November 11, 2008 at 10:51AM
by Alexandra Zissu
One of my most frequent suggestions on how to reduce indoor air pollution, exposure to chemical residue, and general grime take off your shoes before entering or just after entering your home seems like a total no-brainer. It's common sense that you shouldn't trudge through the New York City subway (as I do), then track in that truly grim dirt and grime to where your baby is crawling. It used to require some coercing of our friends when they came over back before we all had kids to get them to go shoeless in our home. But now everyone I know with kids takes off their shoes. So much so that our preschool teacher keeps having to remind parents to keep their children's shoes on when they arrive at school. These kids just aren't accustomed to wearing shoes inside.
But there's a population of greenies who hesitate re jumping on the shoe-off bandwagon: dog owners. Why bother taking off their shoes, they ask me, if their dogs are trekking in the same gunk they're supposed to be minimizing? It's a legitimate question and there are several ways of handling it.
Before I go any further, I should admit that I do not at this point in my life live with a dog. I did growing up and I might also again. But my household is currently a feline one. Our cat goes outside sometimes on weekends if we're away but, as we live in the city, she's mainly indoor-only.
The shoe-doffing/dog owning friends I contacted to help out with this query had varying responses. They seem to fall into two categories: paw wipers and non paw wipers. Wiping a dog's paws seems like a smart idea to me, but as it turns out when my cat does go outside, I have never wiped her paws before she came back in. Go figure.
The non paw wipers do not bother to clean their dog's paws every time they reenter the home from outside. But they do still take off their own shoes. Their feeling is that they can't control the dog but they can still minimize the amount of pesticide residue, dirt, feces, and other interesting stuff that gets tracked into a home on the bottom of human feet. To put it into an entirely unscientific equation: if there are four shoeless members of the household and one always shoeless canine, that's still reducing a fair amount of gunk in a household.
The paw wipers do just that they wipe paws. They do this in many different ways. Some leave a towel and a soap/water solution in a spray bottle and get all four paws each time they enter the home. Some use baby wipes (not very environmentally friendly, I must say). Some posit that the carpet in their front hallway acts as a wipe the paws are basically somewhat cleaned by the time they enter the actual home. Still others reported spraying the pads with vinegar (that seems harsh to me, especially on dry winter paws) and wiping with dishtowels. One family even had the dogs step into a tray of soap/water solution about an inch deep and then onto a bathmat before entering the home. There's also a product called Paw Plunger
devoted to making this process easier. It has dirt-brushing bristles and a no-spill top. Others do this by simply hosing the paws off. Although I have heard from dog owners that wearing no shoes at home means they have dirty feet due to the dog's tracked in dirt (one solution: wear in-house only flip flops or slippers), I have yet to hear of people putting indoor slippers or shoes on their pets. Although, at this point, nothing would surprise me, especially as I know people in cold climates do put boots
on the pups for going outside.
However you do (or don't) clean off the offending paws, there will still be a worthwhile reduction in the amount of what is being tracked inside if you remove your own shoes.