At 8 a.m. on August 1, a photographer was walking her pug in New York's East Village neighborhood when a large, unleashed pit bull barrelled off a couch that was sitting on the sidewalk and attacked her smaller dog, biting it in the throat.
“People were bashing the dog on his head with a stick,” she said. “Someone screamed to me, ‘Grab the balls!’ and I squeezed that dog’s balls as hard as I could. He didn’t let go. I tried to pick up his legs, which I was told you’re supposed to do."
The woman's dog was taken to a veterinary hospital where it died the next day.
The dog's owner later was identified as a Crust Punk, an unusual creature himself.
Crust punks, also known as crusty travelers, are a group of voluntarily homeless people who gather each year to spend the warmer months in East Greenwich Village. They sleep on sidewalks and gather in Washington Square Park and also Tompkins Square Park, which has a popular dog run.
A neighborhood paper, The Villager, has published many informative reports on the clan. It has argued for some police enforcement, given the voluntary nature of their settlement and their competition with involuntarily homeless people seeking money from passersby. In addition, photos and bios of individual crusties can be found on a several-year-old website called crustypunks.blogspot.com.
Here are a few crusties photos:
The crusties got their name from the stiff appearance of their unlaundered apparel. (They are reported to use the perhaps pejorative name to describe themselves.) They are said to gravitate to animal ownership because they believe that animals, like humans, should live outdoors.
It may be that crusties cannot pass the scrutiny of animal rescue organizations -- these people are homeless, after all -- and so are more likely to end up owning pit bulls with unfortunate backgrounds.
At midday four days after the first attack, another pit bull lunged from its place near two dozing or drugged men on the sidewalk and ran toward a man who was walking his dog 40 or more feet away.
“That dog saw my dog," said the man. "He wasn’t on a leash. I picked up my dog. When he jumped up and bit me, it was like it was in slow motion. He got a chunk of my arm. It was brutal. It wasn’t a nip — he bit through my arm,” the owner said.
The man required many stitches to repair his tricep and several days in the hospital. Doctors have told him to expect permanent nerve damage in the arm.
The man has lived in the East Village for many years and said he has observed crust punks for at least 10 summers now. Lately, at least, he is finding them annoying.
"First of all, the crust punks aren't homeless," he said. "They are like vacationers camping on my street." Still, "If you choose to be homeless, you shouldn't be able to have a dog unless you take care of it properly. The problem is that these dogs aren't fixed, and they're not on leashes."
One crusty traveler's dog appears to be responsible for two of the above attacks. Here is a picture that The Villager pulled from the dog owner's facebook page.
“People have to understand -- when we get ’em, they’re not in the best condition,” he said of the pit bulls. “It’s like someone getting out of a mental institution — you have to re-acclimate to society.”
Unfortunately, Natas himself died at the end of August. No word on what happened to him or to his dog, Jax.
After reports of the summer pit bull attacks in the East Village, three other dog owners came forward to say their pets had been attacked by pit bulls at the Tompkins Square dog run. Some owners are reported now to be carrying knives for protection or avoiding the area altogether.