No, there’s no oil yet sullying our South Florida beaches, nor do I expect my home city of Miami to be awash in tar balls anytime soon. Nonetheless, BP’s still-spilling oil is already seeping into Louisiana wetlands and steadily flowing into the loop current that feeds our local waters.

While it’ll take some time, both superficial sheen and heavier underwater sludge seem to be headed our way.

In the meantime, there’s a surprising amount we can all do to help combat the tendrils of guck that are already cruelly assaulting our coastlines and wildlife. Read on for details.

For those of us who continue to call Florida home because we’re smitten with what’s left of her reefs, shores, and rivers of grass, this oil spill means more than a future loss of income and a serious blow to our quality of life for the next decade or more. While kayaking amid dead and dying wildlife and wilting vegetation is not something I’m looking forward to, what’s worse is the unknown extent this disaster will have on our delicate ecology.

Maybe that’s why I’ve been so reluctant to write about this until now. The subject is simply too personal, complex, maddening, and effing depressing to wrap my head around — especially while conditions continue to devolve.

What’s changed is that I’ve decided to dwell less on the soul-blackening anger and paralyzing grief. After all, there’s solace in the solution. Hence, why I’ve considered everything from throwing cash to panhandle wildlife rehabs to donating a cleanup weekend or two on our west coast when the oily birds start washing ashore in droves. And after this initial hit, I figure there’ll be plenty of ways to help handle the less obvious damage we are expecting here in South Florida.

But the prospect of those excellent options for contribution didn’t seem so terribly helpful in my quest to immediately channel my emotions. And the idea of busying myself with tarred and feathered birds when they’re not immediately before me somehow depresses me even further. No, what finally dragged me from the oil spill doldrums was hearing about an idea to prevent feathers from getting all oily in the first place.

Pet hair. To soak up oil. Really.

Several groups are working hard to help clean up the oil creeping into Louisiana wetlands and threatening our beaches by employing pet hair’s natural oil-absorbing capabilities. Foremost among these is Matter of Trust, a San Francisco-based not-for-profit that specializes in repurposing castoff materials to “mimic how Mother Nature integrates enduring cycles and provides access to necessities in abundance.”

It’s kind of cool. More so when you consider that by stuffing used pantyhose with unwanted pet hair, we can help blunt the hit our coastlines will inevitably endure as a result of this spill. Sausage-like “booms” of pet hair encased in tights and hose already line the coast up in the northern reaches of the panhandle.

And more is needed. Much more. Which is why groomers, animal hospitals and individuals are asked to participate by shipping bags or boxes of pet hair and donated pantyhose to one of Matter of Trust’s Gulf Coast warehouses. So that even if you live in Maine or Alaska, your pet can contribute to the disaster, too.

Fantastic, right?

Absolutely. But it’s also kind of demoralizing. After all, you’d have to work hard to come up with a lower-tech solution to this crisis. With all the talk of engineering and chemistry being bandied about in the news, it makes sense that most of us who’d heard about this approach initially assumed this pet hair idea was a joke … or a poor stopgap solution.

But now that we’re five long weeks into this and it’s clear almost nothing is working to mitigate the spill. Pet hair’s starting to look like a brilliant idea — more so now that we know the chemical cures might prove even worse than the solution. At least pet hair’s unlikely to leave behind traces subsequent generations will have to clean up, too.

So what do you say … will you play?

Dr. Patty Khuly


Art of the day: "Neat freak;" by Erika Teresa