brothers, and to do what is in our power to protect them.

 

One of the more disturbing news items was reported by The Huffington Post on April 14th, with a story about Sudan, the world’s last male Northern White Rhino.The Northern White Rhino has been on earth for 50 million years, but poachers in search of their horns have reduced this once plentiful animal, a subspecies of rhino, to only five left on earth. The last male and two female rhinos of his subspecies are cared for under 24 hour armed guard at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Two other females live in captivity.

 

To make Sudan less of a target for poachers, his horn has been removed, and he has been fitted with radio transmitters. It is hoped that the forty year old Rhino will one day be able to produce progeny, and save his species from extinction. Ground rhino horn is considered a health aid in Chinese medicine, and is particularly popular in Vietnam. There are just 1,037 rhinos of all subspecies still roaming wildlife parks and national conservancies.

rhino photo world resouces

There are many ways to help animals this Earth Day, from contributing to Save the Rhino, the World Wildlife Fund, or The Humane Society. Or you can do something closer to home, perhaps even in your own backyard.

bichon

If you’re using pesticides and herbicides on your lawn and garden, you’re using them on your pets, too. Whatever chemicals collect on your dog’s or cat’s paws and fur stay there until the next time you give them a bath, although unless you bathe them immediately, they have more than likely been absorbed into their bloodstream. Those chemicals also get tracked inside, where they don’t break down, due to the absence of water and sunlight. If you love the look of a vibrant, weed-free lawn, but you also love your companion animals, consider the following:

  • According to a study conducted over a six-year period at the Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Tuft University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, a dog’s exposure to lawn pesticides–specifically those applied by professional lawn care companies–raised the risk of canine malignant lymphoma (CML) by as much as 70%.

 

  • Dogs at highest risk for acquiring CML were over 50 pounds, living in homes where pesticides and herbicides were professionally applied, and where owners used lawn care products containing insect growth regulators (killing agents).

 

  • A 2004 study from Purdue University showed that dogs exposed to chemically treated lawns had a dramatically increased risk of Transitional Cell Carcinoma (bladder cancer). Breeds at highest risk include Scottish Terriers, Shetland Sheepdogs, West Highland Terriers and Beagles.

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Many of our ideas about having a perfect, green lawn are leftovers from an era when pesticides were considered safe, and water was plentiful. The ideal of having a lawn like a green carpet began in the mid-1950s, but we’ve learned a lot about the dangers since then. If you don’t have pets yourself, consider that pesticide poisoning kills 60-70 million birds each year in the U.S. alone. Those chemicals also end up in our groundwater, through rainwater runoff, or by leaching through the soil.

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I love animals, especially my three Bichons, G.G., Tuffy and Ellie, and want to give them the best possible life that I can. Lawn chemicals aren’t the only way we can unintentionally harm our pets. There are dangers from flea and tick products, and the marketplace is full of low quality commercial food that is not only unhealthy, but can even be contaminated with toxic chemicals, or melamine.

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Here are my Ten Tips for keeping your furry friends healthy:

  • Instead of using commercial pesticides and herbicides on your lawn, hire an organic lawn and garden company that can feed your grass without endangering your pets or family. I use Growing Solutions, an organic lawn and plant care company that is dedicated to maintaining safe, healthy environments for their clients. The owner, Chris Baliko, is knowledgeable, helpful, and very responsive to his customer’s needs.

 

  •  If you choose to do it yourself, begin by establishing a base of healthy soil. Healthy soil has a high organic content that discourages weeds and disease. You may have a few weeds, but some are actually beneficial, such as clover, which adds valuable nutrients. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection offers helpful information.

 

  • Before you apply commercial flea and tick products, be aware that at least 1,600 pet deaths related to spot on treatments were reported to the EPA over the last five years. The EPA assigns risk levels to all pesticides, and has said that  some flea and tick preparations contain ingredients that are likely carcinogens to humans. Serious medical reactions for your pet can include heart attacks, seizures, and brain damage.

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  • Alternatives exist! The best pest repellent is a radiantly healthy dog or cat. Fleas are less attracted to healthy animals.

 

  • In the house, sprinkle floors with a borate powder (such as 20 Mule Team Borax), then sweep or vacuum it up. It kills flea larvae very effectively without risk of toxicity.
  • A bath with any kind of shampoo will drown fleas.  Just leave the lather on for 3-5 minutes, and you don’t need to use a flea preparation.

 

  • Comb your pet regularly with a flea comb to remove fleas from his fur, and dunk the comb in a glass of soapy water to drown any fleas you find.

 

  • One of my favorite stores in Westport, Connecticut is Earth Animal. Founded by Dr. Bob and Susan Goldstein to offer products for pets that are pure and natural, they offer a complete holistic flea and tick prevention program. By simply adding powder and drops to your pet’s daily diet, a combination of vitamins, minerals and herbs will change the odor of your pet’s blood chemistry to repel pests. At the same time, it builds their immune system. And it’s available online.

 

  • The Goldsteins are also advocates of a home-cooked diet for your dog, and so am I. I like Dr. Harvey’s Canine Health Organic Pre-Mix. You simply add hot water, a protein source such as chicken, beef, turkey or even fish, and a small amount of quality oil. Add a daily vitamin supplement, and your pet will thank you for making her healthier than she’s ever been.

 

  • Animals can be easily sickened by toxic household cleaning products, too. You can clean with ingredients from your kitchen, such as lemons, vinegar, and baking soda, or use organic cleaning supplies, such as those made by Seventh Generation.

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I have many more tips for keeping your pets safe, including using Bucks Mountain Parasite Dust, among other methods. You can find my previous blog posts here and here. “The greatness of a nation can be judged by how its animals are treated,” said Mahatma Ghandi.  We can do a great deal of good by giving all animals the respect they deserve.

 

 

Pets and Pesticides

Dog Scratching Flea

Spring brings warmer weather, and with it, the re-emergence of our pets’ worst tormentors: fleas and ticks. Pet owners can spend more than $200 per year per pet on flea shampoos, flea collars, and topical flea and tick controls. The hidden cost isn’t in the damage to your bank account, however, but the potential damage to your pet’s health.

The Humane Society of the United States has added its voice to the The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in warning that some flea and tick products contain chemicals, specifically permethrins, that not only can cause the death of your dog or cat, but are likely to be carcinogenic to humans.

At least 1,600 pet deaths related to spot on treatments with pyrethroids were reported to the EPA over the last five years. They account for more than half of major pesticide pet reactions, including brain damage, heart attacks and violent seizures.

Little sad dog

The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) has a report entitled Poisons on Pets that details the risks to both pets and children. Because children’s bodies are still developing, they are more sensitive to the effects of toxic chemicals than adults. Toddlers’ hand to mouth behavior makes it easy for toxins to be ingested, for example, and children spend time where toxins from pet products tend to accumulate: crawling on rugs, playing with pet toys and holding their much loved pet dog or cat.

As bad as the products are for people, they’re worse for pets. The NRDC says that based on the available data, hundreds and probably thousands of pets have been injured or killed through exposure to pesticides. Just like small children, pets can’t tell us when they’re being poisoned at low doses.

Sleepy kitten

Flea control products on the market include seven specific organophosphate insecticides (OPs). OPs work by blocking the breakdown of the body’s messenger chemical, acetylcholine, and interfering with the transmission of nerve signals in the brains and nervous systems of insects, pets and humans. In the presence of OPs, acetylcholine builds up in the body. The resulting interference with nerve transmissions is of such a magnitude that it actually kills insects. But even at normal doses, it can also harm pets and children (from the NRDC’s Poisons on Pets.)

The seven OPs are chlorpyrifos, dichlorvos, phosmet, naled, tetrachlorvinphos, diazinon and malathion. Another commonly used pesticide in a popular topically applied product is fipronil. According to Virginia Dobozy, a veterinarian at the EPA, fipronil products are classified as carcinogens, producing malignant as well as benign tumors in laboratory tests. Exposure to these insecticides can more than double the risk of Parkinson’s later in life. For pregnant women exposed to pesticides, their children were 250% more likely to be diagnosed with brain cancer before their fifth birthday.

children and pets

We want to believe that all of the products available for sale have been tested and proven safe. But that’s just not so. According to the CPI, “The EPA cannot make its own assessment because unlike the regulations directing the FDA’s approval of human products, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act does not require pet products to undergo field trials prior to approval.”

What should you do instead? There is no question that ticks carry dangerous diseases that are transmitted to humans, including Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, and Tickborne relapsing fever (TBRF), among others.Some of these are transmitted by ticks in their nymph stage, or even at full grown size, but are no larger than a poppy seed. Here are some of the non-toxic alternatives available:

  • Earth Animal, a holistic pet care retail store and website begun by a veterinarian and his wife, offers a natural flea and tick prevention program that is based on adding powder and drops to your animal’s daily diet. A combination of vitamins, minerals and herbs helps to change the odor of the pet’s blood chemistry, so fleas, ticks, mosquitos and black flies do not like either the odor or taste of the blood. The odor is undetectable by humans. During the flea and tick season, you can mist your dog’s belly, paws and coat daily with an organic bug spray to help repel insects.
  • Another safe, environmentally friendly product I use is Damminix Tick Tubes.  Since Lyme Disease begins with mice, not deer, Tick Tubes rely on the natural nesting instincts of mice to fight the battle. Placed on your property in areas where mice frolic, the biodegradable, cardboard tubes are filled with permethrin treated cotton balls. Mice collect the cotton to build nests in their burrows. Young ticks feeding on the mice are killed by the mild insecticide before they can spread Lyme Disease to you and your family. It is important to use this only on the perimeter of your property, in safe places that are not accessible to pets or children. Even mild insecticides are poisons, and must be used carefully and responsibly.
  • I use organic cedar mulch as another layer of protection in my garden beds. It’s a natural pest repellent, but does not harm beneficial insects such as butterflies and bees. You can even place a small amount in an open container in your pantry or closets for a pleasant cedar aroma that will deter indoor pests.
  • Buck Mountain Parasite Dust, available only through veterinarians and pet stores, can be used to rid animals, gardens and buildings of flies, fleas, ticks, mites, ants and more. Its active insecticide is a chemical derived from the Neem tree, which is both a repellant and provides disinfectant and healing properties. You can sprinkle the dust on your pet’s back from head to tail, and brush against the hair to bring the dust into contact with the skin. A teaspoon of the dust can also be placed on a window sill to eliminate fleas, flies and other bugs in your home. It is safe for use in your garden as well.
  • Essentria IC3 Insecticide Concentrate (formerly labeled as Eco Exempt) is USDA National Organic Program (NOP) compliant, so it can be used in restaurants , schools, animal clinics and healthcare facilities without danger. Recommended by Chris Baliko, Accredited Organic Land Care Professional (AOLCP) of Growing Solutions LLC, Its active botanical ingredients include rosemary oil, peppermint oil and geraniol (found in many essential oils). These act as octopamine blockers, disrupting insects’ central nervous systems. Because mammals, birds and fish do not have receptors for octopamine, botanical oils are very safe to use.

I’ve written extensively about non toxic flea and tick control:  read more here. 

In addition, follow these steps:

  • Wash your pet with a pesticide-free shampoo, and brush or comb frequently.
  • Vacuum carpets and upholstered furniture on a regular basis. Dispose of the bags immediately after use.
  • Keep your lawn mowed.
  • Cats should be kept indoors at all times.
  • The NRDC has reviewed the ingredients of more than 100 products and published a guide called Greenpaws Flea and Tick Products Directory.  Make informed choices, and keep your pets, your family and the earth safe from harm.

dogs and the sea

 

Gardening with Nature

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Someone once said that a garden (and lawn, for that matter) has very little to do with nature.  A walk through the woods is proof that wild vegetation is opportunistic and provides only the toughest competitors with space, sunlight and nutrients.  By contrast, we fill our garden with tender annuals and plants that have gone through multiple hybridizations until they bear little resemblance to their original form. Add to that that we prefer our lawns and gardens weed free, carefully edged and mulched, and there’s a sharp divide between a wild meadow and suburban landscaping.

 

The real difference, however, is our dependence on chemical pesticides, herbicides and fungicides to keep our properties looking as nature never intended.  The best way to create a garden fit for children and pets is to make it a sanctuary for life:  bees buzzing through the flowers, trees brimming with nests and berries, and soft grass that’s safe for bare feet.

 

Lawn and garden chemicals are poisons to living things.  They pollute our water, harm wildlife and interrupt the delicate balance of our eco-system.  100 million pounds of lawn care chemicals are used by homeowners on their lawns every year.  These include chemicals that kill weeds, insects and a variety of plant diseases.  Many of these chemicals are linked to cancer, birth defects, and liver or kidney damage.  There is a way to have a healthy lawn and garden without resorting to chemicals, however.  Here are three simple steps you can take right away:

  • Healthy soil = healthy plants.  Good soil is alive, teeming with bacteria and organic content that is naturally resistant to pests and disease.  You can boost your soil’s health by spreading organic compost or alfa meal.
  • Use corn gluten as an organic fertilizer.  Organic fertilizers feed your lawn slowly; quick release chemical fertilizers encourage rapid growth that weakens the grass, promotes disease and leaches into nearby surface waters.
  • Tolerate a few weeds.  You can dig them out by hand if they bother you, or you can adopt the philosophy of “live and let live.”  A few weeds in the garden can also provide a home for beneficial insects, which keep the overall landscape in good health.

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Worried about fleas and ticks?  Here are four ways to combat these pests without toxic chemicals:

  • Use Natural Flea and Tick Controls on Your Companion Animals: Look for Buck Mountain Parasite Dust, available only through veterinarians and pet stores.  Its active insecticide is a chemical derived from the Neem tree, which is both a repellant and provides disinfectant and healing properties.  A favorite pet store is Earth Animal, which offers a three step process for natural flea and tick control.  Learn more here.
  • Reduce the tick habitat naturally:  Ticks like moist and shady areas, so let in more sunlight.  If there are many trees, it’s possible to thin their crowns to let more sunlight reach the ground.  Clearing away leaf debris (a favorite tick home) is important, as is cleaning up along stone walls and keeping them free of branches, weeds and other plant debris.
  • Establish a Tick Border: A Tick Border is a three to four foot wide woodchip border that is established between the woody edges of your property and your lawn.  Ticks are loath to cross the sunny, plant free zone.
  • Put up Deer Fencing to stop “tick buses:”  A single deer can be host to more than 200 ticks, so by removing their hosts, you reduce the number of ticks.

Here’s Where to Learn More

Earth

We’re all connected to each other and to every living thing.  The earth is one planet, with air and ocean currents that ignore international boundaries and continents that are impervious to lines drawn on a map.  On a much smaller level, the chemicals you use on your lawn and garden do not stay on your property.  It’s up to each one of us to research and find less-toxic solutions to our pest problems.  You can start here:

  • Integrated Pest Management:  IPM is an environmentally sensitive approach that suppresses pest populations and reduces use of pesticides.  It’s a safer means of controlling pests, with an emphasis on control, not eradication.  IPM holds that wiping out an entire pest population is impossible and environmentally unsafe.  Natural biological processes provide control with minimal environmental impact.  That may mean using beneficial insects that eat target pests, or biological insecticides, derived from nature. The EPA has more information:  read it here.
  • Bio-Integral Resource Center:  BIRC is a nonprofit organization that offers leadership in the development of IPM methods.  BIRC works with homeowners, farmers, cities, park and water districts, schools and pest control professionals in pesticide use reduction.  Visit their website here. 
  • Two books to add to your library:  Common Sense Pest Control, by William Olkowski and Sheila Daar, and Less Toxic Alternatives, by Carolyn Gorman.

book Common Sense Pest Controlbook Less Toxic Alternatives