Solomon Elusoji attended a dog fashion show on Easter Sunday and he writes about how one woman is attempting to promote the status of man’s best friend

On Easter Sunday, at about 12:15pm, the sun was out in its complete regalia as people filtered into the main field of Kings College campus in Victoria Island. Huge canopies had been set up and there was the smell of barbecue activity in the air. Hours later, the field was awash with dogs of different breeds, some nestled in the warmth of their guardians’ arms, others were led by a leash.

They consisted of small, furry breeds to the huge, terrifying ones. Some of the dogs had been fitted with designer clothes from the likes of JReason, Styled by Athena, Helen Gina Pradersen (a diffusion line of Ayo Van Elmar) and Looks Like A Good Man. A dog owner, Kehinde Babington, went as far as coming out in an identical outfit as that of his dog, Queen, an American Eskimo breed.

Just before 4pm, the dogs were led to the red carpet and took pictures with their guardians. Then minutes later, they started rolling out from backstage, towards a runway, accompanied by beautiful models. In their classy embroidered chic dresses the runway could have been mistaken for an animated movie set. But it was not. The audience cheered and clapped, revelling in the idea that man’s best friend was not just a jumble of cells cobbled together by evolution, but was something close to being human, being special.

This idea – that dogs are special – was the spark that pushed Lily Aguiyi, to organise the dog show at Kings College. She currently runs a dog service company, Celeb Pooches, which has as its core belief the idea that dogs are sentient beings capable of human qualities like compassion.

“The sole purpose for establishing the company, Celeb Pooches, is for people to realise that there is more to dogs than just having them for security reasons,” she told THISDAY. “So, this event is just to portray all that: show how compassionate, how loving and how safe a dog can be. You might choose not to have an aggressive dog; you can have a scary dog but still as a pet. But we want to show people the different side of dogs. Most people just have dogs strictly for breeding and selling, but do not treat them as compassionately as they deserve.”

Aguiyi’s idea is not exactly radical, but in a country where animal rights have little meaning, it’s definitely a bold one. Her mission to humanise dogs is a noble one, but one that is fraught with obstacles, most of which is ideological.

An unexpected beginning
Aguiyi was born on Saturday, July 27, 1991 in Lagos. She attended Chrisland Nursery and Primary School, Opebi. For her secondary school education, she went to Queen’s College, Yaba, before proceeding to study Sociology at the University of Lagos. After her National Youth Service Corps programme, she started work at WTS Adebiyi and Associates as a Front Desk Officer. It was there she came up with the idea of blogging about dogs.

“We’ve always had them but I wasn’t crazy about them,” she told THISDAY, “But my brother had to go to school and I had to start taking care of them. So that was when the romance began. While I was on Front Desk duty, I was always on Linda Ikeji; she blogs about gossip and I thought I could do something more interesting by blogging about dogs.

So I did my research and realised there were a lot of dog people and dog lovers.”
From blogging about dogs, she soon realised, with the help of her friend and manager, Joshua Biyere, that she could expand the idea and start a full dog service company, Celeb Pooches.

“We noticed there was a growing population of people who are beginning to find interest in dogs, because they want to identify with pets,” Biyere, who is an architecture graduate from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, said. “So we decided to look at how we could sensitise the society to love dogs more and see the value in them.”

Before he met Aguiyi, Biyere himself was not a dog lover. He had had a terrible experience of being chased by one. But Aguiyi’s passion for pooches rubbed off on him and he now describes himself as a big fan. “She showed me a different dimension to dogs,” he said.

What Aguiyi hopes to accomplish with Celeb Pooches is an environment where dogs are celebrities. After being in business for almost two years, the company now runs a host of dog services from training, treatment, sale of dog accessories and dog consultation services. The business, premised on the idea that one out of 20 Nigerians like dogs, is focused on sensitising Nigerians on how best to treat their canine friends.

Part of its efforts to do that was the Easter Sunday dog show, which was titled “Lifestyle and Pooches” and was designed as a family show. The venue was surrounded by stands displaying various products related to dog accessories and care. There was also a red carpet competition for the Best Dressed Dog and the Best Groomed Dog. “We plan on doing this annually,” Biyere said.

A case for dogs
Aguiyi’s campaign for dogs should not be regarded as mere sentimentalism. Although, in a country with relative high rates of poverty and unemployment, dog ownership could be termed an elitist venture, there are practical benefits to owning a dog, apart from their popular designation as security officers.
A recent study in the United States found that dog owners, tended to be happier and less depressed. They also found that just thinking about dogs could help stave off feelings of loneliness and isolation.

The study looked at 167 pet owners and 50 non-pet owners. They measured levels of happiness, depression and well-being. They also questioned 56 dog owners regarding the support they get from their dog. The main findings were that pet owners in general have a greater sense of well being. Dog owners, in particular were less depressed, less lonely, had higher self-esteem, were happier and tended to have less stress. And just thinking about your pet was as helpful as thinking about a friend or loved one to fend off loneliness. Past studies have also confirmed this idea that dog owners in general are less depressed especially if the owners are single or female.

Interestingly, dogs can also be used to detect cancer early. Cancer-smelling dogs are no recent phenomenon: A United Kingdom resident Marian Cooper once claimed that her six year-old pug, Flo, alerted her to a lump in her right breast that turned out to be malignant. And Sharon Rawlinson, also a U.K resident, told The Sun UK that her Cavalier King Charles spaniel kept gently pawing her left breast until she went to the doctor.

“It’s not impossible,” Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, told the Huffington Post. “Our bodies produce all sorts of things. Some waste materials are excreted through the kidney (or) the liver, some are excreted through the lungs. The concept of their being something that a cancer might produce — a volatile substance (that a dog could smell) — is perhaps not mainstream, but it’s not as far-fetched as it sounds.”

Of course, there are more benefits that have been scientifically ascribed to dog ownership, but the point is clear: dogs can be much more than we expect them to be. It was the case that Aguiyi made with her Easter Sunday dog show and the way in which she has modelled her company, Celeb Pooches. “People always think that the ‘Celeb’ in Celeb Pooches has to do with humans,” Aguiyi said, “but no, it is the dogs that are the celebrities.”