Over the weekend, like very weekend, my partner and I were walking our dogs in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park when I saw horrific signs: Other dog owners are reporting that a man is letting his aggressive dog run off leash in the park, and when it attacks other dogs he joins in and attacks the dog with an ice pick.
This sounds like the sort of really bad horror movie I would refuse to see, but according to the signs and articles in local community papers it’s real, and it happened literally in my neighborhood. Since Saturday when I first saw the sign I’ve been terrified. On a regular basis, I’ve seen who I believe to be the man pictured in the flyer walking his dog.
Eric Barstad is cited by local publications as a person who has posted flyers in the park and spread the word about the attacks. Barstad told Gothamist that a few months ago in the park, his dog was attacked by a large Pit Bull and that instead of trying to break up the fight, the dog’s owner trapped Barstad’s dog between his legs and stabbed the dog nine times with an ice pick. The dog survived, and Barstad filed a police report. Local dog owners say this is not an isolated incident and are accusing the man of multiple attacks where he would assist his dog in attacking another dog using an ice pick and his cane.
As I was writing this post, I got word of an update in the case. Gothamist reports that the New York Police Department has arrested 42-year-old Donnell Barden, a resident of the Flatbush area of Brooklyn, on charges of aggravated animal cruelty, menacing, and criminal possession of a weapon. The New York Daily News reports that his dog has been taken into custody by Animal Care & Control, and that Barden has a violent history including pleading guilty to attempted murder in 1992. I called the SPCA and NYPD contacts listed on the flyer but got no reply in time for publication.
I’ve spent a couple of days afraid to return to the park with my dogs. This is a man who I have seen walking with his dog and a cane (I never saw an ice pick). I’ve always steered clear of him because of one of my dogs, Charlotte, is reactive. Just the same, I have no idea (other than call 911) what I would do if someone attacked one of my dogs in such a manor. As a dog guardian I believe it’s my responsibility to keep my dogs safe, and most of the time with a background in training and dog behavior — and being a fairly street savvy New Yorker — I feel pretty equipped to do that. What I can’t imagine is being in a situation where someone attacked my dog right in front of me.
I’m relieved that an arrest has been made, and I feel a little safer taking my dogs to the park. But it’s still scary to know that this was happening to dogs in my community, and that being in an urban environment without backyards, I don’t have the option to go out into the world without my dogs. It’s terrifying to be reminded that there are people in the world who would do this to an innocent dog. I know many communities have been affected by acts of violence targeting innocent dogs, such as the recent poisoned meatballs found in San Francisco.
Have you encountered a scary situation like this? How have you responded? How do you keep your dog safe?
Top image: Photo by Hello Turkey Toe
About the author: Sassafras Lowrey is a dog-obsessed author based in Brooklyn. She is the winner of the 2013 Berzon Emerging Writer Award from the Lambda Literary Foundation, and the editor of two anthologies and one novel. Sassafras is a Certified Trick Dog Instructor, and she assists with dog agility classes. She lives with her partner, two dogs of dramatically different sizes, and two bossy cats. She is always on the lookout for adventures with her canine pack. Learn more at her website.
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