From late September into November 2011, activists camped out in Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park as part of the Occupy Wall Street protest. They called themselves “the 99%,” but only 98 percent of them had two feet; the rest had four. I went with my father, illustrator Robert Grossman, to speak to some of the dog-toting protestors for the magazine The Bark.
MISSY PAULETTE, a six-year-old Westie, accompanied Monica, who works in the area as a temp. “The recession is affecting dogs in many ways,” Monica notes. “For one thing, with budget cuts, the first to lose funding are the city shelters.” The pair lives on the Upper East Side. Missy Paulette, who wore a pink hoodie emblazoned with the words “Give Me Treats,” made her own statement with several placards and a stack of press releases pointing out that “the 99% want a new leash on life.” To help Missy fit in with the tent-dwelling humans, Monica bought her an infant-size sleeping bag and a toy purchased especially for the occasion: a rolled-up rubber newspaper called the Bark Street Journal.
Taylor, an 18-year-old from Manhattan, was minding her boyfriend’s Pit Bull, GENOCIDE. She didn’t know why he gave her that name. “I never asked him,” she says. Taylor and her friends staffed the Animal Zone of Occupy Paw Street, where people donated and acquired pet food, litter and assorted gear. “We want to give the animals a voice,” she says. “They’re our babies.” Taylor’s friend, Jason, started the Animal Zone soon after Occupy Wall Street began on September 27. Before that, he was squatting in an empty building on the Lower East Side. On his lap was his dog, CHEYENNE, whom he acquired shortly after getting out of jail several years ago. “She’s part German Shepherd or something. But I like to call her a wolf. Yeah, write that. She’s a wolf.”
Also living with them at Occupy Wall Street was NINO, a Pit Bull. “Everyone here loves him. He’s a picture whore,” Jason said. Nino wears a service dog vest. “It means I can take him on the bus without the cops bothering us.”
CHLOE is a one-year-old Pit Bull owned by Rowe, a 21-year-old truckloader from Albany. He brought her to the park for a few days, along with her six one-month-old puppies. They spent the day in a crate in the free clothing area. “There were seven, but one was stolen the other night out of a tent,” he says. Several protesters showed interest in adopting some of the puppies, but they’re all going to go to people he knows from home. “No offense to everyone here, but I don’t know these people. And the way people are with Pit Bulls … I want to make sure they go to loving homes, not to anyone who would fight them.”
FLICK, a 10-year-old mutt, is nervous around people, so his person, Josh, normally doesn’t bring him to the protest. But on occasion, sacrifices must be made. Flick was hiding under a table while Josh sat nearby learning to crochet. “My wife and I are trying to sell our apartment and we’re having an open house today. We didn’t want him there for that, so he came with me,” he explains. Josh lives in Prospect Heights and owns a recording studio. He feels that the Occupy movement touches dogs more than people realize. “Look at the industrial food system — all the crap dog food we feed our pets. They eat all this terrible stuff and then they get cancer and die. Wall Street, stop killing our pets!” Flick recently had his diet switched to a “grain-free, limited ingredient” brand.
Alex, who hails from Puerto Rico, lives two blocks away from Zuccotti Park and often walks his dog — AMBER, a nine-year-old Shih Tzu — there in the afternoons. The routine continued despite the fact that it meant navigating a maze of tents. Sometimes Amber promenaded with a “Wake Up, America” sign on her back. “I love it — this is very important here. It reminds me of how things [must have been] in the ’70s.”