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Perfect pet - lean, green not mean

Chooks have featured in this column but we have yet to explore pets and the environment more broadly. This is not about dog-and-cat bashing. We love dogs and cats in Artarmon and they love us! A stick insect may love us too but it’s harder to tell.

The re-located Artarmon library is a rich source of advice on animals to keep, care for or encourage into your garden. There are works on dog and cat care, keeping herbivores like rabbits and guinea pigs, chook-raising, worm farming and making your garden a haven for birds or frogs. A Slice of Organic Life suggests raising a pig.

Looking through a prism like we use to evaluate our own sustainability, consider consumption, waste disposal and bushland protection. With a high-protein diet, dogs and cats have relatively high eco-impacts and can wreak havoc in the bush. Cats need to be kept inside at night and dogs to be walked on a leash except in designated areas. Ample time spent playing with pets helps prevent them being destructive or becoming a noise nuisance through loneliness and boredom.

Looking to alternative pets, unlikely as it may seem, a pig sometimes runs with the dogs on Artarmon Oval. He is a house-trained mini-pig called Stanley who enjoys walks, human company, and a vegetarian diet. Pig manure is a potential garden fertiliser. Mini-pigs can be bought neutered, micro-chipped and with a nose-ring to prevent them digging up gardens. See for more information. WCC has no rule against pigs but broad requirements for preventing odour, nuisance and land degradation apply to keeping any animal.

Small herbivores like rabbits and guinea pigs can be cute, friendly, playful and low impact. Rabbits are most active morning and evening, synchronising with owners working or attending school. Recycled newspaper pet litter combined with their waste yields excellent compost. However, as previously reported (see February Gazette, p6), escaped pet rabbits can infest local parks and gardens. Rabbits dig and need to be indoors or in a secure hutch. They can be exercised outdoors with a harness and lead. However, restricting excursions will protect them from predators and infection from mosquito-borne myxomatosis. Neutering rabbits has health benefits as well as avoiding a population explosion if they break out. Learn more about house rabbits at

Any pet is a “till death do us part” commitment. Abandoning them to fend for themselves in the bush once they cease to generate cuteness is never an option.

At the lowest-impact end of the spectrum are invertebrate creatures such as worms and stick insects. These are interesting pets that assist learning about ecology. They are also a good option for flats or smaller homes.

With all pets we need to be mindful of the environment’s impact on them. Many are sensitive to extremes and sudden changes in temperature. They need plenty of water and access to cool shaded areas. Clipping may be necessary to prevent heat stress. Chooks need sun, straw, and, potentially, insulation against winter cold. For those eager to enjoy animals without pet ownership, you can encourage Artarmon’s abundant wildlife into your garden.

Tips for wildlife friendly gardens include encouraging native plants; creating hiding and sunning spots for lizards; using organic gardening and pest control methods; leaving around nesting and habitat material; installing possum or bird nesting boxes and installing a water source such as a pond or bird bath. For those interested in helping rescue or care for injured native animals, contact WIRES at

by Alethea Morison

Courtesy of Gazette November 2012
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Sustainability Street Logo rabbits
Jackson and Lucy, happy, health Artarmon house trained "rescue rabbits"
Photo: A Morison





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