Originally Published: June 25, 2014 6 a.m.
Back in ancient Egypt, animals were worshipped as gods and given everything they wanted. Cats were especially revered, but dogs were thought to be related to the jackal god Anubis, and were also adored. Archeologists have found leather dog collars with names like "Brave One" and "Reliable" inscribed on them. Dogs were mummified and buried in cemeteries near their human owners.
Though several thousand years have passed since dog worship, it seems that we've come full circle.
For many in Prescott, dogs have taken the place of children as the objects of affection and even obsession. Baby Boomers used to take children to the playground to watch them climb, slide and swing, but now they squire little Fido to the dog park and swap stories with other parents of canine "children" while they play. Some, like my dog, are spoiled "Grand dogs" which need the exercise because they are being pampered with too many treats from Pop-pop.
So it comes as no surprise that the news of plans by Purina to redo the sad, dusty enclosure known as the Willow Creek Dog Park has pet parents excited by the possibilities. A half a million dollars won for the park by a Prescott resident could go a long way toward creating more shade, maybe adding some water features and permanent play areas. Right now, one of the pet owners brings a baby pool for the dogs to cool down in, and drags it home each day so it won't disappear.
The dogs love the socialization of the park, and being able to run to chase balls, splash each other and romp keeps them fit and content. It's an important aspect of pet ownership, so that the dogs become accustomed to being around other people and others of their own kind. If people don't socialize their dogs and train them, they can be like a loaded gun, ready to go off accidentally when escaping the yard or being whacked by a toddler.
Dogs will be dogs, operating on instinct without guidance. That's why so many shows on cable TV are on dog training. Watch an episode of "The Dog Whisperer" and it's apparent that people need the training - dogs are almost always screwed up by the inconsistent behavior of their owners.
Prescott is a more intensely canine-catering town than most, and even celebrates everything "dog" in the town square twice a year with Woof Down Lunch in June (next weekend) and Dogtoberfest, in October, of course. Vendors rent booths and sell their wares, and dog food and bowls are provided as part of the entry fee, as well as lunch for owners. Promoted by the free local dog magazine, the events feature contests that are the equivalent of a dog version of "Toddlers & Tiaras," the reality TV show about kiddie pageants. Instead of toddlers, people dress up their precious pooches in costumes, have them perform tricks and parade them around for prizes.
I love dogs, but sometimes the interaction goes beyond cute and into weird territory. I find it disturbing when I see people French kissing their dogs, strolling them like babies (the dogs need to walk, too) and carrying them in baby slings. Just like Honey Boo-Boo, the mini beauty pageant terror who's celebrated for her rude, out-of-control behavior, these dogs are being set up as wholly annoying. Sure, a cute dog with a doll jockey riding on its back is funny now and then, but not with seven outfits for each day of the week. It's a dog, not an accessory.
Faux celebrity Paris Hilton sparked the trend of carrying miniature Chihuahuas in her purse, perfect for getting attention at snooty restaurants and during nights at dance clubs. A lot of other young women emulated her, then got bored with the untrained yappy pooches, dumping scores of them at animal shelters. If the dogs were lucky, people adopted them - unlike the Dalmatians that were dumped after the Disney film "101 Dalmatians." Unaware that the Dalmatian breed is hyper and tends to be bite-y, lots of people left them in canine versions of Auschwitz, gassed long before their time.
When I think about such travesties, I wish those people were more like the Egyptians, who worshipped their cat-like Pharaoh hounds with the pointy ears. I would rather see the animals catered to than treated like trash. Recently a Cornville man allegedly threw a puppy out of a car moving at 50 miles per hour, tragically damaging the dog, though it survived. A Good Samaritan took it in, even though it's blind and deaf. In spite of the many dog rescue groups and caring pet owners in Prescott, the shelters are almost always full.
Dogs can be a real joy to have around, but the people who hurt and abandon them - as well as the people who overfeed and over-pamper them - need some perspective.
Pray for them, for they know not what they do. The truth is that people are the gods of animals. They trust us implicitly to love and care for them, and in return they give us unconditional love and loyalty. If building a Disney-style dog park will bring them greater happiness, then that's what we should do.
Toni Denis is a freelance journalist, a five-year Prescott resident and chairwoman of the Democratic Women of the Prescott Area.