Does Having a Dog Mean You Get to Displace Homeless People?

New, wealthy Brooklyn residents want a park cleared so their dogs can run off-leash.


From 2002 to 2008, I lived in this apartment building in Fort Greene, Brooklyn:

The neighborhood has changed a lot since I moved away, and not for the better. The building itself has changed a lot.

According to the friend who took over our apartment when we had to leave very suddenly, a couple of years ago the management started evicting as many people as it could or pushing them out with increased rent prices. It’s easy to do a quick Google Image search on my old address and see the insides of the refurbished apartments that look nothing like the place where we lived for all those years.

None of this is a surprise. My partner and I were an early part of the gentrification that’s been turbocharged in the past few years. I have a lot of memories of the Fort Greene and Clinton Hill neighborhoods, but when I read the news that’s coming out of there now, I’m glad that I’m gone. Gawker reported on Friday that some new residents are demanding that the city kick homeless people out of Fort Greene Park to make the area more comfortable for their dogs.

Gawker and DNAInfo report that police have been called to investigate a homeless camp in the park because of conflicts between the people living there and the pets of local residents.

Tensions have been rising between the group and local dog owners who use the park, especially in the early morning hours when dozens of people let their dogs run off-leash, locals say.

The untethered pups sniff, bark, and jump on the slumbering people — oftentimes waking them up and triggering a furious response, locals say.

The DNAInfo article is generally pretty friendly to the pet owners, but even it can’t deny an important point: The problem seems to arise from dog owners who are unwilling to control their pets.

As much as I love dogs, I don’t do so at the expense of human beings. I certainly don’t think that a dog’s ability to run off-leash should be used as a reason to criminalize poverty. The fact is, I know a lot of people who are closer to having to sleep in parks than they should be. I know people who have had to sleep in parks and on streets in the past. The fact that it’s legal for dog owners to let their dogs off the leash does not trump the right of the homeless to live. I believe most of us don’t realize just how easy it is to wind up there.

In response to one dog walker who complains of the homeless that “They are becoming more and more aggressive every day,” Hamilton Nolan writes in Gawker:

In case it’s not clear, “They” in this case refers to people without a home who are forced to sleep in the park, and the implication of his statement is that these humans are out of line for wishing that their “territory” not be invaded by swarms of dogs as they sleep. What sort of monster doesn’t want to be woken up by a wealthy stranger’s off-leash dog?

Owning a dog should enhance one’s sense of humanity, not provide an excuse to flaunt your sense of entitlement. Loving your dog is not a reason to devalue the people around you. We talk a lot about the need to rescue dogs and give them forever homes, and we’ll continue to do so. But being aware of that fact doesn’t mean we should forget there are also people out there looking for homes of any kind. Consider the people who lived in my old apartment building and were pushed out by the landlords. Where did they go? While I didn’t know my neighbors well, I knew that they weren’t all young people with careers. There were quite a few older people who had probably lived in that building for years before I moved to New York. I can’t say how many had families to support them or the resources to find another home.

To be fair, it sounds like some of the dog walkers had genuinely frightening encounters in the park. The DNAInfo article quotes local Cheryl Pientka, whose dog woke a sleeping man in the park. She says he threatened her with sexual assault. That’s legitimately frightening, but it’s not a problem with “the homeless.”

I know that if I did something similar, people wouldn’t start thinking that it represents some kind of problem with middle-aged white guys, or a crisis among dog bloggers. At worst, they’d think that I was an obnoxious douchebag, and they might not even think that. When women complain about street harassment (aka catcalling) that doesn’t come from homeless guys, people are very eager to make excuses. People will claim that it’s a natural part of being a man, or that women should be complimented by it. The truth is, middle-aged white guys get away with a lot, and we don’t generally have people calling the cops to remove us from the neighborhood.

Brooklyn can be a beautiful place, and Fort Greene even more so. I hope that the new residents remember that people lived there before them, and some will continue to live there after they’re gone. The fact that some sleep on the grass instead of in a brownstone doesn’t make them disposable.

What do you think? Does having a dog mean you can push around homeless people? Are such people really a danger to dogs? Let us know in the comments.

Via Gawker and DNAInfo

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