South Africa's president said something provocative about, of all things, pets.

There are people on this earth in desperate poverty so spending time and money on pets and their vets reveals a lack of humanity, Jacob Zuma said in a highly controversial speech.

One of his supporters, Khaya Xaba, fueled the fire with this observation: A "rich man's dog gets more in the way of vaccination, medicine and medical care than do the workers upon whom the rich man's wealth is built."

These black African politicians were going for a race zinger, suggesting that to own and spoil a dog is part of "white culture." That's a bridge too far. But the underlying point?

Far too many people treat dogs and cats like people. I heard a friend just weeks ago refer to a pet as a "kid." And I know people who hang Christmas stockings for their pets and spend more on the contents inside the festive knitting than millions of parents do on little Christian human beings during the holidays.

I don't necessarily have anything against dogs or cats or even hamsters. I cried to dry eyes for days and even presided over a most-serious, shirt-and-tie, Bible-in-hand backyard funeral ceremony for the late M.L. - my hamster who died while I was in the sixth grade, a victim of my own 11-year-old negligence. I left the poor rodent in his cage in the second-floor bathroom of our house overnight with the outside window open. He froze to death. To make matters worse, I buried poor M.L. in a shoe box.

All of that said, I went on to the seventh grade and Carroll High School and college and into the workforce. I don't think of animals in quite the same way. I have never set foot in PetSmart.

But I don't fight people on this seeming disproportionate love of animals. And neither should our city. There are a lot of people who do treat dogs and pets like children.

"As silly as it seems to you and I, people do," said Mark River, director of the Carroll County Conservation Board of Directors.

River said he recently happened across a young woman walking her dog with no leash at Swan Lake State Park. State regulations, not local rules, require the leashing of pets at such places. River warned her not to do it again or he'd have to fine her.

She started crying.

"This city is so unfair," she complained, according to River.

There's no place for furry frolicking sans leash, she continued.

Which brings us to the policy point. The City of Carroll is about to embark on a long-range planning project. It's a great idea. But we do have what River calls some "low-hanging fruit" in terms of quality-of-life improvements that can be made straight away with little money and fanfare and controversy.

For starters, Carroll should have a dog park.

"You wouldn't believe how many people have mentioned that dog-park idea," River said.

Mayor Adam Schweers proposed this idea and gained zero traction with the council, which found all sorts of reasons to oppose one.

Now, for this park, we aren't talking about going all-out "Adventureland" for the hounds. The dog park should be somewhere in the city so people can walk their pets to it, and it should be on existing city property, probably a city park, like Minchen or Northeast, where there is plenty of grassy space not being used to its full potential. I don't like the idea of putting a dog park on city property south of the cemetery because that seems disrespectful to our departed loved ones for obvious reasons.

The park would include a simple, reliable fence and a prominent sign reminding pet owners to clean up their dog's business. That's all. Dog-loving residents and groups could raise money to snazz the amenities.

Bringing more people to some of the city's parks will create stronger advocates for improvements to shelterhouses and playground equipment. That's good for the overall parks and recreation program in the city.

River suspects housing values will increase around any park with such a canine-friendly facility as animal lovers will be eager to live close to it, just as parents favorably eye property close to a school.

"Honestly, it's that big of a deal to people," he said.

Keep in mind the main mission: economic development and the attraction and retention of young people, our workforce.

We know young adults are getting married later than people did in previous generations, and they're having fewer kids, if they take steps in either direction at all. This means pets are playing an increasingly important role for many.

We can be Jacob Zuma and blast extreme pet-lovers for their upside-down life priorities, which will accomplish precisely nothing, or we can follow the lead of many other Iowa cities and provide a dog park to make many folks feel more at home.

My bottom line on this: Storm Lake is moving forward on a dog park. It's in that city's strategic plan.

We have to ask ourselves: If they're doing it, what's our hang-up on the matter?

It's not hard to get this done.

We should check the addition of a dog park off the list before we even start with strategic planning.

Being able to show potential new Carroll residents a dog park is, in River's words, "a big deal."

Go ahead, roll your eyes.

I'm choosing to roll with it.