It was an unprecedented moment in the history of animal rights in New York City. On Tuesday, Dec. 11, legislation was introduced at the city council to ban horse-drawn vehicles. Queens Council Member Tony Avella introduced the bill (Intro 658) in the wake of yet another horse dying on the job and a scathing city audit of horse-drawn carriage industry. As we go to press, the bill still has to pass the 51-member council.
Some had sought merely to mitigate the poor treatment of the horses and dangers they face in one of the busiest sections of one of the busiest cities in the world. “Horses are not provided with enough water, risk overheating on hot asphalt and are forced to stand in their own waste,” The New York Times reported on the audit.
The New York Horse and Carriage Association then belatedly asked the city to provide hitching posts, water spigots, and improved drainage for the horses’ waste. One has to wonder, however, if the association members love their horses as much as they claim, why it took a city audit for them to make these proposals.
Then, after years of campaigning, Friends of Animals and an allied coalition achieved what many thought impossible—convincing the city government to consider an outright ban. “I am thrilled that Council Member Tony Avella is introducing legislation that will finally end this exploitative industry in the City of New York,” said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals. “It’s long overdue.”
It was truly a shot heard around the world. Articles about the bill appeared in the Washington Post, the LondonTelegraph, the Epoch Times in Ireland, and the New Zealand Herald.
As FoA Campaign Coordinator Edita Birnkrant said at Avella’s press conference before some one hundred supporters of the bill: “The world watches New York City. By ending a disrespectful tradition we pave a path for new and enlightened traditions and ideas, and we also serve as an example to many others…. Today we are here to say that animals matter, and that the world is listening.”
“By declaring that there is no place in New York City for horse-drawn carriages,” she said, “we also telling the rest of the world that horse-drawn carriages need to be retired—everywhere.”
Horse-drawn vehicles have been outlawed in London, Paris, Toronto, and Beijing as well as in several smaller cities in the United States. But New York City has clung to the tradition, which dates back to at least 1935, even as it has the highest carriage-horse accident rate in the country.
The New York Horse and Carriage Association is fighting back with recommendations for husbandry improvements, mentioned above, and safety. Because Smoothie, the last carriage horse to die in an accident, on Sept. 14, was supposedly spooked by a nearby musician, the association has called for a ban on live or amplified music near the horses’ staging area on Central Park South.
But in the 24-hour buzz of New York City, it is ludicrous to suggest banning music will improve safety. The horses are driven through heavy traffic — cars, cabs, buses, and trucks — amid the sounds of the city: blaring car horns, screeching brakes, construction jackhammers, and the shouts of peddlers. And carriage horses don’t just take tourists through Central Park but down to Times Square as well, and they have to go many city blocks back and forth to their stables on the city’s West Side.
The horse-drawn vehicle industry is monitored by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which oversees the horses’ health certificates, and the Department of Consumer Affairs, which regulates licensing of drivers, horses, carriages and stables. Additionally, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals inspects the health of carriage horses on a voluntary basis.
“The agencies entrusted with oversight here have dropped the ball,” said City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr., who commissioned the audit. FoA has long called for an outright ban, not only because more regulations and “improvements” or “fixes” won’t help, but because the exploitation of horses is wrong.
Claims that the carriage-horse industry can police itself were belied by the recent arrest of the owner of Central Park Carriage Stables for attempting to bribe an undercover investigator to overlook violations at his stable. The owner, Cornelius Byrne, was charged with paying the investigator, who was posing as a consumer affairs inspector, $100 to ignore multiple violations at his stable. Byrne was also the owner of Smoothie, the horse that died in September.
And a sure sign that reform is not a credible solution came when one of the monitoring entities, the ASPCA, announced that it would support the ban on horse-drawn carriages.
But although FoA and its animal rights allies have won a major battle, winning the hearts and minds of the city council will not be easy. Mayor Michael Bloomberg opposes the ban.
FoA is mounting a letter-writing campaign to urge the mayor and the council to support Tony Avella’s bill to ban horse-drawn vehicles (Intro 658). To contact the mayor, write to the Office of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Hall, New York, NY 10007. To call Bloomberg, dial 212-788-3000 (ask for comment line). To find the name and contact information for your city council member, go to http://council.nyc.gov/html/members/members.shtml. If you have questions or would like to volunteer in FoA’s campaign to ban horse-drawn vehicles, call 212-247-8120.