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Push to Ban New York Carriage Horses Gains Steam

December 08, 2011 | Animal Rights / Horse Carriages / Horses

The New York Times

Animal rights advocates are gaining support for legislation to ban horse-drawn carriages.

By EMILY B. HAGER

"Horses frighten very easily," said Edita Birnkrant, the New York director of one of the advocacy groups, Friends of Animals. "The noises of New York City, the chaos - it is all just an inherently dangerous environment, and they don't belong here."

A ride through Central Park in a horse-drawn carriage is one of New York City's most storied attractions, the rhythmic clip-clop offering a respite from the hustle of everyday life.

But now this old-fashioned industry is facing unprecedented turmoil.

After campaigning for decades, animal rights advocates are gaining support for legislation that would ban the hansom cabs, including endorsements from mayoral candidates and celebrities.

The carriage owners say they are being harassed, but they also acknowledge carrying out a campaign to infiltrate the activist groups and secretly record their strategy sessions.

Both the animal rights advocates and the carriage owners say they have been subjected to threats of violence by the other side.

The struggle is so tense that when an accident last summer left a carriage driver in a coma, the hospital where he was recovering was not immediately disclosed, out of concern that activists would stage protests there.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has become ensnared in the debate over the carriages. The group's chief equine veterinarian, Dr. Pamela Corey, said her supervisors pushed her to slant her conclusions about the death of a carriage horse, to generate sympathy for a ban.

Besides the animal rights campaigners, the industry is facing a classic New York peril: rising real estate values. Developers covet the stables on the Far West Side where the horses have long been kept.

New York City's carriage horses have long been a cause célèbre for animal rights advocates. Now, though, even the trade's staunchest defenders say its survival is threatened as never before.

"People in our business probably think that we probably won't survive forever and are asking, 'How long will we last,' " said Conor McHugh, a carriage driver and the manager of Clinton Park Stables, one of four stables in the city that house the horses.

"But we will keep fighting," Mr. McHugh added.

The city's licensed carriage horse industry - 68 carriages, 216 horses and 282 drivers - brings in roughly $15 million annually, officials estimate.

Drivers charge $50 for a 20-minute ride through Central Park, and $20 for each additional 10 minutes. On a good day, they can make 15 trips, grossing at least $750 plus tips.

Drivers' earnings are said to range from $40,000 to $100,000 annually, depending primarily on whether they own their horses, what shifts they work (day shifts are better) and how bad the weather and the economy are.

So far this year, seven incidents involving carriage horses have been reported, including a collision with a taxi. With each accident, animal rights campaigners raise alarms. They say carriage horses work under cruel conditions: nine-hour shifts, wading through Manhattan traffic, in almost any weather, with no space to frolic in a pasture.

The activists have rounded up endorsements from celebrities like the designer Calvin Klein and the actresses Pamela Anderson and Lea Michele, while lawmakers allied with them have introduced bills at the state and city levels to abolish the industry.

Last year, the City Council approved a measure to improve working and living conditions for the horses but would not pass a ban.

Many weekends, one group or another gathers across from the Plaza Hotel, where carriages congregate at an entrance to Central Park, to hold a protest.

"Horses frighten very easily," said Edita Birnkrant, the New York director of one of the advocacy groups, Friends of Animals. "The noises of New York City, the chaos - it is all just an inherently dangerous environment, and they don't belong here."

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has been an ardent supporter of the carriages. After a horse fell Sunday in Midtown Manhattan, Mr. Bloomberg dismissed criticism of the industry.

"Carriage horses have traditionally been a part of New York City," he said. "The tourists love them, and we've used from time immemorial animals to pull things. They are well treated, and we'll continue to make sure that they are well treated."

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is one of the groups leading the effort to ban the carriages. It is also one of the three entities - along with the city's health department and the Department of Consumer Affairs - that regulate the industry.

"I don't see it as a conflict," the society's president, Ed Sayres, said last month on the steps of City Hall after a rally against the carriages. "If we don't bring forward the risk factor that we are observing, then it would be negligent."

In 2009, Mr. Sayres teamed up with Stephen Nislick, chief executive of the development company Edison Properties, which owns Manhattan Mini Storage, to develop a plan to replace the carriage horses with electric-powered replicas of antique cars.

"The cars provide an economic win for the drivers, owners and for the city," Mr. Nislick said.

With $400,000 from the A.S.P.C.A., and a contribution from Mr. Nislick, the two men started NY-Class, a nonprofit organization that has collected more than 55,000 signatures backing city legislation that would carry out their plan.

Their campaign has been roiled, however, by a dispute over the death of a carriage horse named Charlie in October. The A.S.P.C.A. at first quoted its chief equine veterinarian, Dr. Corey, as saying the horse "was not a healthy horse and was likely suffering from pain."

Soon after, Dr. Corey retracted her statement and said the society had pushed her to distort her findings to turn public opinion against the carriages. "I was under a lot of pressure during the writing of that press release," she said.

She said there was no evidence that Charlie was experiencing pain or had been abused.

The society suspended Dr. Corey after she spoke out. She then filed a complaint with the state attorney general's office, contending that on several occasions she had been pressured to slant her professional opinion to help achieve a ban.

A spokeswoman for the A.S.P.C.A., Elizabeth Estroff, said it was baffled by Dr. Corey's claims, adding that Dr. Corey had "ultimately reviewed, edited and approved the final statement" about the horse.

The carriage industry has filed its own complaints with city and state agencies against the A.S.P.C.A. and NY-Class. Some carriage owners have gone to NY-Class meetings, without disclosing their identities. They have recorded discussions that they maintain show that the activists are bent on distorting the carriage industry's record.

On one recording, Mr. Nislick describes efforts to gain the support of city politicians by giving them campaign contributions.

The politicians "want money from people and they want your vote," Mr. Nislick said, according to the recording.

Asked about the recordings, Mr. Nislick declined to comment.

The carriage owners also assert that Mr. Nislick wants to be able to gain control of the land under the carriage horse stables.

Two of the stables are on a prime block between West 37th and 38th Streets in the heart of Hudson Yards, a sprawling commercial and residential development.

Mr. Nislick denied being interested in the land, but other developers envision transforming the lots into hotels and office buildings.

If the stables were sold and then closed, the carriage horses could end up homeless, and their owners could go out of business. Relocating uptown, and closer to Central Park, may not be an option with real estate scarce.

The stables on 37th and 38th Streets are in the district of the City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, a Democrat who is expected to run for mayor. Like Mr. Bloomberg, Ms. Quinn has supported the carriage industry, though she has called recently for increased oversight of the horses.

Two other likely Democratic mayoral candidates - Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, and William C. Thompson Jr., the former city comptroller - have supported the ban, as well as the electric car initiative.

NY-Class and other animal rights groups pledge that if the carriages are eliminated, they will find safe pastures for the 216 horses. But many veterinarians say horse sanctuaries around the country are full, and facing difficulties because of the economy.

"If we banned the carriage horse industry tomorrow, they would go straight to slaughter," said Dr. Nena Winand, an upstate New York veterinarian who is a member of the American Society of Equine Practitioners. "There is no big field out there, there is no one to pay the bills."

Comments

The term euthanasia means a good death. There is nothing good or fair about putting these horses to death. Nor does it need to happen. Friends of Animals will guarantee lifetime refuge placement for all 200+ New York City carriage horses when this dreary business ends.

I hope that NY will end this practice of Horse Carriage Rides. Who wants to freeze in the winter or roast in the summer to take an open air ride because a horse is pulling the cart? It just seems there are so many other wonderful things to do in the city. The Horses certainly, without a doubt, do not want to. All that traffic and noise -- seems just so cruel and unnecessary. Nobody that I recall has been able to ask the horses how they feel about it......of course not....just look at their eyes and you'll see they really don't want to do this. What creature would?

Let these horses live out their days in peace. this isn't the OLD WEST!!!

The issue is not about tradition as Bloomberg and others contend but about what is ethically and morally RIGHT. We need pro-active voices for the voiceless to end all animal suffering and misery that is rampid throughout world cultural societies.

First of all, huge kudos to you for wanting to do something about this poor horse!Here's how it works: You report animal neglect (see below). After you report an animal being neglected, an officer comes to check things out. They will NOT say who reported the neglect. Then, by law, the officer has to give notice to the person that has the animal that the he/she has so many days to fix the situation. After that time is up and the owner hasn't taken better care of the animal, animal control will take the animal. The animal is either held by the local authorities (if they have a stable) or by the local humane society or large animal rescue group. Usually the animal is rehabilitated and a new home found. In extreme cases of pain and suffering, an animal can be put down, but that's usually not the case. The owner usually has to pay a fine or appear in court or both.To report animal abuse or neglect, you need to contact Animal Control officers in you state. Here is the list of every Animal Control office in the US, sorted by state:You can, and should, also contact the local sheriff/police and humane society. The more you contact people about this, the faster something will be done! Keep calling them to follow up on the case, because otherwise it will slip through the cracks!If you can take pictures of the horse without trespassing, like from the road or after being invited, pics help A LOT. Pictures will convince authorities much faster, and they can be used to get the horse out of there faster and then prosecute the owner later if necessary. Good luck!!

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