The Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition (BARC) has been saving and sheltering unwanted animals in New York since 1987. The no-kill, nonprofit animal center in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, houses abandoned pets until they can be found loving, stable homes. The Coalition relies on a faithful band of employees and volunteers to walk, feed, nurse, and entertain the shelter’s dogs and cats — and none are more dedicated than Rop Vazquez, aka DJ Ropstyle.
Rop is a legend in the East Bay and Brooklyn punk scenes, performing in bands such as Rice, the PeeChees, Xray Eyeballs, Semi-Automatic, and Necking as well as DJing at a multitude of hip Brooklyn clubs and bars and remixing tracks by other artists. In an exclusive interview with Dogster, he talks about his work at the shelter and discusses whether music can mesh with animal welfare.
Dogster: Did you have pets growing up?
Rop: I was raised with so many dogs in the Philippines. My dad loves animals; we had indoor dogs and outdoor dogs. He had one cat he would always feed, about three outdoor security dogs that wandered around the compound, and about six or more indoor dogs that could go outside and mingle with all the other dogs. We also had about 20 pairs of lovebirds, some koi, a gigantic aquarium of massive fish species, plus a rooster and five or more chickens that laid eggs.
Tell us about your musical ventures.
I have been playing music for the last 20 years. I played in some bands that used to be a big deal in the mid-’90s! I just got done playing in Xray Eyeballs, and I still play in a band called Necking — that’s on and off until our drummer is finished building two Olympic-sized pools in the East River of Manhattan! I am still constantly remixing and playing on people’s recordings. [Check out “Songs in the Key of Dog,” Rop’s two-hour mix of dog-related songs.]
Would you ever take a pet out on tour?
I took my dog Orbit on a tour of America for two months in 2001. He got to see so much of this country and learned so much. The tour was about him, too — like everything that we wanted to see in every state on our day off had to be dog-oriented. We even had him on our rider, that he had to go backstage with us.
Are there any aspects of being in a band or touring that help you in working at BARC?
By learning to play music and speaking into the mic in front of people you don’t know, night after night, year after year, you develop this ease in communication with a crowd, while being the only one in the spotlight. I have taken that aspect and used it to speak at schools and at other events to educate people about our cause and our shelter.
Touring experiences come in handy by making social interactions more personal. I’m lucky to have played music in almost every state in America, and did it so much that I became familiar with every town’s cultural highs and lows. When I meet new volunteers or new fundraisers for the shelter and find out where they’re originally from, it helps to know something about their town that might not be commonly known, because I’ve played there.
Do you ever play music for the dogs and cats at the shelter?
Definitely! I have a cool stereo system inside the kennel. I blast everything I ever listen to on it, the dogs always have music, and it calms them down. I even made special tapes that I play to change a dog’s reactions, like Theremin sounds or really psychedelic ambient sounds — dogs really like those. The cats always have some classical stuff playing, not my choosing — I just hear it.
What is a typical day at BARC like?
I come in at 9 a.m. and clean up/mop the warehouse, then the dogs’ kennels. We have about 21 big runs. I change the bedding, and play with each dog as I go along.
Around 10 a.m., volunteers come to walk the dogs for a couple hours. With most dogs gone, I spray the walls and wash their bowls and beds. I then walk some of the dogs that are not ready to walk with volunteers. (There about six dogs that are still rehabilitating.) Then I tend to the injured and senior dogs who live in the cat loft and put them in their wheelchairs for block exercise.
By noon, most dogs are back from their walks. I administer medications to those that need it, then I start making their food and feed them. I leave at 1 p.m. and come back at 5 to give the volunteers their dogs for the night walk. It’s the same process as the morning: I walk the tough dogs around, clean their food bowls, give new food to those that need it, then play with some.
By 7 p.m. I do all the mailings and organize benefits and events with people wanting to help us, or I schedule tours and special visitations and/or community service for people. My dogs come back by 8, and there’s one more round of clean up and medications. Then it’s lights out until I come back the next day.
Have you had a favorite animal resident?
I have a couple that have been at the shelter for years now that I’m attached to, but I’m still hoping for the day they find their forever homes.
What sort of events does BARC get involved in?
Every year, we help organize this event called Broadway Barks that brings in celebrities and other organizations to raise awareness of [achieving] no more homeless animals. We also organize benefits and fundraising events that we cohost with neighborhood stores and community groups that want to help.
Does working at BARC make you depressed and/or angry about human nature?
Not depressed, maybe sorta angry, but it also makes you understand how people are. The angry and the happy is balanced, but happiness always wins, because for every idiot that has to surrender their animals because they didn’t have time for it, that turns into someone getting the same animal and giving them the best home and life. Down the road when you see the animal or it visits you, the dog tells you how thankful they are. That feeling alone takes over everything, so I just think of that.
The dog is here not because no one wants it or it’s too difficult, but because destiny wanted the dog to end up with a much more deserving life. I used to get really angry when people just dumped their animals without a proper reason except for being selfish, but I have learned to accept people’s behavior. My passion is for the gold at the end of the dog’s rainbow! The past becomes a memory, and unlike humans, dogs do not hold vengeance or ill will.
How does BARC stay in business?
We have a pet store that specializes in medicated and veterinary-approved foods that funds the shelter. We have a lot of volunteering events with corporate groups (Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, Gap, NYCares, etc), who donate to us. The animal rescue community does fundraising and benefits for us, as well as local stores and art groups that respect and love our causes.
What have you learned about dogs and cats since working at BARC?
What I learned over the past 10 years at BARC could fill a couple of books. I have learned about dealing with aggressive animals better than any book or person could have taught me. I have learned how to deal with dog bites and the fast reflex needed before anything bad happens during dog rescue. Most importantly, I have learned that my needs aren’t as important to an animal who only wants to be loved.
What one piece of advice would you give to pet owners?
Understand your animal and give them time.
Do you have celebrity volunteers and or donors that you’re able to talk about?
Bernadette Peters (The Jerk, Gypsy) is our biggest spokeswoman and helper. She hosts Broadway Barks every year with Mary Tyler Moore.
Lots of celebrities come through and help with the shelter by donating. Moby got a dog from us and donated, along with some new stars who might not be known yet. Reality celebrities from Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model have come by to help walk dogs and play with cats. The wife of one of the guys from Sepultura used to come by and walk Pit Bulls.
All color photos courtesy of Rop Vazquez.