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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fall lawn care the green, organic way for the health of your dog and you!

In last week's post we talked about the dangers of chemical lawn treatments and the affects they can have for your dog's health and for you.

Today we are talking about how you can have a lush, green, healthy, weed free organic lawn without the use of chemicals for the health and safety of you and your dog! And we'll be sharing some resources, as well.

If you are going organic from a chemical lawn, or to check your organic lawn for the right mix of nutrients in your soil for better grass growth, you can have your soil tested for it's pH level. Here are some great links to State University Cooperative Extension Soil Testing Services in your area. There are also tests you can purchase online; not as comprehensive but may be a good start.

Several safe and healthy amendments can be added to your lawn depending upon the results and pH of your lawn. Grasses enjoy a pH of between 6.2 to 6.9, but if your lawn is too acidic or too alkali you may actually be encouraging weed growth and poor grass growth and not even know it. To raise the pH level you can add lime, to reduce it you can add sulfer. This site has a great overview to learn more about altering the pH of your soil.

So lets get on with creating that healthy lawn!

Step 1:

After a big rain is the very best time to get out there and pull some weeds. After a good rain the ground is soft and it's much easier to pull and make sure you get the root of the weed. There are a few products on the market that can make weed pulling very easy and we've included them below, or you can get down on your knees the old fashioned way, while enjoying a little time outside with your dog!

Step 2:

Make sure and rake up any debris from your lawn; including leaves, weed residue, grass thatch and add all this good organic matter to your compost pile. It will become great feeding for your flowers, shrubs and vegetables next Spring, and if it's fine enough, it's great to add to your grass areas too!

Step 3:

Now it's time to work to thicken up your lawn by planting a good quality, uncoated grass seed. (We recommend un-coated because it doesn't add any chemical laden residue or growth hormones to your lawn and is safer and healthier for your dog).

Be generous in reseeding bare patches and thin areas of your lawn (best times are in September in the North and October in the South), and remember, the more grass you have the less weeds you will have. Once you've removed the weeds throw down your grass seed in thin areas; and be sure to prep the bare spots with a little raking of the soil first.

If frequent rain weather isn't cooperating, give your new seeded areas a good sprinkle when it gets dry for about 4-6 weeks to provide a good start in life before colder weather sets in.

Step 4:

About 4-6 weeks after reseeding, or in September/October/November (depending upon if you live in the South or the North) if you aren't reseeding, we recommend putting down a good quality organic fertilizer to help give your lawn the nutrients it needs to prepare for and weather the Winter well.

We like several types of organic fertilizers, from worm poo and fish emulsions (which are sprays) to pellet based fertilizers made from feather meal, bone meal, and/or soybean meal.

The type of lawn fertilizer you use depends upon you and your dog's lifestyle. Gracie (pictured just below) likes to get into everything, and we mean everything :)! One time when we utilized a pellet based fertilizer, she spent most of her time sniffing at it, eating it (which wasn't harmful to her at all). Well, too much of anything isn't good, and she got a pretty good runny nose from sniffing it up so much. So the next time we utilized a liquid based fertilizer with a hose-end sprayer and viola! Problem solved. Even the fish emulsions we've used were a little smelly at first, but went away after about an hour.

Step 5:

If you'd like to get rid of some of that grass around the fence line, or along the patio, here's what we like to do. We use BurnOut, it's an environmentally friendly, safe product of concentrated vinegar that you can buy. As long as you use it when it's above 80 degrees for a few days, it works like a charm in killing grass and anything else in it's path! For some it may work well just to pour boiling water in areas where you don't want grass or weeds. But remember they both will kill everything they touch!

We hope these ideas will help you have a great, green, healthy, safe and eco-friendly lawn! And if you have any trouble finding some of the products we've provided some resources below.

And be sure to watch for our Spring lawn care post for more great organic lawn care tips, including how to prevent weeds! Happy gardening!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Rescued dogs dedicate their life to helping the environment.

This is Max, one of 30 highly trained scat detection dogs who dedicate the most energetic years of their life to helping the environment. But to Max and the other members of Conservation Canines, work is play!

Max, like most all of the Conservation Canines, is a rescue dog. An Australian Cattle dog adopted at two years old from the Everett Animal Shelter, Max is trained to detect Wolverine, Northern Spotted Owl, Barred Owl, Grizzly bear, Black bear, American Pine Marten, Tiger, Leopard. 

Through the noses and efforts of this hard working group of dogs, finding and collecting scat allows monitoring of a wide variety of species worldwide and can provide a very reliable, widespread and more affordable monitoring system to help scientists analyze scat and determine a multitude of information from population decline, toxin levels and contamination, to migration, reproductive viability and more.

As human population grows and becomes more widespread it creates an ever-increasing demand on the environment. By monitoring the impact, behaviors and lives of a wide variety of species, a lot can be discovered about the lives of wild animals and help determine the best means of creating a more balance planet for all living things.

The Conservation Canines  program began in 1997 by Dr. Samuel Wasser, director of the Center for Conservation Biology. With an idea, he called on Sgt. Barbara Davenport, master canine trainer with the Washington State Department of Corrections, to begin a program by expanding upon the training of narcotics detection dogs and teaching dogs to locate scat from threatened and endangered species. Now the Conservation  Canines  program works to monitor a wide variety of species throughout the world including tigers, orcas, fishers, spotted owls, bears, wolves, caribou, giant armadillos, giant anteaters, pumas, jaguars, and even Pacific pocket mice.

If you've ever had a dog with extreme levels of high energy and an insatiable work ethic, you'll understand how happy these dogs are to 'work.' Many of the dogs in the Conservation Canines  program are rescues or owner surrenders; relinquished because of their high energy and high drive which wasn't a good fit for their former home. Now these wonderful dogs have received  a new leash on life as a working dog. But these dogs think of their work as play! Each time they detect scat, whether during training or on working day, they are rewarded with one-on-one play time with their handlers.

This is Waylon, an owner surrender in 2010, who is  now working with a research project through Conservation Canines funded by Washington SeaGrant. Waylon's job is to locate the scat of Orca Killer Whales that can be analyzed for stress, nutrition, toxin levels and reproductive hormones to help in assessing the decline in the whales’ primary prey, Chinook salmon; the disturbance from private and commercial whale watching vessels; and exposure to high levels of toxins such as PCB, PBDE and DDT which are stored in the whales’ fat.

And here's Chester, adopted from the Seattle Humane in December 2008, who is trained to sniff out Wolverine, Grizzly Bear, Black Bear, Bobcat. Last year Chester, along with fellow CK9 Scooby, helped Wisconsin with it's bobcat management program, by sniffing out scat to determine density and distribution.

Watch more about Conservation Canines and their good work in keeping our environment balanced:

And get a dog's eye view from Scooby of what it's like to sniff out scat.

Learn more about the efforts of Conservation Canines and the Center for Conservation Biology by visiting their website.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Is your lawn killing your dog?

A lush, beautiful, green lawn may be the envy of everyone in your neighborhood, but if you use chemicals to get that beauty you may be creating a chemical yard dump that new studies are finding is likely the cause of malignant cancer and other health problems in many dogs.

For years, we have been told by lawn care product manufacturers and other professionals that it's perfectly safe for children and pets to play on lawns anywhere from immediately to up to several hours, depending upon the lawn chemical product is applied. But what they aren't telling you and what you don't know may be harmful to your dog and to you.

The idea that lawn fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides and herbicides may be contributing to the health problems in dogs is somewhat new to the mainstream, consequently only a handful of studies have been done to examine the link between lawn chemicals and the affects on dogs, other pets, children and humans.

Thankfully, concerned organizations and individuals have finally begun to put pen to paper to study the affects of lawn chemicals on humans and our pets. Mounting evidence in a variety of these recent studies shows that yes, these chemicals are dangerous and can have life long effects, especially if you examine them as a group.

In January of this year a published study was released (Abstract of Environmental Health 112(1): 171-6 (Jan. 2012), that shows a link between lawn chemicals and cancer in dogs.

For the study scientists identified 263 dogs with biopsy-confirmed canine malignant lymphoma (CML), 240 dogs with benign tumors, and 230 dogs undergoing surgeries unrelated to cancer. Then, they asked the pet owners to complete a 10-page questionnaire.

From the data, scientists found that dogs with malignant lymphoma were 70 percent more likely to live in a home where professionally applied lawn pesticides had been used. Dogs with serious malignancy were also 170 percent more likely to come from homes where owners used chemical insecticides.

Not enough evidence for you? Let's go on....

The facts are beginning to show that these chemicals have been linked to other grave illnesses in dogs. Just think, if they kill bugs and weeds, what are they doing to children and pets? One study indicated specifically that "children living in households where pesticides are used suffer elevated rates of leukemia, brain cancer and soft tissue sarcoma."

A respected report and DVD "The Truth About Cats, Dogs and Lawn Chemicals," funded by Newman’s Own Foundation, has a lot of information for you to learn about the dangers and effects of lawn chemicals on your pets.

One of the most important items their site and DVD states is that reading product labels does not give you all the information you need to help you and your pet be safe. Why? Because many times 80-99% of the ingredients on a lawn care product is labeled as 'inactive' or 'inert.' The only way to completely research all the ingredients contained in a specific product is to look up the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). And as we've found, it's not always easy to find these documents, even online. studies find that dogs "exposed to herbicide-treated lawns and gardens can double their chance of developing canine lymphoma. And these dangerous chemicals may also increase the risk of bladder cancer in certain breeds by four to seven times."

Their site has other facts and figures that relate to the use and affects of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and insecticides on humans, pets and children. In addition, you can find a complete list of lawn chemicals on their website and the effects they can have on you and your pets.

Let's look at just one example of a chemical not listed in the main ingredients label of a commonly used lawn product...

Atrazine is a very widely used herbicide and is included in many chemical lawn care products commonly utilized many homeowners throughout the US. However you would only know that atrazine is included in the product if you took the time to  look up the MSDS sheet, as it is lumped in to the  'inert' or 'inactive' ingredients listing.

Because of it's wide spread use by farmers, golf courses and homeowners, the New York Times indicates that is has 'become among the most common contaminants in American reservoirs and other sources of drinking water.'

If you look at the Material Data Safety Sheet of the Scott's product Scotts® LawnPro® Weed and Feed it indicates, "atrazine is slightly to moderately toxic to humans and other animals. It may be absorbed orally, dermally, and by inhalation. Symptoms of poisoning include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting, eye irritation, irritation of mucus membranes, and skin reactions." In addition, it states "atrazine, at lethal doses in test animals, have caused lung congestion and/or hemorrhaging in the lungs, kidneys, liver, spleen, brain, and heart. Long term consumption of high levels of atrazine has caused tremors, organ weight changes, and damage to liver and heart tissues."

Officials at the Environmental Protection Agency say Americans are not exposed to unsafe levels of atrazine. They say that current regulations are adequate to protect human health. Those regulations were set in the 1990's. Since the '90s new information has been garnered, and testing and data correlation abilities have advanced.

The New York Times article goes on to say, "now, new research suggests that atrazine may be dangerous at lower concentrations than previously thought. Recent studies suggest that, even at concentrations meeting current federal standards, the chemical may be associated with birth defects, low birth weights and menstrual problems."

With consistent use for years, current level indicators for this chemical are now in many states and cities far above the safe levels indicated by the EPA. Science has also improved over the years and many individuals, including those with the EPA and those consulting with the EPA, are calling for reexamination of atrazine because of new and valuable information.

For years governmental agencies have been wrong about what is safe for humans and for pets and animals, and/or new data and information has come to light that make their designation obsolete.

Take DDT as an example.

Remember this ad? You may not, but you may know of the term DDT. This ad and other versions appeared in Life Magazine, Popular Mechanics, Good Housekeeping and Woman's Day from 1947 until 1949. It was also guaranteed by Good Housekeeping before their 'seal of approval' was instituted.

It was in those years, DDT was considered a miracle to some. According to Wikipedia, DDT was first synthesized in 1874, DDT's insecticidal properties were not discovered until 1939, and it was used with great success in the second half of World War II to control malaria and typhus among civilians and troops.

The Swiss chemist Paul Hermann Müller was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1948 "for his discovery of the high efficiency of DDT as a contact poison against several arthropods." After the war, DDT was made available for use as an agricultural insecticide, and soon its production and use skyrocketed.

People utilized DDT in many products from combating head lice in children, to spraying for mosquitoes, to even killing fleas on dogs and cats.

In 1962, Silent Spring by American biologist Rachel Carson was published. The book catalogued the environmental impacts of the indiscriminate spraying of DDT in the US and questioned the logic of releasing large amounts of chemicals into the environment without fully understanding their effects on ecology or human health.

In 1972, EPA chief William Ruckelshaus banned DDT after seven months of testimony of the dangerous effects and cited it as a “potential human carcinogen.” It took 23 years before governmental agencies recognized the danger and harm this chemical could bring to people, pets, animals and the environment.

These are not isolated incidents. For years, a variety products and chemicals that have been proven safe and effective from governmental agencies have later been found to be dangerous to humans and pets.

Even though there haven't been years and years of studies conducted to directly correlate the effects of lawn chemicals on our dogs, heeding these smaller and more recent studies should cause you concern not only for your dog, but for you and your children.

Some may say these studies are flawed or there isn't enough data to determine the dangers. But, we say, why take a chance with your dog's health and yours!

Having an amazingly, beautiful and lush green lawn without the use of dangerous and harmful chemicals is very possible and just as easy as a four-step program. We'll follow up this post with information about how you can have an organic lawn and keep dangerous chemicals away from your dog, your other pets, you and your children.

Danger Pesticides photo courtesy of Valley_Photographs.
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