Crusty pit bull victims hurt and howling mad

Ed Vassilev showing his major arm wound at Beth Israel Hospital after being attacked by a pit bull on Second Ave. The dog’s bite severed the first layer of nerves on his forearm, but luckily not the deeper nerves that control finger and arm movement.
Ed Vassilev showing his major arm wound at Beth Israel Hospital after being attacked by a pit bull on Second Ave. The dog’s bite severed the first layer of nerves on his forearm, but luckily not the deeper nerves that control finger and arm movement.

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON   |  Last week a third victim of an attack by a crusty pit bull came forward as fears of a “sharknado” of violence by the homeless youths’ rampaging pits continued to grip the East Village.

Michael Puzzo, 47, said he was bitten on Tues., Aug. 4, around 2 a.m., as he was walking his girlfriend’s miniature dog, Bobito, along E. Sixth St. between Second and First Aves., the East Village’s Indian restaurant row.

“It hurt like a motherf—–,” Puzzo told The Villager this week, recounting how a 50-pound pit bull chomped him under his right arm and then wouldn’t let go.

Puzzo, a playwright and actor, played “the non-pederast priest” in “Doubt.” He has lived in the East Village for 18 years “and nothing ever happened, knock on wood,” he said. But then, one night earlier this month, they came upon a crusty traveler who was sleeping smack in the middle of the sidewalk, his pit bull beside him.

“My dog is a little muppet, like a nine-pound rag doll,” he said of the Havanese-Maltese mix. “The crusties like to hang out on that block because a lot of the restaurants have sunken areas where they like to go to sleep or fiddle on their iPads. We all know these people aren’t homeless,” he scoffed.

Anyway, he thought the pit bull was also asleep — but it opened its eyes and went right for little Bobito. Puzzo said that, with a quick jerk of his leash — “like Bruce Lee” whipping around nunchucks — he flung Bobito, who was wearing a harness, up into his arms, and shielded him by spinning away from the pit bull’s jaws. But the bigger dog clamped its teeth under Puzzo’s arm, for how long, he’s not sure, but possibly up to half a minute.

Came thisclose to Bobito
Later on, Puzzo found Bobito’s fur mixed with his own blood in his arm wound, showing just how close the pit had come to catching his prey.

“He just missed Bobito,” he said. “He’s nine pounds. If he got him, he would have been bitten in two, like Roberta’s dog.”

He was referring to punk rock photographer Roberta Bayley’s late pug, Sidney, who was attacked by a crusty pit bull just two blocks away, outside their St. Mark’s Place home between Second and Third Aves., on Aug. 1. Sidney underwent surgery but died the next day at the vet.

“I said, ‘Get your dog off of me!’ and he grabbed my dog,” Puzzo said incredulously of the crusty, who had by now awoken. “The dog was hanging onto my arm and I couldn’t get him off. It was so surreal. It could have been 30 seconds. But that’s 30 seconds longer than I wanted to be attacked by Cujo. It felt like someone had lit my arm on fire.”

After the crusty finally pulled the pit bull off him, the beast then continued to circle Puzzo and Bobito menacingly, before the crusty eventually forced it into the street.

As the injured Puzzo walked away, he yelled back at the man, “Does this dog have his shots?”

“Yeah, yeah, totally,” the black-clad nomad assured.

Puzzo’s arm was left covered in blood, with “fang marks — and worst was a big hard bruise.”

Yet, he acknowledged that his injured limb “is not 1/18th as bad as Ed’s,” referring to Ed Vassilev, who was savagely bitten by a pit bull on Second Ave. and E. Fourth St. as he, too, was trying to shield his dog, a Vizsla puppy, from attack. Vassilev was attacked at 11:30 a.m. either the same day or the day after Puzzo was. Bayley’s pug Sidney had been attacked three or four days earlier.

Unlike Vassilev, Puzzo didn’t need any stitches, because the bite was mainly puncture wounds.

Pit bull wasn’t leashed
Puzzo said the dog that bit him did not have a leash and, like the one that attacked Bayley, was not fixed.

“If a dog is in the street, it should be fixed, it should be registered,” he said, “it should have all its shots, and it should be on a leash — or it should be taken away from them.”

He reported the attack to the Ninth Precinct, but isn’t sure if officers responded to the scene to look for the dog and its owner.

In each of the three attacks, the pit bulls were going after a much smaller dog. Each time, the travelers were either asleep or apparently nodding out on substances. The homeless travelers say the pit bulls are their protection when they’re sleeping out on the street — but when the travelers are sleeping, who’s keeping an eye on their pit bulls?

“It’s not about, ‘Let’s get the homeless off the streets or put the pit bulls in concentration camps,’” Puzzo said. “It’s just that the neighborhood should be safe.”

Travelers in Tompkins Square Park earlier this month with their pit bull, Riley, who did not appear to be an aggressive dog. He was on a leash.
Travelers in Tompkins Square Park earlier this month with their pit bull, Riley, who did not appear to be an aggressive dog. He was on a leash. Photo by John Penley

How many of them?
One big question that remains unanswered is how many dogs were involved in the three attacks. If there was only only one dog, that would be reassuring, in a way.

“If it’s one pit bull, it’s ‘Jaws,’” Puzzo said, meaning — just get that one dog off the street.

Puzzo said the pit bull that attacked him was brown with black stripes “like a tiger,” known as a brindle coat. The one that bit Vassilev was gray and white. Meanwhile the dog that tore up Sidney’s throat was brown, possibly a brindle with faint stripes, according to Bayley. However, she said, it all happened so fast, it was hard to focus on what the dog looked like.

What is known is that the dog that bit Vassilev was impounded at Animal Care and Control and was being observed for rabies. Vassilev told The Villager he has been making phone calls to try to ensure that the dog is never released.

“I want that dog put down,” he stated. “There’s no way that dog should come out.”

He said A.C.C. directed him to an inspector at the Department of Health, who asked for Vassilev’s medical records. Vassilev said that inspector told him that the dog’s owner claimed Vassilev was bitten “during a fight.” In fact, the pit bull had come charging down the sidewalk straight toward his little dog, Misha.

Also known is that the pit bull that attacked Sidney was named Jax, and that a traveler named Natas (Satan backwards) had had the dog for a month or two. But one crusty told The Villager that Natas could not handle the dog and shouldn’t have had it, while another crusty said Jax, who was taken from a family in Bushwick that also could not handle him, was “very aggressive.”

Police: Probably was 2
The Ninth Precinct does have one officer specifically dedicated to dog issues, according to Detective Jaime Hernandez, but he could not be reached by press time.

Hernandez said he believes a total of two dogs were involved in the three attacks.

As for Bayley, she’s still feeling the pain of losing her best buddy Sidney, but this week said she is “feeling a bit bit better every day.”

Like Puzzo, she objected that the New York Post’s brief article this past Monday about the attacks on Vassilev and Puzzo, mainly seemed to want to blame the mayor for the problem, portraying it as just another side effect of the current uptick in homelessness.

“They want to make it about the homeless and de Blasio instead of the dogs,” Bayley said of the Post. “The Villager has been reporting it because it’s community news.”

But rather than just trying to pin another problem on the mayor, she thinks pushing for changes on legislation on dogs is what’s needed.

“When I’m feeling better,” she said, “I’m going to go to the politicians and try to see if we can get a bill, make it a bit stronger.”

What will it take?
However, she conceded, it may take a truly horrific event before the city finally acts.

“I hate to say it,” she said, “but I think what we need is for a pit bull to eat a baby — and preferably a celebrity baby.”

While two weeks ago, Bayley stressed to The Villager that she didn’t want to demonize the crusty travelers, this week she said she’s had a bit of a change of heart since then.

“I am beginning to make a distinction in my mind between the real homeless and the willful homeless,” she said, referring to the crusties.

She also said police should be checking the travelers’ dogs for licenses, which only cost a few bucks to get. She noted a friend’s little Bichon Frise recently got a ticket for pooping on the grass in Washington Square.

“What if they were going up to people with the big dogs and asking them if their dog had a license?” she said. “Then they’d go somewhere else and their dogs would kill some other dog there.”

Music calms the savage beast? Actually Riley, here on Second Ave. outside the March 26 gas explosion site, seemed like a pretty mellow pit bull. Photo by Lincoln Anderson
Music calms the savage beast? Actually Riley, here on Second Ave. outside the March 26 gas explosion site, seemed like a pretty mellow pit bull. Photo by Lincoln Anderson

There goes the n’hood

Meanwhile, Vassilev, for his part, does hold the mayor responsible for what happened to him.

“I think since de Blasio took over, the police’s hands have been tied and they can’t do that much,” he said. “The direction comes from that office.”

In his view, homeless panhandlers have gotten more aggressive in the East Village the past couple of years. A Bulgarian native, he has lived in the neighborhood for seven years.

Asked if he is a Republican, Vassilev, said, “I’m a Democrat! It’s public safety that we’re talking about.”

The savage pit bull attack severed his triceps and caused permanent nerve damage to his forearm. After the arm got infected, he had to spend a couple of days in Beth Israel Hospital hooked up to morphine and antibiotic IV drips. He still needs four months of treatment for the wound by a plastic surgeon.

We’re outta here!
Due to the violent assault, he and his wife, along with little puppy Misha, are leaving the ’hood, he said.

“We’re definitely moving from the East Village,” he said. “I don’t know how we can continue to live here and feel safe. It’s not even about the homeless situation. The streets are filthy. It’s gotten worse. You see people on drugs all the time. I’ve spoken to people who’ve lived here for decades, and they say it hasn’t been like this since the early ’90s.”

Similarly, Puzzo said, he and his girlfriend and the diminutive Bobito also might have to say so long to the East Village due to the crusties’ out-of-control pits.

“This is making me think, ‘Do I have to leave the East Village?’” Puzzo said. “When people I love — and our dog — are in danger, what other choice do I have? What good is rent stabilization when you have half an arm or a dog in two pieces?”

Clearwater, a veteran and former traveler, with his well-trained dog, Hitchhiker, in Union Square.   Photo by Lincoln Anderson
Clearwater, a veteran and former traveler, with his well-trained pit bull mix, Hitchhiker, in Union Square. Photo by Lincoln Anderson

Travelers’ take
Several of the crusties previously told The Villager that Jax was taken away from Natas, and that the dog was in “puppy jail.”

Last Sunday night, a traveler named Andy was sitting under a lamppost at the corner of St. Mark’s Place and Third Ave. eating a sandwich he had scrounged up money for. Sporting a few dreads hanging down one side of his head and a rune-like tattoo on the bridge of his nose, he had only been in town four days, but had heard about Natas and Jax.

“He doesn’t have the dog anymore,” he said.

Asked where the other East Village travelers were, he said at Union Square — and they were.

Up at the park, one of them who goes by Wing the Nut said, “What I understand, Natas’s not got the dog. He hasn’t had the dog for weeks now. They keep saying, ‘You’ll get it back, you’ll get it back,’ ” he said of A.C.C.

On the other hand, a man who goes by Clearwater who was among them seemed to be the model of a good dog owner. With Hitchhiker, his pit bull-blue tick hound mix, standing by his side on a leash, he explained the dog is a service animal for his post-traumatic stress disorder. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2001 to 2007.

“Yes, sir. United States infantry Bravo. We were the knock-and-sweep guys,” he said, referring to the troops that cleared houses.

The dog instinctively helps him relax if the vet starts to get agitated or feels a panic attack coming on, he said.

He found Hitchhiker as a 10-week-old abandoned puppy on the side of the road in Washington and got the Veterans of Foreign Wars to pay for his training.

“Kick it down,” he told Hitchhiker, and the dog sat.

“All the way,” he said, and the dog lay down.

He dropped the leash, paced 25 feet away and called out, “Heel,” and the pit mix trotted right to him, then obediently walked back with him right at his owner’s feet, gazing intently up into his face.

“You have to be the owner of your animal and take responsibility,” Clearwater, 34, stated. He said he actually was a former traveler, but “got a little old” for it and settled down with a job in Pittsburgh. His van had broken down on his way home after a trip, though, and he found himself stuck in New York temporarily, without cash and hanging out again with the crusties. Between the V.F.W. and some panhandling, he hoped to raise the $100 for a bus ticket home.

Protection at night
“He can definitely handle himself,” he said of his dog. “But he’s been taught to be friendly all his life. But if we’re sleeping outside, if someone comes within 10 feet of me, he’ll start growling.”

Hitchhiker is good with other animals and they had spent time that day in the Union Square dog run.

“I got him fixed when he was one year old,” Clearwater said, noting it had noticeably mellowed the animal. “Once the dog is a year old, 18 months old, there’s no need for the testosterone unless you’re going to breed them.”

Asked where they would be sleeping that night, he said he wasn’t worried about it, because of Hitchhiker.

“Finding a safe space for me to sleep is easy because he’ll wake me up if somebody comes close,” he said. “I would hate to be out here without a dog.”