by Amanda DeMatto
While enrolled in New York University's Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting program, Amanda found herself captivated by and drawn to topics on the environment. Obsessed with learning more about the chemical and physical processes that occur between organisms and the earth, and determined to show through well-crafted writing that while our environment boasts a seemingly steadfast resilience to onslaughts of all kinds, she realized that we are swiftly chiseling away at its self-renewing abilities. She says her goal is to help others understand how important their role is in maintaining environmental stasis and to illuminate the tightly interwoven relationships between all organisms, mobile or sessile, single-celled or multicellular. In a world where the air we breathe and water we drink are of a communal supply, we need every other mind in that collective to understand and join the coalition as sentinels of the earth. Amanda has previous written for Popular Mechanics.
After losing her Rottweiler, Gust, to a cancer-related disease, Rubin was determined that her next pup, Gretyl, wouldn’t suffer the same fate. She had a suspicion that Gust’s ailment was triggered and accelerated by long-term exposure to chemicals, many of which fall under the general category of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. These chemicals have a stealthy presence in paint, varnish, cleaning solutions, cosmetics, and other products that furnish our households.
Doghouses are no exception. So, in the summer of 2007, Rubin built a doghouse like no other. With red cedar planks, zero-VOC paint and beeswax waterproofing, the doghouse was such a hit that, to Rubin’s surprise, it paved the way for a full-fledged business: Sustainable Pet Design.
As far as Rubin can tell, Gretyl and a few other endowed canines are quite attached to their chemical-free Greenrrroof Animal Homes. Garnishing the top of each home is a green roof of native plants that filters runoff rainwater to be used as drinking water, and provides temperature and acoustic insulation for dogs that don’t have much shade or peace and quiet.
Rubin’s most illustrious doghouse is Summa Canum, literally “top dog” in Latin, which she built for the Obamas’ Portuguese water dog, Bo. Summa Canum has a portico entry, an inscription of President Obama’s catchy campaign logo, and a lustrous ivory finish, making it a miniature White House all its own. But Rubin says that the doghouse’s greatest attribute was its ability to bring everyone together. She marvels at all the generous donations she received from community vendors who really believed in the cause and wanted to applaud Obama’s commitment to green industry.
Unless you’re a presidential incumbent making hefty environmental promises, you can’t count on becoming the beneficiary of a Greenrrroof Animal Home, which run for anywhere from $1,000 to $3,2000. “The reason [they’re] so expensive,” says Rubin, “is because most of the eco-friendly products out there are relatively new and not affordable yet.” This ultimately confines Sustainable Pet Design to a specialty market, selling an average of ten doghouses a year. “I’m actually not much of a business woman,” jokes Rubin. However, she plans to make the doghouses more accessible by taking advantage of recycled parts, which, she divulges, have made her uneasy. “If I don’t get [products] new, then I don’t know where [they’re] coming from,” she says.
But a new product on the market called Safecoat Safe Seal has alleviated her concerns about using recycled parts. You can apply Safe Seal to virtually any porous surface to prevent chemicals from off-gassing, during which they are gradually released into the air. Rubin says Safe Seal can lock in chemicals like the formaldehyde in pressure-treated wood, the glue that bonds plywood sheets together, and wood preservers that often contain arsenic. Things, Rubin says, that we can’t smell, but dogs can.
Rubin hopes, above all, that her sustainable practice will show others how important it is to regard the health of our beloved animals as equally as we regard our own. “Think of your pet as your own child,” she says. It could be that Snoopy had his reasons for sleeping on top of his doghouse.
Two of the images courtesy of Ebbe Roe Yovino-Smith and Caitlin Jean Petersen.