Packs of wild dogs, as many as 20. A river of dogs if you happened to be in their way.
One night I had to keep turning around and throwing rocks at them, like eight or ten of them, or six. It seemed like a lot at the time. They were definitely doggin’ me, though, says Ken M., a Vietnam veteran and master woodworker.
Artist Mary Z., who continues to live in Williamsburg, recalls how her artist partner Greg B. once shimmied up a pole to get out of their way.
It was apocalyptic, Luisa recalls about when she stumbled onto some of the dogs on Wythe Avenue, close to the river, the World Trade Center as a backdrop.
It’s not easy to locate photos from those days, because for the few that were taken, the prints and negatives have been lost with time, squirreled under beds, in forgotten places.
Sometimes real memories become mythology.
The young artists moving to the neighborhood were like a pack of wild dogs. Free-spirited, and living in cheap, cavernous spaces that were sometimes abandoned or illegal, scrounging in the same garbage. They weren’t looking for food (hopefully) but for remaindered wood, things to function as furniture, industrial discards to be incorporated into home décor, sculptures, paintings, and performances.
Also in the mid-70s, there was Sian, a filmmaker, who shared a huge loft with 20 other people, on South 3rd Street. She felt like a sitting duck while at the entrance, fussing with three locks: Dogs were not the biggest problem; you could hear them, see them, you sort of knew what they were going to do; but you didn’t know what the prostitutes or junkies or people who hated outsiders were going to do—we lived in the middle of their world.
In those years, up until the early 1990s, the waterfront was the largest piece of undeveloped property in all of NYC, and it was very convenient for people to dump their animals there, because it was desolate. No one knew and no one saw them, and the dogs could shelter in all those abandoned buildings.
Dogs have a pack mentality, and they have a way of finding each other. When they get into a pack there has to be a leader, an order, who’s the boss and who follows; that’s why it’s dangerous for tame dogs and cats and other animals. They go after cats for food, explains Vinny, who, with his partner Tony, has run a dog shelter in the neighborhood since 1986. It was survival mode when the dogs would come together, because they hunted food for each other, helped each other survive, protected each other. It’s a natural instinct they have, like wolves, to run in packs.
Vinny and Tony once witnessed a dog actually race up a tree after a cat. We tried to save the cat, but we couldn’t.
They picked up and lassoed many dozens of dogs down by the waterfront and in the streets off Kent Avenue, cleaned them up, got them healthy, and rehabilitated them.
Those were the days when all the stray and feral dogs in the neighborhood ended up as local pets.
An old woman named Teddy, who was in a wheelchair and lived on Wythe Avenue near Slick’s motorcycle shop, used to have a revolving pack of dogs. Many of them used to wind up at her place, says Vinny, because she would feed them. Vinny and Tony would come periodically to take some of the dogs off her hands.
We even got one of the litters of puppies that one dog kept having in an abandoned warehouse at North 7th Street and Kent Avenue where there used to be an old train engine. We finally had that dog fixed. Her name was Precious, a pit-shepherd mix. (They were mostly shepherd mixes, before pit bulls started appearing.) They always had mange.
Why did we decide to write about the wild dogs, right now?
Because we see them returning, but in suits.