By Edita Birnkrant
The posters could be seen from afar, heart shaped, bright-red and bold, urging passersby:
Give Horses a Valentine: Their Freedom
Have a Heart; Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages
Don’t Break Cupid’s Heart; Say NO to Carriage Rides
Our calls rose above the traffic and horns of midtown Manhattan: Ban carriage horses, there’s no excuse for horse abuse!
This Valentine’s day, tourists, families, New Yorkers on their lunch breaks, and couples heading for a stroll in Central Park were greeted by Friends of Animals supporters and horse advocates who lined a Manhattan block at Central Park South, the pick-up spot for horse-drawn carriage customers.
People cheered, gladly taking our pink flyers which asked New Yorkers to support Tony Avella’s pending bill to ban horse-drawn carriages, and which urged readers to boycott the exploitative industry.
Helping us gain even more attention from the public was the horse-drawn carriage industry’s counter-protest of our rally. This handful of people came ill-prepared with hastily scrawled signs opposing a different animal-advocacy group – whoops! They shouted obscenities, threats, and became physically aggressive. Parents with small children had to endure the stream of obscenities that a counter-protester relentlessly spewed. When these parents objected to the language, the industry rep became even more hostile, and called them “retards.”
In contrast, Friends of Animals and our advocates were energetic yet dignified and respectful, and the public took note. The parents vocalized their support for the ban, and thanked us for being there. We received a stream of smiles, and the counter-protest was moved away by the police.
Nancy Rice, Outreach Coordinator for FoA, recalled a particularly memorable moment at the rally.
“Two men stopped on the corner, each one taking a flyer from me. A carriage went past us and one man said to me ‘the horses look different to me now’ and went on to say that he’s lived in New York City his entire life and didn’t think much about them, other than they’ve always been there. He thanked me.”
It was an inspiring day as our gathering of supporters called for justice for the horses, in the face of a blunt backlash from the industry that exploits them. It’s easy to stand strong and proud when your cause is one of respect and dignity for animals who have no other way to demand it. We watched as the occasional carriage pulled by a horse clomped by with passengers, and we envisioned the day that these horses would be in sanctuaries instead of between the shackles of their carriages, forced into a brutal existence that only ends with death. Watching the faces of the passengers in the carriages who rode by us, taking in our posters, our chants, our passion, I thought: It’s a Valentine’s Day they’ll remember forever.
We are at a crucial point in our campaign to ban horse-drawn carriages. Support is building for Council Member Tony Avella’s historic bill to ban the carriage horse industry. Other international cities such as Paris, London, Toronto and Bejing, along with many US cities, have banned horse-drawn carriages.
Please help us to add New York City to the list by writing or calling your Council Member and urging them to co-sponsor Tony Avella’s legislation: Intro 658. To find your council member, all 311, or go to www.council.nyc.gov. Non-New Yorkers can call 311 and leave a message for Mayor Bloomberg.