mug_mary_kolarEarlier this year, my husband Scott and I adopted Hercules from a dog rescue organization. It has been a couple of winters since our previous dog passed away and we long ago gave away our dog accessories. We were unprepared for the early snow and cold this November. We’ll have to get Hercules some dog boots so he, and we, can continue to enjoy our winter walks.

It’s not the cold that makes Hercules pick up his paws with pain. It’s the salt. As much as we try to guide him around the worst of it, on some sidewalks it’s impossible to avoid. Th ough good intentioned, the overuse of salt not only hurts dog paws, it hurts our lakes and aquifers, and eventually, it will hurt us all.

Many of the storm drains on our downtown streets discharge directly into either Lake Monona or Mendota. Any salt put down on roads and sidewalks has a very short path to the lakes. It only takes one teaspoon of rock salt (sodium chloride) to pollute 5 gallons of our lake water beyond legal concentrations. Too much of the chloride in road salt can kill birds and some plants. What can we do to avoid contributing to the irreversible damage of the salinization of our lakes?

As challenging as it may be when the wind is blowing and the snow is falling, the best tool for avoiding the use of salt is a snow shovel. By removing any accumulation as soon as possible, the likelihood of ice forming on our walkways and roads is greatly reduced. Shoveling small snow accumulation throughout a storm is an easier job than waiting until the storm is over and will avoid ice forming.

What to do when the snow came overnight and ice patches already formed? Try to remove as much ice as possible with a shovel or other tools. Use sand for traction. Also, rock salt will not work if the temperature is below 15 degrees Fahrenheit; shoveling and sand are again better options.

Still have ice and concerns about slipping? If using salt, use only the amount needed to reduce the slippery conditions. More salt does not make the ice melt any faster. Less than four pounds of salt is enough for a 1000 square foot area. Salt is only useful if it has ice to interact with; any salt remaining on a dry walk is no longer useful. It should be swept up to avoid having it run-off into our lakes. Below is a photo of an adequate distribution of salt to help have a safe walk.

Not all salt is equal. If you must use salt, Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA) is least harmful to pets and the environment. Paw Thaw is a product available at Mounds Pet Food Warehouse that is safer for pets than rock salt.

Once the snow is shoveled and the sidewalks can be traversed safely, we, and our dogs, can get out and enjoy our winter wonderland that includes our beautiful lakes.

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