Veterinarian looks out for pets during Occupy Wall Street protest

Veterinarian looks out for pets during Occupy Wall Street protest

Jan 01, 2012

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Curiosity brought Dr. Konstantine Barsky to the Occupy Wall Street Camp at Zuccotti Park in late September. But it was concern for the camp's animal inhabitants that brought the veterinarian back for the next five weeks.

"I went down there to check it out. I grew up in downtown New York, and I had heard about this whole thing," says Barsky, an associate at Hope Veterinary Clinic in Brooklyn. "I went again a couple of weeks later and saw a lot of animals there, and I figured why not go and see if the pets need any care while they're down there. I just realized there might be a need for it, especially with so many people living in close proximity to one another."

Medically speaking, there weren't many "interesting" cases, Barksy says, but he ran into a few flea infestations and plenty of new puppies in need of vaccinations and deworming.

Accompanied by veterinary technician Kimmy Mazzola and armed with supplies that he paid for out-of-pocket, Barksy estimates he treated 20 to 25 different animals over the five Mondays he visited the Occupy Wall Street camp.

After his initial visits, Barsky says he set up shop in the same spot every week, so pet owners knew where to find him.

"After the first couple times, we kind of found ourselves a nice little spot on the west end of the park. Toward the last couple weeks, I was really surprised to find people waiting there to see us," he says. "Everybody was overwhelmingly thankful we were there helping out."

Most of the animals in the Manhattan protest camp were cats and dogs, although Barsky says he treated a few pet rats. Most of the animals were well-taken care by owners participating in what has become a worldwide movement.

Occupy Wall Street began with the Sept. 17 occupation of Zuccotti Park at Liberty Square in Manhattan's Financial District by protestors who say they are fighting back against corporate control of the democratic process and its effect on the economy and unemployment. Occupy camps have sprouted up in more than 100 cities across the United States and more than 1,500 cities around the world.

Protestors were evicted from Zuccotti Park by police Nov. 15, thus ending Barsky's visits there, but demonstrations have continued in other places around New York City since then.

Had protestors stayed on at the park, Barsky says he probably would have been treating more weather-related problems. During each exam or treatment, for which he collected no fees, Barsky says he stressed to pet owners that it would be best to leave their animals out of the Occupy movement.

He didn't run into any other veterinarians during his time at the Occupy camp, but Barsky says he encountered a number of other medical professionals. Overall, he says the experience was a good one, regardless of how one might feel about the Occupy movement itself.

"I'm not a terribly political person, but I definitely agree there's some changes that need to be made. I like to see people being able to get together; it's an interesting environment down there," he says, adding the veterinary community has its own segment that could be represented by this protest.

"There's the kind of unfortunate obvious fact now for younger veterinarians that the student debt we incur is kind of outrageous, and that's one of the things brought up by this group—student debt and how to manage that," Barsky says. "Young professionals end up in the field not being able to do what they want to do and pay their loans."

The experience taught him a lot about working outside a traditional veterinary clinic, Barsky says, adding a veterinary group that does work in the Galapagos called Darwin Animal Doctors counseled him on how to maintain medical records for a transient population. He created medical records for each pet that the protestors could carry with them, photographing each record on his phone for his own personal record.

"It helped me to learn more about field work, getting the right equipment," he says. "It was a good experience to have."