©Dan White. No repro without authorisation.
Some dog owners live in confusion, thinking their beloved pet is actually a person like them, with real human characteristics. Dogs, on the other hand, emphatically believe their human nearest and dearest are simply other dogs, albeit a little ungainly. It can make for a worrying state of affairs.
Let me run this by you. There is a Chihuahua in Florida called Conchita who had a choking incident. Obviously it is a distressing experience for any owner of a beloved pet to see their pooch’s eyes bulge as they struggle for air. Conchita, however, was slightly different from your average pooch in that she wasn’t choking on a bone, a slipper or your favourite album cover. She was choking on her very own Cartier necklace worth thousands of dollars. Traumatised by the experience, the little furry Princess who her owner calls ‘the boss’ now refuses to wear diamonds at all.
Undeterred by the mutt’s obvious lack of material consciousness Conchita’s owner still spends $7000 per month to provide her with Louis Vuitton handbags (it’s a well known fact that dogs feel naked without a handbag), bikinis, pearls, dresses and indeed makeup.
It doesn’t stop there. Conchita also has a private bathroom, a pink four-poster bed shaped like a racing car, a widescreen TV and she lunches daily at the swish Miami Shore club, her preferred dish being grilled chicken. Conchita has her own minder (a man, not a dog). She also ‘enjoys’ weekly manicures with her publicist.
One thing is obvious. This one-year-old 500g chihuahua is living the deeply unnatural life of a neurotic and very human heiress. The second thing that is obvious is that her owner is a total idiot. One Miss Posner, the numeracy of whose father’s dollar bills quite obviously outweighs the numeracy of her own brain cells points out, ‘I am enamoured by her and so is everyone else’. She goes on to fantasise, ‘She is a demanding diva. She cries like a baby if she thinks she isn’t going to go to the Shore Club.’
Is Miss Posner deluded? According to eminent animal psychologist Dr Werner Krugar, ‘Dogs do not think they are people, they think people are dogs. As the owner, you need to relate to the dog as another dog, rather than a furry person!’ The inference of this is that Conchita should shed the penthouse lifestyle and Miss Posner would better earn Conchita’s love by bounding about pointlessly chasing inanimate objects and publically licking her own private parts.
Despite this learned advice, Miss Posner is not alone in attributing human qualities to her pet despite the fact that poor Conchita would probably be far happier if she was credited with being the dog she is rather than the mini-human her owner wants her to be.
Here in Thailand too a few selected dogs are lined up for lavish attention whilst the vast majority languish at the end of sois licking their festering sores (Although to be fair they haven’t yet occupied central Bangkok and demanded the dissolution of Parliament in the same way as their human brethren). The fact remains that Bangkok is not a very ‘dog friendly’ metropolis. It’s hard to find places to run, roam free and consistently fail to catch frisbees in your mouth. Pavements are uneven when they exist and more often than not you are pinned to the wall by the constant stream of traffic roaring up the all too narrow streets. To add insult to injury, many of the parks that do exist don’t even allow dogs entry.
The Thai dog-pampering industry has come up with answers to combat these gross injustices.
Situated near the end of Sukhumvit soi 28 in Bangkok’s upscale Emporium district, Ozono is a hybrid shopping mall, doggy playground and meeting place for the city’s upper echelons and the dogs they adore. Ozono founder, Khun Dhanesha, explains that the inspiration came from watching the frustration of pet owners at the woeful inadequacies of Bangkok for those both with privilege and four legs. ‘I have had dogs all my life,’ he says, ‘but Bangkok is not a dog-friendly city. You can’t bring dogs anywhere.’
Except to Ozono. There are trendy shops, chic cafes and plenty of green grass, all presented with a friendly nod and a wink to our joyfully surprised canine buddies. They bound blissfully, seemingly in slow motion, ecstatic in the freedom that Ozono provides. Tiny dachshund’s frolic playfully with mighty deerhounds in a utopian bonanza of doggy joy. Owners cavort too caught up in the sheer exuberance of being at Ozono.
Feel like you are looking a bit manky? Ozono’s ‘Aqua Dog’ Beauty Salon is a place for you and your dog to relax in relaxed bliss whilst enjoying the huge number of treatments on offer. The standout feature of Ozono is that the owner may be pampered in parallel with their beloved beast. Both you and Fido can sit about under the hair dryers reading magazines and making idle chitchat about all those things you have in common. You can swap manicure or pedicure tips (well really only pedicure tips in the case of Fido) whilst ordering lattes.
Once you are both groomed to the zenith of perfection, step out into ‘Petropolis Park’. This 3,200 square meter, purpose-built pet-park is an enclosed oasis planted with tall trees, lush plants and thick shrubbery. Dogs can lounge at tables whilst owners cavort, defecate and run around to their little heart’s content.
There is a dark side to Ozono though. Huge gangs of swarthy soi dogs lost in resentment at the sheer injustice of what they are denied are known to gather at the entrance and bark menacingly at poodles stepping out of Mercedes.
Ozono isn’t the only dog-friendly hangout in the Thai capital. Another popular establishment is the aptly named Doggiedo swimming pool in another upscale part of town – Yen Arkat (meaning Cool Wind) in leafy Sathorn. This giant pool is full of toys for dogs and several decidedly resentful looking staff members in wet suits, swimming with their doggy guests and indeed doing their every bidding in terms of flinging things repeatedly. Owners sit at nearby tables taking photos. Prices vary depending on the size of the dog. 50 baht for a ratty looking midget you can carry in your handbag, moving up to 800 baht for a huge German shepherd.
Pooch can’t swim?…… No matter. Life jackets are provided. Does Fido understand life jackets? Of course not. The psychological scars will last a lifetime.
And what would this beautiful country be without the ever-ubiquitous spas that have become such an integral part of the lives of the privileged? Dogs, thankfully, are not excluded.
After a tough day choking on diamonds and frolicking in idyllic pastures a better class of canine can now soak in a fragrant tub scattered with orchid flower petals, or recline on a massage table as an expert masseur (trained not quite sure where) attends to those tired and aching muscles.
‘The special selected blend of herbs help to make the dogs unwind with even fierce dogs able to relax here at our Spa,’ points out veteran dog trainer Jare Jansrisuriyawong who conceived this ‘Thai Dog Resort and Spa’. Set on a leafy acre area of land, just on the outskirts of town, pampered dogs belonging to an even more pampered human elite appreciate treatments using a complex and secret blend of special herbs from Thailand, China and India.
‘I bred dogs for more than 8-years before noticing that some dogs experienced tension too,’ adds Jare, before pointing out the medicinal properties these very expensive treatments impart to his patients. Treatments include a lemongrass rub and the Ayurvedic application of hot stones. We are assured that the dogs really do appreciate this because they tend to fall asleep in the middle of it. Allowances are also made for the international nature of the clientele and most dogs are relieved to discover that the staff at Thai Dog Resort and Spa speaks perfect English.
What does all this say about the dogs on the receiving end of this lavish, complex attention formed by the projections of their owners? Well the simple answer, of course, is nothing at all. Dogs love to eat. They love to run about. They love to sleep. They love affectionate attention from those they trust. According to their breeding dogs will naturally simulate their programmed tasks. Sheep dogs without sheep will naturally herd anything that appears to move, be that a football a chicken or a child. Pointers point. Retrievers retrieve. Despite their reputation as useless ornaments poodles were actually originally also bred as retrievers and have a natural agility in water. Take away some of the haircuts imposed on them by their disturbed owners, and they might even appear proletarian. After border collies, they are also considered the most intelligent breed of dog. German Shepherds guard and attack. Pit Bull’s also attack, but only if accompanied by really bad rap music. Most dogs are bred for a purpose and the really bright ones (most of whom probably live on the street) are a mixture of many. Dogs are actually quite simple and loveable beasts. They are dogs. Their owners, however, are often rather more worrying.