How to Sustainably & Sanely Have a Pet

Almost three months ago, we rescued our lab-pit mix pup Frank. Despite his pathetic little sad puppy eyes pictured here, Frank is a grandpa lost in a dog’s body. He has a little white “goatee” chin with whiskers springing out of it, white “socked” paws, and a white dandy “tuxedo” above his little pink cow belly. He must have been a curmudgeon painter because the end of his black tail is frayed with a few white hairs sticking out—it must have been a life that wore him out! His ears stick out as he runs, which is always slightly sideways because he’s yet to figure out how with his rabbitesque lanky legs. He snuggles up in between our legs and the cupboard in the bathroom and wakes up with what we call “fart-cries” with spurts of cooing calls.

Needless to say and besides the compliments, we have learned plenty already from Frank. Here’s our compilation:


let go of your perfectionist tendencies

This was our first venture in having a puppy as Fran was rescued underneath a trailer at 6-weeks-old. We were very lucky that besides a little bald spot on his head, he showed no other signs of sustained physical or emotional trauma. Still, he is a puppy and demands an immense amount of attention. My partner, having grown up with dogs, knew to be regimented in training yet relaxed. I, on the other hand, wallowed in brief yet palpable anxiety initially wanting his first formative weeks to be perfect.

From the first e-mail I sent to the family who rescued him, I watched YouTube training videos into the wee hours of the night. When we brought him home and he had two kinds of worms so acute that he had larvae around his poor bum, I meticulously cleaned the house. I powdered everything with Diatomaceous Earth, a natural larvae and pest-killer, that I clogged our vacuum then embarrassingly flung open the waste basket outside to release white powder . . .

Frankly, I had more to release than suspicious white powders and that was my perfectionism. Once I stopped preoccupying myself with how to raise him and cleaning after him furiously and watching over his movements like a hawk and policing his behavior and phew, not only I but he relaxed as well. Within just two weeks and without any external training, he learned to let me know that he needed to go potty.

learn, not too much and mostly together

Illustration courtesy of Maira Kalman

Illustration courtesy of Maira Kalman

That is to say, your new pet might have somethings to teach you or that you can co-learn together that no book or trainer can. I was tempted to buy into options like the bell system by the door or various other methods, but Frank showed us his way of sitting (and crying) by the door or just waiting for me to say “It’s pee-pee time” while holding his leash. The trick for us was seeing his methods while training him to recognise our consistent action of the leash and phrase.

Avoid temptation to buy too many toys

I wanted to spoil him with a basket full of toys and more, but had to stop and reassess. We at The Thirlby are committed to low-waste and buying a bunch of plastic or synthetic toys was not aligned with our values. We were lucky to have waited and had someone give us a box of completely unused toys that their dog didn’t like. We got him one silicone toy bone to fill with nut butter as treat and for teething. Try to find more sustainable options for your pet’s toys and know that there’s no need to go overboard. They really only need one or two, ideally one for teething if it’s a puppy, which will discourage him from biting or nibbling on you. Frank still does nibble and, funny enough, mostly on feet so we joke with eyes rolling that he has a foot fetish.

Use Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace for used supplies, such as crates

Again, make use of what others can pass down to you rather than impulsively buying or feeling like you should get new supplies. There are obvious ones like his tag, poop bags (we get these biodegradable ones or you can use this completely zero-waste pooper scooper), and other personal items that has to be bought new, but others like a crate or carrier can be found used on an online marketplace. Search your surrounding area on Craigslist or Facebook.

Go to PetCo for New Family discount and free or affordable veterinary care

Unless it’s an emergency or you’re pressed for time like we were before our recent flight, there’s not necessarily a reason to go to a vet’s office for care. Most pet stores such as Pet Co, Pet Smart, and other local shops have vets come in monthly for affordable care and vaccinations. Many also have various new pet discounts. We got free dog food, complementary dog wash, free dog tag, and a discount on other items from our local stores.

A final fair notice for those aiming to reduce their waste, having a dog is going to have its share of waste that is going to be unavoidable. There is no such term as a “zero-waste” pet. For instance, they need specific shampoos that are formulated for their coats. Using any other agent, such as a bar of soap for the sake of being waste free, might be better for the environment but is awful for your dog’s skin. Again, pets teach you to let go of perfectionist tendencies and rigidity, forcing you to choose your battles in all aspects of your life. If you haven’t gotten a pet yet and the increased waste would upset your adherence to your low-impact values, then perhaps choosing not to have a pet would be a better choice for you.

The GuideAlmila Kakinc-Dodd