A Celebration of the Earth

cardinals on post

The Kissing Cardinals, Mr. and Mrs. feeding each other in a sweet courtship ritual.

A few years ago I answered the questions on a “What’s Your Footprint?” test on a website that gave points or demerits in accordance with how choices you made in your lifestyle affected the earth and I ended up with a negative footprint. How is that? Is it mounded up instead of impressed into the soil as footprints tend to be? No, it just meant I was below the minimum level of points for their scale. And it would have been even lower if they had listened to me about the scoring for use of a dishwasher*.

Well, big whoop for me—it’s not by any intentional virtue, though I have always tried to learn more and be careful about how much energy I used in daily activities. It began as a combination of selfishness and economic necessity, choosing what I could afford to buy and do and not wanting to simply fall in step with what I thought was a lot of wasted time and money. I was intrigued by how people managed in the days before modern conveniences and actually wanted to drop off the grid for a while to learn to live without these things, really, like, off in the woods somewhere, but not forever or even for very long, then pick and choose the ones I wanted and stay with them.

I never went all the way to the end with that, always living in a pretty conventional space but I really did examine all the things in my life and discarded what was not right for me and embraced what was. By coincidence I chose to do things that were also earthy-friendly.

I’ve gardened for 25 years, all but my first year by organic standards, and for many of those years as a vegetarian raised nearly all the food I ate, preserving what was extra for non-gardening months. I saved seeds, started my own plants from those seeds, composted everything compostable from my household including my waste paper from desk and studio and even my dryer lint.

That’s a lot of work, not composting dryer lint but gardening that intensively, and it’s not for everyone but those who love it and actively choose to do it. I really don’t know how the human race advanced when until this century people had to work so hard just to grow enough food to stay alive, and if they didn’t manage to do so they would simply die. Those are pretty high stakes, and I can see why, when modern chemicals promised and delivered growing crops with less work and less risk of loss, everyone jumped on it.

But we often don’t learn the risks of things until we’ve been actively involved in them for some time, like the effects of chemical fertilizers and pesticides on soil and air and water and human health. When Rachel Carson wroteSilent Spring we had already been involved in use of agricultural chemicals at an increasing level for nearly two decades if we count testing and use during WWII. Rachel Carson, among others, could see the risks developing even at that early date, but others still saw rampant hunger in this country and around the world that these “modern” growing methods could alleviate, while, of course, others saw lots of money; in short, a lot of interests were at stake, and still are.

Many of the issues that determine how the earth is used and left for others are this big, involving most of the planet, like drilling for oil, clearing rain forests, implementing alternative energy resources, and seem way too big for individuals to have any impact if they either try to influence one way or the other, or simply go their own way and make other choices.

But everyday choices do make a huge difference, and simply because some issues are really too big for us as individuals to have much impact today, we don’t often realize that even a small act can much later have a bigger impact than expected, and can make change in ways we never intended. This weekend a friend hosted a “Rainbarrel Workshop” wherein people can learn not only how to make a rainbarrel but why they would want to go to the trouble. I gave him the materials I had researched and written and illustrated into an informational package the year after our community suffered a devastating flash flood, a flood that may have been mitigated though not eliminated if stormwater had been better managed.

What can a rainbarrel do?

  • One inch of rain over one square foot of roof yields about 0.62 gallons of water, though the average roof send only about 80% of the water that falls on it into the downspouts, the rest splashing off or even evaporating.
  • Multiplying by 0.8, one square foot of roof for a one inch rain gives 0.5 gallons.
  • One hundred square feet of roof (10’ x 10’) yields 50 gallons of water in a one inch rain.
  • One thousand square feet of roof (20’ x 50’) yields 500 gallons of water in a one inch rain.

So if you have one or more rainbarrels that catch your rainwater and keep it out of local streams and waterways, you are saving that many gallons of rainwater from overburdening your local system during high water events. If your neighbors also have rainbarrels your neighborhood is potentially saving thousands of gallons of stormwater.

Plus, you can use those gallons of water to wash your car or water your garden, saving on your utilities.

And when we host rainbarrel workshops usually about two dozen people attend, learn all these facts and spread them on, plus they met other like-minded people they otherwise wouldn’t have, and a community is formed.

Yes, maintaining a rain barrel, being careful about what you use on your lawn, turning off the water while you brush your teeth, combining trips in the car or sharing rides and myriad other choices you make do cause change, in you and in your environment.

But no one person can do it all. I drove a 35 mile round trip to work for ten years, all by myself on the highway instead of carpooling or trying to find public transportation or moving closer to where I worked while I was living off my little back yard. And I hate to think of what I’ve done to the earth in terms of cat litter over the years I’ve been rescuing cats and living with about nine at once for most of that time.

So do you choose to drive a distance to purchase organic produce or do you save the fossil fuels and visit a local grocery where produce might be grown with various amounts of chemicals? Do you choose to use wind-powered energy when you’re reading that thousands of migrating birds and bats are killed by wind turbines, or maybe they’re not? And information keeps changing?

In the end, it’s more about being aware and making choices than it is about following rules. Make an informed choice, and do what you can. We all leave a footprint of some sort, but we can wisely choose where we step and how heavily we walk.

I’m happy to pass along the things I’ve researched and learned over the years in my features Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat and Living Green With Pets. In my “other life” outside of writing about and painting and photographing and doting on my cats, I am a Master Gardener and it’s been my pleasure to work with a number of environmental organizations for years in writing and illustrating newsletters, brochures, websites, advertisements and other professional communications.

*About that dishwasher: the test claimed that the most modern dishwashers were more efficient than filling a sink with water to wash and rinse your dishes so the energy and water used by the dishwasher and the residue left by the soap you used left a smaller footprint than washing in the sink. I commented that I’ve seen people use more water to rinse their dishes before they even went in the dishwasher than I used to wash and rinse, but they didn’t go for that. I didn’t get any extra points for looking out the window and singing to myself while I washed by hand instead of watching TV or engaging in some other activity that might use utilities generated by fossil fuels and creating pollution either. Darn.

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All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


Living Green With Pets: Spring Cleaning

gray and white cat in bathroom

Namir wanders into the bathroom...

I’ve had more than one cat who loved the smell of bleach, but Namir really acted on his indulgence. As soon as I began to scour the tub with cleanser, he would appear on the landing outside the bathroom door, nose bobbing in the air, a faraway look in his eyes as he followed the scent and he’d hop into the tub if I didn’t stop him.

I’m sure you’ve noticed it’s darned difficult to rinse the last of the cleanser out of your tub or sink without leaving a residue, and even when I’d locked Namir out of the bathroom long enough to let the tub dry because he tried to get into the tub with the cleanser, he was in it as soon as he could get there, rolling around and breathing in the residual fumes.

It’s a wonder he lived as long as he did. But a friend apparently lost a young kitten to bleach poisoning years ago after the kitten walked across a wet floor each night where she’d used bleach water to clean and disinfect.

Pets and toxic substances

cats playing in the tub

What's this?

We’re bigger, we stand up, we don’t have our faces in the tub, the sink, the toilet (hopefully) or the floor, all these surfaces we clean with chemicals, and what barely affects us can have a profound effect on cats, dogs, bunnies, ferrets, birds and other pets. Our pets are right there, walking on the surfaces we’ve cleaned and absorbing substances into their bare paw pads and, well, bare private areas when they sit down. Their sensitive noses are breathing in the fumes, which are also drifting up into their eyes. Their bodies are smaller than ours, their organs function differently, and we need to keep this in mind when we use chemicals in our house.

Cats get an extra dose of chemicals in addition to what they absorb through their paws and skin and respiratory system because they bathe themselves, and lick any residues off their fur. When I saw a white residue dusted onto Namir’s fur and realized it was cleanser grit from the tub, I decided to change my tactics because I knew I’d never keep him 100% safe from encountering the cleanser residue, or the cleanser anywhere it could be found since it was the smell he was after.

two black cats in the tub

Mewsette and Jelly Bean grew up in the "old" bathroom.

Breaking old habits

Bleach, ammonia and pine-based cleaners have saved many lives as antiseptics and kept nasty cold and flu viruses from spreading simply by killing whatever nasty germs they touch, but much of the time they are way more than you need for everyday cleaning at home. And commercial cleaning products often contain these substances as well as other chemical ingredients used to enhance the product’s effectiveness, and commercial perfumes and dyes which can be toxic on their own.

You can safely and effectively use household products like vinegar and baking soda to do much of the work and save quite a bit of cash and even packaging, holding on to the big guns of bleaching out stains and antiseptic cleaning for spot areas instead of using them all over.

black kitten on floor

Little Jelly Bean in the old bathroom

Years ago I began fostering kittens in my bathroom because it’s the safest room for them, free of power cords on the floor, throw rugs they can get tangled in, tight spots to get lost in and things they can knock down on themselves (the lid’s been kept down on the toilet for at least 30 years for the safety of curious kittens and thirsty adult cats). Keeping chemicals and residues out of the bathroom was especially important for the little furballs.

Plus, Mr. Sunshine has taken over where Namir left off with the bleach attraction, and the Fantastic Four, all grown up now, enjoy the accommodations of the tub, and famously pose in the mint green sink, still considering the bathroom their playground.

paint in the green sink

Paint in my mint green sink.

And as an artist I tend to cover my world with art materials, with acrylic inks and paints in the bathroom sink and splashed on the walls, chalk and oil pastels mixed with oils from my fingers on light switches and door frames, ink spilled on the floor, spray adhesive in the tub and glue on a table top. As careful as I am, I only have two hands and both of them are usually covered in something, and just the regular use of these things imparts them into my workspace, which is my home. Except for occasionally spot cleaning a stain, I don’t use anything stronger than vinegar and baking soda.

Vinegar as a cleaner and antiseptic

my hand with pastels

My "painted hand' with pastels after working on an illustration.

I always keep straight white vinegar handy in a spray bottle, but you can water it down 50/50 for cleaning as well, and cider vinegar works just as well—it’s the 5% acidity that does the work. Use it as you would any “glass and all surface cleaner” to remove dirt from your windows or the glass on your pictures, clean your countertops and shine up your chrome faucets, and remove those pastel fingerprints from the doorframe.

Vinegar’s acidic nature will help to dissolve residues on faucets, sinks and tubs and fingerprints left behind by sweaty hands.

I use it to clean my picture glass when I’m framing as well, knowing that it won’t leave streaks on the glass, and it’s gentle enough to use on most frames as well.

But not just for wiping things off, I also use vinegar to clean my floors and walls and anything else I’d use a bottled cleaner for, including the parade of litterboxes, though this is one place where I follow up with a rinse of bleach (see below).

Baking soda instead of cleanser with bleach

In the kitchen where I worked as full-time cook before college, we didn’t use cleanser to clean the day’s food residues from the stainless sink and enameled countertops, we used baking soda paste, and that was my first step in cleaning the tub. Sprinkle baking soda all over the tub and scour with a damp sponge, or make a paste on the sponge and spread it over the surface, let sit on soap or residue buildup, then scour and rinse, wipe dry and buff with a towel and it looks brand new. It’s a gentle but effective abrasive that helps to dissolve substances as well as wear them away without damaging the finish.

black cat in green sink

Don't I look pretty in here?

This works in my brand new enameled tub as well as my vintage mint green ceramic sink, and my nearly prehistoric one-piece enameled sink, counter and cabinet unit in the kitchen and the unknown alloy in the post-WWII stovetop, all areas where any of my cats may walk, bathe, sleep and play (though I try to keep them off the stove).

If one of them happens to hop into the tub to play with me while I’m cleaning or on the sink to watch what I’m doing, we’re both safe from chemicals and fumes.

As a gentle and safe abrasive, baking soda can be used on all sorts of surfaces including glass, marble, finished wood, laminate countertops and composite wood surfaces and some rigid plastics, like small appliances and composite porch furniture and shelving units, though you should test a small area before you clean the whole thing. I’ve used it to clean glazed ceramic items and glass vases which have mineral residues built up from plants and cut flowers, or just years of dirt from being in storage—or even unearthed in my back yard.

Cleaning the drain

black cat in tub

Toys are better in the tub.

Between my hair, long, coarse and curly and strong as piano wire, lots of cat hair from cats playing in the tub and sink, and art materials such as excess paint, ink or adhesives, I have simply always kept after my drains or I’m unpleasantly sorry one day when I’m stuck with a mess in the sink and my hands covered with block printing ink.

Rather than the caustic substances in most drain openers, the chemical reaction between baking soda and vinegar will quickly dissolve most of what might block your drain with no harmful fumes in a neat little science experiment in your sink or tub. Vinegar is acid and baking soda is basic, and when mixed together will work very hard to neutralize each other in a fizzy battle.

At least once per month, pour about a half cup of baking soda into the drain, rinsing it lightly into the drain with a drizzle of water from the faucet, then slowly pour a pint of vinegar into the drain about a quarter cup at a time, letting it fizz up and slow down before pouring the next amount. As the vinegar works its way into the drain it will react with the baking soda, cleaning residue off the insides of the pipe and working its way through the trap. When all the vinegar is in the drain, simply let it sit and work for at least 15 minutes, or until you can’t hear any more fizzing from the drain at all. You can follow this up with a cup or two of boiling water—probably the most dangerous substance in the whole procedure—to rinse the drain of anything that might have been loosened. I have a good old hot pot upstairs to heat water for beverages and craft projects, and I doubt that I’d ever carry boiling water upstairs otherwise.

cat looking in sink

I hear something talking in the drain.

One or two of my cats always carefully observe the drain cleaning activity, squinting as the vinegar and baking soda fizzle together and glancing at me to make sure I’m paying attention to what I’m doing.

Other similar substances

You can also use regular old table salt as a mild abrasive in place of baking soda, such as cleaning pots and pans and especially cast iron. You can include vinegar in this cleaning regimen without the fizzy chemical reaction and clean mineral residues and baked on food from casseroles with either combination.

And another tip learned from my days as a cook and waitress—those Bunn carafes had openings in the top too small for anyone’s hand, but sitting all day on the burner made a mess in the bottom and even on the sides. We’d sprinkle salt into the pot and drop in three or four ice cubes, let it sit for a minute or two and swirl that around to remove all that residue with the salt as the abrasive and the ice cubes providing pressure to scrub, then swish around hot soapy water. This works for your coffee carafe as well as other containers with hard-to-reach interiors.

When to use bleach

In both cleaning and food preparation, there are times when bleach is necessary.

After cleaning the litterboxes, I always follow up with a 1:10 bleach and water solution that I mix in the box, tilt it around so it coats all the sides, then pour directly down the drain, letting the box air dry, preferably outdoors if the weather is right. I rinse the box once after this, usually adding a little vinegar to neutralize any bleach that might possibly be left behind, and make sure it’s completely dry before I sprinkle a little baking soda all over the bottom and pour the litter in. Just this little rinse with bleach can help keep internal parasites and diseases transmitted by feces especially from persisting on the surface of the box.

raw feeding cats

Kelly and Cookie with their raw venison.

If you ever work with raw meat, even organically produced meat or wild game, you should clean all surfaces and your hands afterward with an antiseptic unless you wear gloves during preparation. Because I also can and freeze foods I keep a 1:10 bleach solution in a little spray bottle under the sink (bottle “B”) so that I can spray down my utensils and work surface before I begin, and I often use it for these quick cleanups.

But I also keep a spray bottle of hydrogen peroxide under the sink (bottle “H”) to use most of the time. In this case I use hydrogen peroxide on my cutting board, knife and hands, though you need to let it sit and fizz until it’s finished to make sure it’s done its work.

And if you have a pet or a person who has a virus or contagious disease, washing your hands with soap and water and rinsing anything they use with the bleach solution such as eyedroppers, thermometers and litterboxes and even the floor around the litter box, or wiping down faucet handles or other surfaces where your hands may have transmitted the virus with the bleach solution isn’t a bad idea. Don’t ever use straight bleach in this instance, always use the bleach solution. It’s strong enough to kill the germs you need to kill, but not so strong that coming in contact with the residue or the fumes will hurt you or your pets.

Masking that vinegar scent

After a lot of years, I’m actually a little tired of the smell of vinegar, and no matter what kind you use it always smells like, well, just vinegar. I’ll sometimes follow up with a lemon juice solution to help dispel the scent, and sometimes I’ll make a pot of herbal tea to fill the air or safely burn a candle.

A few resources

You can find information on these topics just about everywhere and we know most claims are true, but I try to find actual scientific research behind the articles. Not surprisingly, government websites with post-disaster information such as FEMA and the CDC are a great resource as are cooperative extension services from state agricultural universities such as the Penn State Cooperative Extension http://extension.psu.edu/; I only note this one because it’s the one I’ve consulted for years, since I began canning and preserving food.

I had always used bleach, but only learned about the correct use of the bleach solution for cleaning after a devastating flood in my home town in 2004. Here’s a link to a page from the Centers for Disease Control that outlines uses for bleach after natural disasters and in disease control and a lot of other information: Cleaning and Sanitizing with Bleach After An Emergency, http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/bleach.asp

An interesting article on Rodale.com comparing the uses of bleach and vinegar as natural disinfectants: This or That: Bleach vs. Vinegar to Kill Germs, http://www.rodale.com/natural-disinfectant

I use this site as a reference for using hydrogen peroxide (this page discusses cleaning cutting boards): http://www.using-hydrogen-peroxide.com/home-uses-for-hydrogen-peroxide.html

Pet poisoning emergencies

ASPCA Online Poison Control Center including plants, medications, cleaning products and most other toxins your pet could come in contact with: www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/

Both of the hotlines below are available 24/7/365 providing live consultation for animal poison emergencies. The credit card charge covers the initial phone consultation and any follow-up consultation you or your veterinarian may need for your case. For instance, if you call and find out that the toxin your cat has come in contact with needs to be treated by a veterinarian, you can give your case number to your veterinarian and they can also call the hotline for ecommendations on treatment. There is no further charge.

ASPCA ANIMAL POISON CONTROL CENTER 888-426-4435, www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/

$65 credit card charge covers the initial phone consultation and any follow-up consultation.

PET POISON HELPLINE 800-213-6680, www.petpoisonhelpline.com

Affiliated with the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center, $35 credit card charge.

Other articles about “Living Green With Pets”
Living Green With Pets: Put Bird Feeders Out Now for Migrants
What Could be Greener, or….Redder?
As Natural As Possible: Outdoor Flea Control

And one more photo of the Family of Five in the tub, a real favorite.

five black cats in tub

Everybody in the Pool!

All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


Living Green With Pets: Flowers for Your Valentine

cat sitting behind vase of flowers

Sophie is not eating the flowers! "The Perfect Camouflage", pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Apparently, you can’t go wrong with roses, either for your Valentine or for your kitty—as long as they don’t have thorns! The roses, I mean.

Many of the cautions in this article apply to dogs as well, but cats are a little more sensitive to certain plants—lilies, for instance, may give a dog a tummy ache but they may kill a kitty—plus kitties can jump and climb and get themselves into truly amazing places, so I am focusing on cats for this article. But for any pet, please be cautious of flowers and plants and keep the list of toxic species linked at the end handy.

pencil sketch of cat with flowers

Would a cat eat a daisy? Namir did. "Conversation With a Daisy", pencil © B.E. Kazmarski

Cats aren’t necessarily particular in what greens they’ll nibble on; generally they’ll try anything green and fresh, and some cats will completely chew down a plant that can’t have tasted very good and wasn’t very easy to chew. They don’t stop with leaves, either, but will eat the petals off of a flower.

And while many pet owners know the dangers of various houseplants, most people don’t associate cut flowers with these dangers, yet many cut bouquets include flowers from  some of the most toxic plants for cats and dogs. What makes it complicated is that we recognize them when they are individual growing plants, but may not even notice them in a mixed bouquet.

Some plants cause gastric upset which can be a mess to clean up and is uncomfortable for your cat, but it can also have long-lasting effects such as ulcers in the mouth or digestive tract, and excessive vomiting or diarrhea can dehydrate and even kill a very young or old cat.

white lilies

Sunday Best

Other plants more seriously affect a cat’s organs and can be deadly within hours, even to a healthy cat.

Lilies in all their forms

Lilies in just about all their species can cause kidney damage in cats which is permanent and can lead to kidney failure within 48 hours if left untreated.

alstromeria

Alstromeria

Sure, we know the big white lilies at Easter, but consider an everyday small grocery story bouquet: a few yellow mums, some white daisies, pink carnations, fern, baby’s breath and—alstromeria, a South American lily, which comes in colors from white to scarlet.

Or a medium-sized get-well bouquet: Yellow roses, white mums, blue larkspur and—two big pink Stargazer lilies.

And what used to be part of my favorite backyard bouquets in spring: pink climbing rose, red rambler rose, Shasta daisies, blue widow’s tears and—big orange daylilies.

Bulb-forming plants

purple tulips

Purple Tulips

Instead of a bouquet of cut flowers we’ll often give or receive bulbs forced to bloom early in baskets and pots. I used to welcome the new year and the last long days of winter with forced bulbs all over my house as pots of paperwhite narcissus, trays of daffodils and baskets of mixed fragrant tulips, hyacinth and crocus along with squills and starflowers.

Then I learned that any part of these plants can not only cause gastric upset but also organ damage, specifically kidney damage and heart failure. I remembered a healthy fifteen-year-old cat I’d lost years before to acute kidney failure—her kidneys just failed one day and I had to put her to sleep the next. This can happen without an outside stimulus, but I’ll always wonder if that was the cause and I have never forced bulbs in any place my cats could get them since then.

In the same way, onion and garlic, also bulb-forming plants though they are considered food, are toxic to cats.

Other plants

rhododendron flowers

Rhododendron

While most plants are not that immediately toxic, other plants, such as azalea and rhododendron, lily of the valley, ivy and yew can be deadly to cats in impaired health or kittens, since they’re small enough to get a big dose with an enthusiastic bite. Though not deadly for adult cats in good health, they’ll often cause extreme abdominal pain, nausea, salivation and vomiting. Repeated exposure can be cumulative with some plants.

Sometimes cats have no sense

“Oh, she’ll stop eating if she gets sick,” or “she won’t eat this, it’s got little thorns”, don’t believe that. I’ve seen cats try to eat cacti, drool while they are chewing aloe and vomit up philodendron and go back to eating again. Don’t rely on their non-existent common sense, just remove the plant.

You can’t really punish them for following both a natural impulse and a physical need. We don’t really know why cats, obligate carnivores with no obvious need for greens, chew on grass, but some guess they help cleanse their mouth and digestive system, and to add fiber to their primarily protein diet to aid in elimination. An indoor kitty will take what she can get to simulate the natural outdoor environment she craves.

namir in plant

Namir in the arboricola.

The problem is that, while you may get some cats to stay away from your plants, most cats will return again and again, even if they suffer discomfort from their snack. The best way to keep your cats safe from plants is to put the plants completely out of reach—bearing in mind that cats can jump six times their height and can be ingenious about launching from strategic furniture to get into a hanging basket. Sometimes it is necessary to completely remove the plant from the house, no matter how much you like it.

Signs of plant poisoning may include vomiting, diarrhea, and swelling or pain inside the cat’s mouth. If you know or suspect which plant your cat has eaten, identify the plant by name when you call your veterinarian. Bring samples of the plant’s leaves or flowers when you take your cat to the veterinarian for treatment.

Keeping your cat out of your plants…?

black cat in plants

Loo-See of the Jungle

What happened to that nice spider plant you used to have? Oops—while enjoying the scene out the window, Fluffy forgot it wasn’t just a clump of grass and chewed it down to little nubbins. Then, because it really wasn’t grass and really wasn’t digestible by her little system, she deposited it back on your carpet in a most inelegant manner.

And that wandering jew? She used it for a bed? I’ll bet she looked sweet.

A determined cat will do what she wants. Remember, you have to sleep some time.

As for the non-toxic flora, even though Fluffy won’t suffer if she chews on it (unless you get your hands on her), you still don’t want her shredding your greenery. Several commercial sprays will give the plant a bad smell and/or taste without damaging the plant with recommended use, and a nibble by Fluffy will not harm her. One product is “Bitter Apple for Plants”, a stronger version of which is available for dogs learning not to chew on everything. Other products are named “Off for Cats” and such like, and simply smell bad.

You can also try your own home brew by dabbing hot sauce on the tips of some of the leaves, or rubbing a citrus peel on the leaf. For the sake of your plants, however, just try it on one or two leaves to make sure you won’t fry the whole plant in an effort to keep Fluffy from eating it.

You could also place “Sticky Paws” on the countertop around the arrangement or plant so that when she steps close to the plant she steps on the product and backs off; please read the instructions on the Sticky Paws package for what surfaces are appropriate for its use.

Distractions

peaches with cat greens

Peaches with her Cat Greens

One other thing to help the situation—and it’s a nice thing to do for your cat even if you don’t have a plant problem—is to plant her own pot of greens and make it available to her at all times. Don’t use regular plant seeds such as grass seed because some seeds are treated with chemicals, at least check before you use them; instead, purchase “cat greens”, usually a mixture of wheat, oats and barley grains, all three of which are not only a pleasure for your cat, but full of nutrition. Some other commercial “cat greens” mixtures contain catnip, a sure winner, sage, parsley, chickweed, colt’s foot grass, and other herbs and wild plants that your cat would eat if outdoors.

Most of these plants can be grown in a small container on a windowsill, and if you keep two containers growing, one available to the cat and one just sprouting, you can have a constant treat for her. These plants need a good bit of sunlight to thrive, so try to find a sunny spot that your cat can get to. It will serve two purposes: because she tends to chew when she’s gazing at the outdoors, you’ve provided exactly what she needs for her little interlude.

Keep toxic plant and flower information handy

Your local veterinarians and shelters often have lists of toxic flora has handouts, and plenty of resources exist on the internet.

And as far as those flowers, you just can’t go wrong with roses!

17 Common Poisonous Plants

ASPCA Searchable Database of Plants

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All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


Living Green With Pets: Look for the Leaping Bunny

leaping bunny logo

The Leaping Bunny logo courtesy Leapingbunny.org

Along with making sure our pets aren’t harmed by chemicals we use around our house and yard, we can also make sure that other animals aren’t harmed by our choices either. We can do this by choosing “cruelty-free” cosmetics, beauty products and household products, but what does this really mean, and how can we find out what products are truly “cruelty-free”?

Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act

Cosmetics and related products are tested on animals for a variety of reasons, often having more to do with legalities than health. Surprisingly enough, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require that a product be tested on animals, only that the manufacturer certify that “cosmetics are safe and properly labeled” through the the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act).

Read the rest of this entry »


Living Green With Pets: Bringing Plants Indoors

cookie looks at the snow

Cookie greets a snowy morning.

We had an unexpected snowfall overnight and this morning, and while I’ve known for weeks I needed to do something with my plants before they ended up as frozen mush, snowfall was decidedly a surprise.

It was also better than the alternative at this time of year, a freeze, because while more tender plants will be tinged with air cold enough to produce snow, it’s also full of moisture which helps to protect leaf and petal surfaces, and plants under cover of a deck or tree aren’t as badly affected. A freeze is typically cold with a clear sky and low humidity, and any plant outdoors that has moisture in its leaves is pretty much done for.

Often annual plants are thriving in the autumn, into a second bloom after the heat of late summer is moderated by the cool dampness of early autumn. Many plants can be brought indoors and kept as houseplants through the winter, which saves you both time and money next spring when you can start with plants that are already growing.

geraniums in the snow

The geraniums were enjoying the autumn.

You may have a variety of plant or a color of flower that is difficult to find, a plant that has an emotional tie to someone, or heirloom plants you’ve purchased or started from seed or cuttings. But you need to take precautions about what plants do well indoors, what might hitch a ride indoors with your plants, and what your pets might decide to do with all that lush greenness.

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Living Green With Pets: Pumpkin, Pumpkin, Pumpkin!

black cat with pumpkins

Mewsette approves of these pumpkins.

Celebrating the Autumnal Equinox, get some fresh organic pumpkins now to process for your pets, snacks for yourself, and free bird seed for your feathered friends!

If you haven’t noticed, pumpkins are coming into season. In part it’s because they are elemental in our Halloween tradition, color, shape, jack-o’-lanterns and all, but reverse that and you’ll see they are part of our traditions at this time of the year because this is their season of abundance, and they are a most versatile and nutritious fruit.

Pumpkins actually originated in Central America where related seeds at least 5,000 years old have been found. Native Americans planted them as one of the “three sisters” of corn, pole beans and squash interplanted to support each other. Apparently, a good thing can’t be kept hidden because European explorers learned of them from Native Americans in North, Central and South America and took them back to their respective countries. They are grown all over the world, and in many cultures they are much more than a seasonal decoration but are a principle food source because of their ease of growth and high nutrition.

Pumpkin for your pets

carved pumpkin

Cat and Moon jack-o'-lantern

Speaking of pets first, pumpkin is highly recommended to keep on hand for bowel issues, namely constipation or diarrhea, especially in older pets. The fiber in pureed pumpkin flesh works the same way as a fiber product for human use, softening the stool and cleansing the colon in the case of constipation and helping bind loose stool by absorbing excess fluid and soothing inflamed intestines in the case of diarrhea, without the use of any drugs.

Add to this effect the level of nutrition delivered in a readily accessible form: it’s obviously bursting with beta carotene and also rich in vitamins A and C and in potassium. Pumpkin may not be a natural part of your pet’s diet, especially for carnivore kitties, but considering that the bowel conditions described above often result from an illness or chronic or acute disease, these particular nutrients in an easily digestible form can only help your pet.

pumpkins

Pumpkins at Market

And not only that, but cats and dogs often really like it since it’s not icky chemical-tasting medicine. And if they won’t lap up enough of it to make a difference you can always fill a syringe with the right amount and gently dose it right into their mouth.

The basic dose is about one teaspoon per 15 pounds, so most cats and very small dogs would get one teaspoon, larger cats and small to medium dogs would get two teaspoons, and dogs larger than 30 pounds would get three teaspoons or one tablespoon. Cats larger than 30 pounds need to lose some weight.

It’s safe enough to give every day, and if they don’t need it it certainly doesn’t do any harm.

You could get a can of pumpkin, or you could buy fresh, buy local and visit your local farmer’s market or farm stand and patronize a local grower, even finding one who uses completely organic methods.

Choosing your pumpkin

pumpkins

Large Variety

From the grocery store to the farmer’s market you’ll see all sizes of pumpkins from small and deep orange to large and warty and yellowish. The flesh of all the pumpkins you see have about the same amount of fiber and nutrients, with varying amounts of natural fruit sugar. Usually, the larger the pumpkin, the less sugar and the coarser the fiber.

The smaller pumpkins—not wee tiny but about the size of a small plastic play ball, around three pounds and 20 or so inches in circumference—are bred to be “pie pumpkins” with thick-walled sides, fine smooth flesh and more sugar that average. These are the most versatile since you can use them for pies and other baked goods and use them for your pets. Most sellers have these sorted separately and marked for pies, so don’t worry about taking a lot of gear to weigh and measure.

pumpkins

Medium-sized Pumpkins

The medium-sized pumpkins, like the ones you carve into jack-o’-lanterns, are usually field pumpkins and often fed to livestock. The flesh wall is a little thinner, the flesh itself a little coarser and lighter in color with usually about 75% as much sugar. They aren’t good for pies, but they work just fine for constipation.

The extra-large ones that are often seen in competitions aren’t good for much but gawking at where most of us are concerned, though they are also used for livestock feed. They are raised for size and weight, not nutrition, though they do have fiber and buckets of seeds inside.

pumpkins and gourds

Gourds Displayed in Bins at Market

Be careful of gourds, since there is a gourd that looks like a small pumpkin and some medium-sized ones that are nice to look at as well. Gourds are edible but you probably wouldn’t want to since as they mature they grow more bitter and simply don’t have any of the nutrition or fiber you’d find in pumpkin. Better to let them dry and varnish them for decoration and use as homemade maracas!

squashes

Winter Squashes

Consider other winter squashes in your search. Pumpkin really is a winter squash just like butternut or acorn, the two most commonly found in grocery stores or farmer’s markets, and all have about the same amount of fiber and nutritional value. Butternut and acorn have slightly thicker and harder skin, or rind as some call it, and this helps the squash keep raw in your refrigerator or a cold cellar through the winter. Pumpkin has a thinner, softer skin and generally will not keep for more than a month or two.

Preparing your pumpkin

For ease of instructions, I’ll figure you found an average-sized pie pumpkin about the size of the one Mr. Sunshine is investigating or the one in front of it or up on the stand. The fourth one works just fine but is smaller and will yield less puree.

black cat with pumpkin

Mr. Sunshine inspects the pumpkins

Mr. Sunshine’s pumpkin, meant for pies, has flesh about 1” thick or more, weighs about three pounds and measures about 20” in circumference. It feels solid when you pick it up and when you knock on it (not too hard, please).

A pumpkin this size will yield about two cups of pureed pumpkin by either method below.

I roast my pumpkins just like roasted butternut or acorn squash because it takes less time, it’s much neater, it slowly evaporates the extra moisture but leaves enough to make a puree that generally doesn’t separate when used for cooking, and it carmelizes the sugars, which is better for pies than for your cat, but still not bad for them.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, cut your pumpkin in half from top to bottom, pull off the stem and toss on the floor for a cat toy, scoop out the seeds and keep in a bowl (directions for those later). Place the two halves of the pumpkin in a shallow pan with about ¼-cup of water, cover with foil, roast for at least one hour. It’s done when it’s tender by poking with a sharp knife. Let cool, peel, cut into chunks and mash or puree in food processor.

cat jack o lantern

Another Jack O Lantern

Stewing works just fine but you need to have several hours to watch over and stir your pumpkin as it cooks down; when it cooks down to a puree it can spatter, and hot flying pumpkin puree is not fun to deal with, though this is the centuries old method for pumpkin pie filling.

Halve and quarter your pumpkin from top to bottom, scoop out the seeds and keep in a bowl. Peel the skin and cut the flesh into 1” chunks, place in heavy pot and add about one cup of water. Set on medium heat, cover, and check about every 15 minutes to stir the chunks and see how they are softening, mashing as they do. When they are all pretty much mashed remove the lid and cook for about an hour to allow the moisture to evaporate. When completely cooked, let cool.

Storing your pumpkin

For your pet’s use, scoop tablespoons of the puree into the sections of an ice cube tray. You can remove the cubes one at a time to thaw and know how many doses you have for the pet in question.

For larger amounts, freeze by the cupful in plastic containers. A 9” pumpkin pie takes about two cups of pumpkin with other ingredients added.

pumpkins with kittens

Kittens and pumpkins

Using other pumpkins

These kittens at my local Agway are modeling slightly larger pumpkins than pie types but not quite jack-o’-lantern sized. With these, you’d simply do the same procedure, but if roasting cut it into smaller pieces.

How about a snack for you? Pumpkin seeds!

Who doesn’t remember the boxes of white pumpkin seeds that were so salty they made you pucker just to smell them? I loved them anyway, and when I found a way to roast my own without all the extra salt I began making a jar of them every year. The nutmeat is very sweet and nutritious, and by the name of pepitos it is included in some recipes. Here you soak the seeds in strong salt water, which helps to soften the shell but just leaves enough salty flavor that doesn’t overpower the nutty flavor.

Rinse the seeds and remove as much of the muck they are stuck to as possible. To a bowl that will hold about twice as much in seeds as you have add a quart of water and ¼-cup of salt. Stir to dissolve; the water can be warm, but not hot. Add the seeds and let soak for 30 minutes to an hour, drain off the liquid. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees, lightly oil a cookie sheet and place the seeds in a single layer, bake for 20 minutes, stir, bake for 20 minutes more. Let seeds cool. Store in tightly closed jar.

cat jack o lantern

Another Cat Face Jack O Lantern

And free bird seed!

Birds LOVE pumpkin seeds and the seeds from any squash or melon. I read about this in one of my birding magazines and tried it with squash seeds I’d saved, placing a quarter cup at a time in the trays of several feeders. There was a sudden bird riot and the squash seeds were gone in minutes.

To prepare clean and soak the seeds 30 minutes in salt water deep enough to cover to soften the seed coating, drain. Roast as outlined above, store for mid winter. You can just let them dry, but it’s difficult to tell they are completely dry so it’s safest to turn on the oven.

And next year…consider growing a few!

Big Cats love pumpkins!

Who would think big cats would play like kittens–with pumpkins! Pretty big pumpkins, swatting them like bizzy balls and chasing them in the water like beach balls! Each year Big Cat Rescue is lucky enough to receive left over pumpkins from stores after Halloween. Pumpkins are a great source of enrichment for the cats, as well as a great source of entertainment for the staff and volunteers at Big Cat Rescue. Watch this video on YouTube: BIG CAT HALLOWEEN!

Other articles about “Living Green With Pets”
Living Green With Pets: Clean and Green
Living Green With Pets: Put Bird Feeders Out Now for Migrants
What Could be Greener, or….Redder?
As Natural As Possible: Outdoor Flea Control

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All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


Living Green With Pets: Clean and Green

gray and white cat in bathroom

Namir wanders into the bathroom...

I’ve had more than one cat who loved the smell of bleach, but Namir really acted on his indulgence. As soon as I began to scour the tub with cleanser, he would appear on the landing outside the bathroom door, nose bobbing in the air, a faraway look in his eyes as he followed the scent and he’d hop into the tub if I didn’t stop him.

I’m sure you’ve noticed it’s darned difficult to rinse the last of the cleanser out of your tub or sink without leaving a residue, and even when I’d locked Namir out of the bathroom long enough to let the tub dry because he tried to get into the tub with the cleanser, he was in it as soon as he could get there, rolling around and breathing in the residual fumes.

It’s a wonder he lived as long as he did. But a friend apparently lost a young kitten to bleach poisoning years ago after the kitten walked across a wet floor each night where she’d used bleach water to clean and disinfect.

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