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Animal Welfare At Issue in Fight Over Horse-Drawn Carriage Rides in NYC

Animal Welfare at Issue in Fight Over Horse-Drawn Carriage Rides in NYCi
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Carolyn Weaver
May 29, 2014 11:50 PM
Horse-drawn carriages have operated in New York City for more than 150 years, taking tourists and locals on picturesque rides through Central Park. But with the election of Mayor Bill De Blasio, a controversy over the business - opposed by animal-rights activists - has flared up. VOA's Carolyn Weaver reports.
Carolyn Weaver
A campaign by animal-rights activists to abolish horse-drawn carriage rides in New York gained a powerful supporter with the election of Mayor Bill De Blasio last fall, or so it seemed at first. Even before he was inaugurated, the new mayor said he planned to move "quickly and aggressively" to ban the horse-drawn carriages, which take passengers on rides through Central Park and, at certain hours, along some Manhattan streets.

"They're not humane; they're not appropriate to the year 2014. It's over," De Blasio told a crowd last December. Those in agreement include the Humane Society and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which is responsible for policing the treatment of the carriage horses.
 
Yet polls show that most New Yorkers want to keep the horses. "We're an iconic part of New York City," said driver Christina Hansen. "Even people who don't necessarily take a carriage ride, just being near the horses on Central Park West gives people the opportunity to interact with them, to see how horses work in partnership with people."
 
The industry, which employs about 300 people and 200 draft horses, is regulated by a myriad of animal-welfare rules. Horses may not be worked long hours or in very hot or cold weather, and must have regular veterinary check-ups. Each horse must also be sent for a five-week annual "vacation" in a Pennsylvania pasture.

Driver Conor McHugh helps manage one of the stables in the city. He said every horse has ample room, good feed, and contact with other horses in the next stall.

"All we want a horse to do is just give a nice walk through the park. It's relatively easy for the horses, and it's a good life for what I would call a working-class horse," he said, adding that draft horses bred to work would not do well if they spent their lives in pastures. "Their work is their exercise, and it gives them a purpose, and earns their keep," he said.

Allie Feldman, executive director of New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets (NYCLASS), the main group fighting to abolish the horse carriages, scoffed at that. "Anybody who knows horses knows that horses don't need five consecutive weeks of vacation," she said. "They need daily turn-out. There's no pasture in Manhattan for these horses to go to. They live their lives between the shafts of the carriage and the shafts of their stalls. They don't have time to roll, to socialize, to graze."

Feldman said that horses inevitably suffer from the noise and unpredictability of congested city streets. She and other opponents also point to occasional accidents when carriage horses have bolted and to incidents of abusive treatment or neglect by owners. However, her group does not object to mounted police horses, although their conditions are similar. It also has not campaigned against the Aqueduct Race Track in the city, where at least ten horses have died in the last five years.

Feldman appeared confident in January that a carriage-horse ban would sail through the New York City Council. "We helped elect 39 pro-animal City Council members, and we're going to be holding them all to their commitment to ban horse-drawn carriages," she said.

The proposed legislation, which has not been introduced in the City Council, would replace the horse-drawn carriages with electric vehicles modeled to look like antique cars, each costing $150,000 to $175,000, according to NYCLASS, which commissioned a prototype. The horses would be sent to live out their lives in farm sanctuaries. A more economical proposal would retrofit the carriages themselves with motors.

But defenders of the horse-carriages have turned out to be numerous than expected, and even some supporters are doubtful that tourists would pay to ride through Central Park in cars of any kind. The Central Park Conservancy, the group that manages Central Park, said it opposed allowing motor vehicles inside the park.
 
In recent weeks, Mayor De Blasio has also drawn back slightly, saying that the ban is not an immediate priority.
 
According to reports in the New York Daily News, which is running a petition campaign defending the industry, De Blasio received about $50,000 in campaign contributions from backers of NYCLASS. The group also spent a reported $1.1 million to defeat the early frontrunner in the mayoral race, Christine Quinn, after she refused to support the drive to abolish carriage horses.

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Comments
     
by: Ruth Moore from: Brooklyn
May 31, 2014 11:04 PM
In a free world we should all be terrified of a regime that thinks that its ok to Confiscate startlingly healthy, well kept horses from their owners and give them to uncertain owners with no future oversight. Apart from the fact that stealing is wrong, since when did we live in a regime with behavior so akin to fascism or communism. Whether one cares about horses or not, everyone should be worried about this.

by: chienblanc4csi from: USA
May 30, 2014 9:09 PM
The question of animal welfare covers the real story - that of the stables sitting on extremely valuable real estate. If the horses go, there will be no use for stables, and the land can go for high rise residential and commercial development and make the wealthiest people much wealthier. The animal rights groups, whose members do seem sincere, have been hijacked by big money, and have taken this opportunity to shout a lot louder with the input and overseeing by PETA. They do all the dirty work on the street, protest, wave signs, organize rallies, canvas neighborhoods to push for city council votes for a ban. They get what they want, a bigger audience, and the big money corporations get what they want, for an enormous return on investment. Buying a mayor in NYC cost a mere $3.1 million, pocket change for NYCLASS backers. DeBlasio will not be able to listen to reason any more, he is beholden to some powerful forces.

If horse welfare were the main concern, there would be no doubt that the horses would stay where they are. Nearly 70% of NYers want them to stay, and equine experts in health and welfare, NY state and national horse councils, independent veterinarians, farriers, all have investigated the stables, the drivers, the records, the horses themselves, and with the one exception (a vet who was forced by the ASPCA to lie and was fired when she retracted that lie), have all said the horses are overall in excellent condition, physically and mentally, well suited for their relatively easy jobs. These are very people-friendly, confident and content horses.

True, the animal rights groups claim that it is inhumane to "force" a horse to work in the city and breathe the same air that all people, dogs, cats, Police horses and wild animals breathe, and walk around Central Park on asphalt - which was invented specifically to be easier for horses than rough, rocky and muddy roads that preceded asphalt. But these are NOT experts on animal care, particularly horses, and their opinions on working horses are not shared by the majority of people. Especially people who have credentials in horse care and welfare.

There is a worldwide groundswell of support for the horses and drivers, I don't think NYCLASS or Mayor deBlasio realized what they were up against. All 3 NYC newspapers came out in support of the horses and drivers, and the Teamsters Union is fighting hard for these small businesses and the families whose livelihood depends on the carriage business to continue in Central Park.
In Response

by: chienblanc4csi from: USA
June 04, 2014 5:09 PM
To Joel from Brooklyn - first of all, maybe you should go back and read about draft horse history, you seem to be confused. Their job is in the name - draft animals are meant to pull a "dray" or "draught" and yes, heavy horses are built for pulling - about 3 times their weight comfortably, without much effort, have done so for thousands of generations. The NYC carriage horses have a relatively easy job, you should look up the environmentally friendly teams that pull logs out of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, where motors aren't allowed, and horse teams are a 'green' alternative for forest management. And NO, the horses are not African Americans, are not slaves - your callousness, rudeness and ignorance is simply appalling, I hope your mother doesn't read this. Accusing someone you have never met of being racist and homophobic from a post about working animals indicates a level of hatred and rage against people that's just off the charts. I hope your history teachers don't read this, either.
In Response

by: Joel from: Brooklyn
June 04, 2014 9:39 AM
If you look up the history of the "draft horse", you'll find that they were NOT "bred and conditioned to pull things", much like blacks were not bred to pick cotton. This is its own slavery and it's not only extremely unnecessary, it's disgusting. Alas, we live in a world where gays can still be stoned in some parts and then simply refused service & equality here on American soil. We live in a world where blacks were allowed to vote just forty something years ago, so of course you can't be expected to see things fairly. That's how YOU were conditioned.
In Response

by: chienblanc4csi from: USA
May 31, 2014 11:56 AM
Correction: "a mere $3.1 million" should have been $1.3 million.

by: Paula Hooper Denmon
May 30, 2014 6:57 PM
I take issue with the carriage driver that said a draft horse would not be healthy or happy without a carriage to pull, a job to do. My 12 year old Percheron stays healthy and is supremely happy turned out on 25 acres, run in stalls at their disposal and my old 22 year old gelding and 20 year old mare as her companions.
In Response

by: chienblanc4csi from: USA
May 30, 2014 11:42 PM
One anecdote about your own horse does not apply to horses in general, especially working draft horses that were bred and conditioned for pulling things, and are specifically chosen for their suitability for this job in NYC. If you only realized how quickly those dominoes will fall if this ban takes affect, how easy it will be for you to attacked by the same people you defend right now. If you don't know what PeTA has in mind for all "companion animals", you'd better learn, cause your own horse ownership will go bye bye soon. I have been involved in animal legislation for many years, and I promise you that this proposed ban is only the beginning, and you can count on the elimination of domestic horses - unless we put the brakes on this animal rights runaway train. As for the driver quoted here, he is an expert horseman, he knows more about horses than you and I combined. I'd listen to him if I were you. Nitpicking meaningless details is the trap we easily fall into, you were led to cite your anecdote so easily it's shameful. You took the bait. It's very true, when people don't work with these animals any more, they are luxury items, "pasture pets" that do NOT universally do well in retirement without the routine, regular exercise and almost constant loving attention from all the people around them 24/7. Individual animals may be fine without regular activity, but in general, these horses that manage to avoid being sold for slaughter, will soon be bored, fat and lazy and become hard to handle. It is a flat out lie that NYCLASS has realistic plans to provide even a minimal existence for any of these horses for longer than it takes for the public furor to die down. Horse sanctuaries are closed, overcrowded, and going under financially, estimates run to 100,000 homeless horses around the country now. Rescues have waiting lists from 6 months to 3 years, which means that even if a few of these high profile animals makes it to a sanctuary, they will displace less visible (publicity) horses that will be disposed of quietly while the public is distracted with the hyperbolic "savior" media coverage.

by: Jessa from: New York City
May 30, 2014 5:37 PM
It's so inhumane to force a horse to work in traffic. If they carriage drivers really cared about their horses, they would retire them.
In Response

by: Joel from: Brooklyn
June 04, 2014 9:44 AM
But sadly, they only care for themselves - then they cry when THEIR rights are challenged. They never even entertained the idea of having an income that hasn't anything to do with something heavily inhumane. Never dawned on them.

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