Invisible Dogs

Produced by: Charlie Todd
Digital Video: Agents Adams, Haskel, VanDamme
Digital Photography: Agents Nicholson, Sokoler

For our latest mission, over 2,000 people walked “invisible dogs” down the streets of Brooklyn on a Sunday afternoon. The leashes were on loan from the current owner of 51 Bergen Street, the factory space where the invisible dog toy was invented in the 1970s. Participants of all ages spread out from Red Hook to Brooklyn Heights, very seriously walking their very silly dogs.

About a month ago I got an email from Keith Schweitzer from No Longer Empty. The group transforms vacant spaces into public art exhibitions and had an exhibition coming up in an abandoned factory in Brooklyn. He told me there were over 2,000 invisible dog leashes collecting dust on a shelf and wondered if I would like to put them to use. Yes, please.

The crowd
The factory space served as our meeting point. It’s an incredibly cool spot, and it was fun knowing that the leashes we would be using were created right there in the 1970s. The building was recently bought by a French artist, who is converting it into an art space.

It’s tough to say exactly how many participants showed up. We had over 3,000 RSVPs, and the crowd was so large that we filled up the giant warehouse and then had an enormous line of people waiting to get in winding around the block. I think it’s safe to say more than 2,000 showed up. Thankfully, we had enough leashes for everyone.

Explaining the mission
All of the participants showed up having no idea what they would be doing. I gave a quick talk explaining the history of the building and what the mission would entail, and then we passed out the leashes. Everyone was just told to spread out and go on a walk for an hour or so, behaving as if they were walking an actual dog.

Passing out leashes
We had a very diverse group of agents, with folks of all ages and races participating.

Three dogs pass at an intersection
The guy above told me his nickname was “Big Dog” and that’s why he had the “BEWARE OF THE DOG” bumper sticker. It certainly seemed appropriate for the mission.

There were so many great reactions throughout the day. With 2,000 people spread out all over the neighborhood, it was impossible to document them all. Most people laughed or smiled. Some ignored us. Others got irritated when no one would tell them what was going on. Typical dialogue went about like this:

Stranger: Where did you get that?
Agent: What? My dog? At a shelter.
Stranger: No, the leash.
Agent: At a pet store.
Stranger: Ahh! No one will tell me what is happening!

Everyone had their own theory about what must be happening. The two most common I overheard were that we were promoting shelter dogs and that we were protesting dog poop.

Some of the best reactions came from folks in cars. Anyone driving on Court or Smith Streets would have seen hundreds of dogs in a very short span of time. Lots of people rolled down their windows to shout questions. One guy driving an MTA bus even pulled over, opened his door, and asked what was going on with a laugh.

The best reactions came from those who played along and Yes Anded us. Lots of people really got into it and stopped to join the fun. “Oh what breed is he?” “Can I pet him?” “He’s so cute!”

There were lots of kids on the streets, and it was fun to see their reactions. Several parents played along, and some kids were a little confused when their mom or dad claimed to see the dog as well.

We also had lots of children working as agents.

Apparently this kid’s dog climbed the fence!

The Dutton family all participated together
The most fun part of the mission was running into real dogs. I think it’s the first time we’ve ever confused animals during an Improv Everywhere mission. I loved seeing their reactions.

Lot of participants visited local establishments along their walk. Bars and cafes were soon filled with invisible dogs, at least the ones that allowed dogs were.

Grabbing a drink while keeping the dogs outside

The pet store on Smith had some visitors

Someone purchased a bone for the dogs
A dog kennel quickly put up the above sign on their door after getting a few rings from folks wanting to discuss lodging for their invisible dogs. I can’t say I blame them. Other establishments did all they could to attract the dogs and their owners into spending their money.

The Jake Walk bar was especially generous
Those waiting tables in bars and cafes were treated to a steady stream of passing dogs. Many had to go outside to get a better look.

Picking up invisible poop
Of course, dog ownership is not all fun and games.

Chasing pigeons

Going in two directions

Sniffing trash

Taking a leak

Chasing a bike

Agent Zalowitz takes a spill

Agent Lathan was a dog walker
Agent Lindquist and I had a very pleasant Sunday stroll with our new invisible Basset Hound puppy.

After a couple of hours, agents started slowly returning to the meeting point to turn in their leashes. Many were sad to tell their invisible dogs goodbye. It was really fun to do a mission that was so spread out, both in time and in space. It felt like we really blanketed the whole neighborhood with our silliness.

Mission Accomplished.


Many more photos in higher resolution:
Agent Sokoler’s Flickr Set
Agent Nicholson’s Flickr Set
More photos at No Longer Empty
Learn more about the history of 51 Bergen Street.

Stream or Download “The Dogs Were Let Out by Whom?” by Tyler Walker:

You can read the Agent Reports from folks who were involved in the comments on this post.