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Urban Portrait – Punkabestia

Posted on Jun 2, 2009 | 33 comments

I had to run an errand after work in the Campo de’ Fiori area and found myself on via dei Pettinari where I came across this dog waiting patiently for his owner. Instantly a blog topic came into mind and I snapped this photo quickly before the owner returned. Why so quickly? Well, this little “still life” of dog, backpack, change bin let me know that I would probably be encountering a punkabestia, and I’m going to be honest, they scare the crap out of me. I try really hard to be open minded about people, so I feel bad saying that, but I can’t help it! So what is a punkabestia? The name comes from the joining of two words “punk” and “bestia” (so a punk and his “beast,” which refers to the dogs they often have). Normally they live on the street and hang out with their dogs in certain areas, here in Rome there are tons in San Lorenzo and also the Ponte Sisto seems to be a popular spot. I remember a friend’s dog was so scared of the punkabestia’s dogs that she would whimper every time we got to the Ponte Sisto and so we always had to use a different bridge. So why do they scare me? They’re just totally unpredictable. Some of the dogs are trained to be vicious, some not, sometimes they’re drunk/high and yelling, sometimes they leave everyone alone. Anyway, I don’t want the post to be a bunch of stereotypes because I’m sure there are punkabestia who are different, but since I can’t tell the difference I’ll end here. I will say that they’re definitely part of the Roman (and Italian) landscape. I just always feel bad for their poor dogs! Anyway, my advice is to stay far away. I had to walk by again about 10 minutes later and the dog’s owner had returned and was screaming nonsense at everyone who passed by. Thank god I didn’t get caught taking the photo!


  1. I remember seeing this around Rome-they are scary. I especially didn’t like seeing baby carriages filled with unhealthy puppies for sale on the street. UGH

  2. I can understand and relate to your fear, especially living in New York and having similar encounters and concerns with our street culture here. I have to say I didn’t notice the Punkabestia. Perhaps I was numb from living in NY lol.

    What might be interesting is to question why the situation exists and what the city is doing to manage the situation. Visually documenting it would be an interesting project as well!

    Again thank you for sharing parts of a city I so love.

  3. Yikes! That is a scary situation, but perhaps the street people feel more safe with the animal by their side. Is it mostly men?

    The graffiti is another story – that was the first shock for me when visiting Rome. On Via Cavour, there was graffiti in red paint “Bananas Bitch” that cracked us up once we recovered from the horror!

  4. I guess every culture has their “gutter punk”. I’m glad you escaped their scathing wrath, though. 🙂

  5. I noticed that throughout Europe it was very common for the homeless to have dogs. Why is this? I find it strange that they couldn’t care for themselves, yet they take on the responsibility of an animal.

    Elaine-I agree about the graffiti in Rome. We went by an aboveground metro tunnel that was completely covered in graffiti.

    Jessica-Do you ever see anyone actually committing the crime of graffitiing?

  6. that’s actually a nice looking dog

  7. That is a great photo. Thanks for sharing!

  8. haha..I have to stop in here again..when I was in Rome I was taken aback by the graffiti and then I remembered that it actually originated in Ancient Greece and Rome (intertwined cultures)…..hmmmm

  9. Interesting

  10. We have them in Montpel too – they don’t have a French term, per se; we call them “Dogs on a string people.” You can’t get arrested for most crimes if you have a dog with you, so you’ll often see as many as 20 together drinking 40 cent beers in the main square and scaring the crap out of everyone, and they let their dogs roam free. The thing I hate is when they aggressively panhandle and insist you hate animals because you won’t give them money to feed their dogs. You can only imagine how much I wish I could tell them that if they didn’t spend their money on piercings and beer, they might be able to feed the dogs they damn selves!

  11. I think when you see them one-to-one on a street, and they’re drunk or messed up, yeah, it can be a little off-putting.

    But if you go have a beer on Friday night at piazza trilussa you’ll probably see several of them among everyone else, hear a few bottles get broken, the usual dogs trying to fight, but generally it’s all pretty relaxed.

    Most punkabestia, by virtue of being ‘punk’, float around the fringes of the messier (leftist) social centers, generally subscribing to some vague anarchist way of life.

    I definitely don’t want to say your fear is unfounded, cause not feeling safe = not feeling safe, and that’s it.

    But I’ve felt much more afraid when walking past Casa Pound, or seeing people who support Blocco Studentesco, or stumbling upon a group of Irriducibili, or just meeting straight-up fascists. They’re drawing on a whole tradition of street violence there, which doesn’t really exist among the punkabestia in any similar way.

    I know your post wasn’t about that side of society, but I think the punkabestia are a kind of superficial threat on the Roman streets in the grand scheme of things, and most of them are pretty harmless.

    Nice photo though!

  12. Wow, love all the great comments this post has generated!

    Nonna – Yes, I hate puppies used for change. It’s the same as when I see people doing that with their babies, awful.

    Simone – True, it would be a very interesting subculture to investigate. My slight understanding of it is that it’s more a way of life and choice than forced homelessness, but I’m not totally sure. But yeah next to NYC I’m sure it’s nothing.

    Elaine – It’s men and women, you’ll see both. Haha Bananas Bitch? That’s really random. If you go to the San Lorenzo category you’ll see a post where I talk about my feelings toward graffiti vs street art.

    Jonathan – The dog did look really nice!

    PianoJess – I would guess the dogs are a source of companionship. As for graffiti. I’ve seen kids with markers writing their names on walls, I’ve seen idiots spray painting over a beautifully done mural in Ostiense with a bunch of nonsense. I’ve also photographed artists putting up street art.

    Miss Expatria – Dog on a string people. That’s a new one! I’m not sure if the dog armor works as far as being arrested but I’m sure it keeps most people from bugging them.

    Jordan – Awesome comment. Definitely true that there are much more scary elements here in Rome and a lot of other groups who are more straight up violent and much more of a real threat. Haha, part of my anxiety is that I’m kind of a baby and get freaked out by the possibility that they may unpredictably freak out on me. That being said, I’ve always walked harmlessly by all of them on Ponte Sisto or ridden the bus with some and never had a single thing happen to me. Would I be wayyyy more scared on a bus of Fascists – you bet.

  13. Fascinating aspect of the Italian street scene. I suspect they use the dogs as protection, and as appears in this photo to guard their belongings when they have to leave. I think caution is always warranted because dogs can be very unpredictable. Great photo BTW.

  14. I love the photo, at first I thought the city was New York. I am living in WA now. I have encounter homeless people here with their dogs. They are nice people and treat their dogs like their children. Too bad they were different in Rome.

    I enjoy the pic of the city thank you.

  15. I’d be scared too.

    This is a very educational post for me. Manila has a lot of homeless too, but I’ve not seen anything like the punkabestia. I’ve not encountered any rude ones either, thank goodness. Thank you for showing this gritty reality of Rome. It’s sobering to realize that urban problems like poverty are a worldwide phenomenon and not limited to third world countries like the Philippines. It’s sad.

  16. made a nice reading… congrats on being a blog of note

  17. Interesting post. I remember seeing them when we were in Rome a few years ago. thought they were homeless street people.

  18. It is disgusting.
    Rome is devastated by graffiti as well as traffic and property speculation.
    Thanks God I don't live in that horrible city.

  19. This theme is rather complicated.
    On the one hand we may think that these dogs suffer.
    On the other, they have company, and they take those people as friends. Life of street dogs is not easy no matter whether they are alone or with a person. And those homeless people, they have these dogs to be the only creatures who treat them well.
    Anyway, it is too sad when you see it.

  20. Hi Jessica, I enjoy reading your posts and I'm impressed by your punctuality about the posts. You write really well and the pictures you share are extraordinary. Now, I look forward to your new posts.

  21. I like your Website, and specially this is amazing Pic

  22. I feel sorry for the dogs. This is a way of life tied to some kind of "off the gird"/anarchy thing. It's different from being homeless. The dogs had no say in the matter.

    I see Punkabestias all the time on my way to Doria Pamphilli park. They're usually drunk. Most of the time they are harmless but a few times I've been harassed for not giving them money. Given I'm working out and have my iPod on not sure why they think I have money on me.

    One day the cops made the Punkabestias put muzzles on their dogs. The Punkabestias were not happy.

  23. Wow, I figured this post would cause a lot of comments but I'm liking the debate we have going. In terms of how people treat their dogs, I do just want to say it depends on the person. I've seen some punkabestie be very cute and loving with their dogs and clearly they have them for both protection and companionship. I've also seen others treat their dogs badly. So, just as with all humans, one cannot generalize.

    Gautam – Thank you very much! I know how much I get annoyed when a blog I like doesn't update, so I try to do it as much as possible (plus I usually have a lot of photos I want to share with you guys!).

  24. you really have many amazing pic,,,
    how can you get it???

    congrat of being blog of note,,,

  25. Amazing photos.
    They're perfect! 🙂
    Good Luck!

  26. Ciao Reza – thanks a lot. do you mean to ask how i find what i take pictures of? i really most walk around until i see something that says "take a picture" that's what happened here. i was walking somewhere else just saw this and had to stop.

    Bia – Thanks so much! I hope you continue to stop by.

  27. Certainly.
    I am going to keep on passing this way.
    I love the photos, they are undoubtedly the only and very well taken away.
    Kiss 🙂

  28. Your photos are absolutely lovely. I can't wait to see more!

  29. I love this picture !
    good luck , kiss from france 🙂

  30. Is the one in the photo the punk or the bestia? Belive me, it was just a joke ! 🙂

  31. Thanks for sharing these urban portraits. It reminds me that my daughter did this on our house walls, too.

  32. Rob – Sometimes it's hard to tell but this is the beast! 😉

    Magic – Haha, my mom would have killed me!

  33. I lived right around the corner from via dei Pettinari and passed by this little guy (and his burly owner) almost every day! It's a bit sad for me to see this photo now that I'm no longer living in Rome.

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