By Jordan Heller
EAST VILLAGE — Some East Village dog owners have taken to carrying knives and other weapons when they visit the Tompkins Square Dog Run after a recent spate of pit bull attacks there left them fearing for the lives of their pets.
Users of the dog run in the northeast corner of Tompkins Square Park say there have been at least five attacks since September on both pets and humans by pit bulls — a breed known for its strength and for locking its jaws on its victims.
When asked to confirm the pit bull attacks, a Parks Department spokesman said Tuesday that his agency had met with NYPD and community groups to address the issue and added that Parks Enforcement Patrol officers and undercover units had been dispatched to patrol the area in response.
Still, some East Village dog owners are on edge.
John Juback, 62, an actor who lives in the East Village, has taken to carrying a serrated kitchen knife when he walks his dog, Jesse, a foxhound terrier mix, after he and his pet were attacked by a pit bull in Tompkins Square Dog Run on Oct. 27.
Juback said his beloved dog was bitten on the left jowl, requiring $215 worth of medical attention. When he intervened, Juback himself was bitten on the left cheek, which resulted in a bloodied face and a painful series of rabies shots.
"Now, whenever I walk Jesse, I have a kitchen knife in my pocket," said Juback. "If I was in the same situation again I would stab the pit bull in the neck or the chest as much as I could. ... I will not stand there and watch my dog potentially be killed."
Another dog owner who refused to give his name for fear of law enforcement reprisal admitted to carrying a knife into the dog run.
"You go through the list of options on how to protect your dog in the event of a pit bull attack and I felt a knife was the only option," he said. "Their jaws lock, you can't beat them and have them let go, so, yeah, I carried a knife — I just want to protect my dog."
Contrary to popular belief, pit bulls jaws do not lock, but the breed is known for holding on to its victims, and a string of recent attacks have given some East Village dog owners reason to fear.
Dr. Sally Haddock, 56, the owner of St. Marks Veterinary Hospital said a distraught couple came into her East Ninth Street practice on Sept. 8 after their Doberman pinscher was attacked by a pit bull in the dog run. The owners were also bloodied in the fight, she said — the woman claimed she was bitten on her breast and the man sustained a bite wound.
Eileen Bertin, 40, who owns a Brussels griffon named Gideon, said she knows of two people who carry knives into the run and one person who brings a 12-inch metal rod.
"Every animal is unpredictable, but with the pit bulls ... they're very strong, and a lot of them are rescue dogs, so they have a history," said Bertin. "You look at them and think, 'that dog could kill my dog in two seconds.'"
Garrett Rosso, 52, a member of Friends of First Run, a volunteer organization dedicated to the beautification and maintenance of the Tompkins Square Dog Run, said he knows of over a dozen people who have been carrying knives or hammers following the recent attacks.
While he was alarmed by recent events, he lamented hearing of owners willing to use lethal force on dogs.
"I heard two reasonable people discussing picking up a shovel and bringing it down on a dog's neck like this," said Rosso, who grabbed one of the metal pooper-scooper shovels kept inside the dog run to illustrate.
Dr. Haddock dismissed the idea that pit bulls were worse than any other breeds.
"Anytime you have a dog run you have dog bites," she said, adding that if you're going to go to a dog run you do so at your own risk.
Jack Morer, another member of Friends of First Run, a park regular and owner of an English setter named Savannah, said that while he hasn't resorted to carrying weaponry, he understands why others have.
"If a dog latches onto my dog, I will do whatever I have to do to save my dog's life — up to and including killing the dog that is trying to kill my dog," he said.
In addition to knives and hammers, Morer said he knows of one dog owner who armed himself with a billy club.
Locals blame Robert Shapiro, the owner of Social Tees Animal Rescue, an animal shelter on East Fourth Street that finds homes for unwanted dogs — including pit bulls.
While Morer believes Shapiro does good work, he said he has seen a number of the animal rescue volunteers bring rescued pit bulls to the dog run even though they don't know how to handle the animals. One pit bull from Social Tees was involved in a fight at the Tompkins Square Dog Run in the summer, prompting Morer to ask Shapiro to stop the dogs from coming to the run.
Shapiro, 54, said that after the summer incident he stopped letting volunteers walk pit bulls and warned new owners not to take them into the run. But once in a while, he said, people are going to walk into Tompkins Square Park with a pit bull they adopted from Social Tees.
"If I'm the primary shelter, it's gonna happen," Shapiro said. "It's their dog, it's their property, but I'm the fall guy for this. All I can do is tell them not to take the dogs into the dog run."
Shapiro defended the pit bull breed, saying, "most pit bulls are totally fine like any other breed. The dogs we get are so friendly."
But even he supported a full ban on the breed entering the Tompkins Square Dog Run in light of recent events. He said the ban would help clear pit bulls' reputation.
"The problems will still be there," he said, "but they'll have to blame somebody else for them."
Now locals are pushing for education to prevent future incidents. Rosso invited Drayton Michaels, an expert on pit bulls, to visit the Tompkins Square Dog Run at 11 a.m. on Dec. 18 to talk to the community about the breed.
"He's going to educate people on how to spot aggression and prevent fights from happening," said Rosso. "He'll also talk about how to responsibly break up a fight when one dog has latched onto another."
Khalid Haaziq, 29, who owns two rottweilers, thinks violent tendencies in dogs are a mixture of nature and nurture.
"These dogs could be raised for evil, too," he said, gesturing to his two dogs while walking through Tompkins Square Park last week. "But you can train them — and you can breed the evil out of them, too."