Posted by: animalvoice | December 9, 2009

Romantic Abomination

     Okay, I know what you’re thinking; those two words don’t really go together. In most cases, I would agree with you. However, it is the perfect title to describe the destruction of the romantic nature of Central Park in New York City.

     No one will deny that Central Park is one of the most romantic places in New York City; in New York; maybe even in the world. When the words ‘romance’ and ‘Central Park’ are linked together, an image is immediately conjured in my mind. The setting is a cold, winter night at dusk, and the scene is of a couple snuggled under a blanket, with only eyes for each other, being driven through the snow in a handsome horse drawn carriage. There may be champagne and possibly an engagement ring, who knows. The sky’s the limit and everything seems right with the world. It’s the stuff that dreams were made of. It sounds like a ‘Currier & Ives’ painting or a scene from a romantic movie. Okay, did I mention that I’m an aspiring romance novelist? No, well, so that might be a little over the top but, you get my drift.

     Well if you’ve been following this blog, you know that I am a mother to three quadra-peds, and a staunch animal activist, with a mission to bring matters of animal cruelty and abuse to the forefront. I’ve been quiet lately, but I feel compelled to write about this topic.

     So this is where the second word in the title comes from. For every romantic image conjured, there is an equally horrific image of animal cruelty and abuse. The romance is a fallacy conjured by the industry, which is an abomination.

      Who said a photo was worth a thousand words?

 

A most horrific hansom cab accident in midtown Manhattan – January 2, 2006. Photo © by Catherine Nance  

      This picture is the scene of an accident between a horse-drawn carriage and a station wagon at the intersection of Ninth Avenue and 50th Street. Spotty, a five year old carriage horse, spooked by blaring traffic horns, bolted on the midtown street, ejected the driver and galloped straight into the station wagon. Three people were hospitalized, one critically. The horse was pinned under the car and had to be euthanized. It took police and fire department thirty minutes to extricate the horse from under the car. This story was reported on page 6 of the Daily News, on January 3, 2006. The two people in the car were not seriously injured, but the ejected carriage driver suffered head injuries

     The Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages, a standing committee of the Coalition for New York City Animals, Inc., was formed by Elizabeth Forel in 2005, in response to horrific accidents just like this one.

      The most recent accident between a horse-drawn carriage and a vehicle (a taxicab) was on September 19, 2009, when the taxi drove into the carriage. The carriage driver and the taxi driver were both hospitalized, thankfully, the horse was uninjured.

     Did you know that the horses don’t live in Central Park? I didn’t know that. I always just assumed they did. Well they don’t. The over 200 horses are actually stabled in multi-storied stables on the west side of Manhattan. The furthest stable is two miles from Central Park. How do you think the horses get to Central Park? They are driven on the side of the street in traffic with vehicles. It is normal for horses to ‘react to threatening situations with panic and flight’. What could be more threatening than the loud sounds of city traffic? I refuse to even contemplate driving in NYC, so I can’t imagine what it’s like for the horses.

     The living conditions of the horses are horrid. They live in small stables approximately 4 x 10 feet (yet a recommended size for a large horse is 12 x 12 ft) which are too short for a horse to be able to lie down and sleep. They also work nine hour days, seven days a week. I’d like to see our politicians work those hours.  

     What about weather conditions? Sure, your imagination drifts to the happy couple in a comfy blanket on a blustery, snowy ride through Central Park, right? Well what about the poor horses, they aren’t warm and cozy. Current legislation says that the horses may not work when the temperature is 90 degrees or above, or 18 degrees or below. So in other words, unless the horse drops dead from heat stroke or frostbite, it has to do its job.

     Statistics have shown that the average working life for a NYC carriage horse is 4 years, whereas the average working life for a NYC police horse is 14-15 years. Gee I wonder why that is?

     Did you ever think about what happens to the horses as they get too lame to work in these slave-like conditions? The industry would want you to believe the fallacy that they are all rescued and live out their lives on an idyllic farm somewhere. In reality, they are sold and the money is spent to buy new horses. Present law requires the horses to be sold or disposed of in a humane matter. Some horses from NYC that have been sold have been found and rescued from slaughter auctions.

     The Coalition has been attempting to bring this issue to the public and has finally gotten some recognition. In 2007, City Council Member, Tony Avella, introduced a bill, Intro 658 to ban horse-drawn carriages. This is the first time ever that legislation was introduced to ban this archaic out-of-place industry.

     In a letter to the editor of the Times Ledger on January 17, 2008, Mr. Avella responded to opposition to his proposed ban on horse-drawn carriages with the following statement:

     “I believe that we have grown as a society to recognize that the mistreatment of any animal is simply wrong. I guess the Times Ledger feels differently. The paper ignores the fact that in the last year and a half there have been seven accidents involving horse-drawn carriages. As a result, three horses have died and five people have been injured. As far as it being a big tourist attraction – are you going to tell me that a prospective tourist is not going to come to New York City because they can’t get a ride on a horse-driven carriage? That is absolute nonsense and belittles all that the city has to offer. Since I introduced the legislation, I have received support from an overwhelming number of New Yorkers. In addition, I have received an equal number of supportive e-mail messages from people all across the country. In fact, quite a number of tourists have stated that they would never take a ride on one of these carriages and are ashamed of New York City for continuing this practice. The inhumane treatment of the horses simply must end. It is time to put this industry out to pasture. It is shame that the Times Ledger does not see that.”

     A letter to the editor of the NY Daily News, on January 15, 2009, reported that from 1998 until 2008 there have been at least 22 serious horse-drawn carriage accidents resulting in five horse deaths and nineteen human injuries.

     The Coalition believes that it is essential to ban this archaic out-of-place industry. It has drafted a petition in support of the ban which has gathered between 40,000 to 50,000 signatures online (including my own) and on the street. I urge you to visit the website located at www.banhdc.org and sign the online petition.

     This is not just a NYC problem either. A survey of national carriage horse accidents revealed that 85% of all accidents were the result of ‘spooking’ the horse. Seventy percent of the time there was human injury and 22% of the time there was human death. Not surprisingly, New York City has the highest carriage horse accident rate in the country, and 98% of the horses that are spooked become injured.

     Pressure from concerned residents has resulted in bans on carriage horses in a growing number of cities, including Palm Beach, Florida; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Las Vegas, and Reno, Nevada; London; Paris; Beijing, and Toronto. Most recently New Delhi, India just banned carriage horses.

     In early 2008, rock star Pink got involved in the movement through her PETA involvement. She has been quoted as saying, “It honestly hurts my heart when I think of what those horses must be feeling, as far as anxiety and fear, and how unnatural and wrong it is for these animals to have blinders on, trotting up and down on concrete, while taxis blare and people scream. It’s absolutely unnatural and ignorant of us to continue this outdated tradition. What about this is romantic?”

     Mayor Michael Bloomberg in defense of the carriage horse trade stated in a letter to the editor of the NY Metro on December 31, 2007, that, “These are things that the tourists like and New Yorkers like, and they define a city.”

     Huh? What was the Mayor thinking? Obviously he wasn’t thinking about the horses. Unfortunately, Councilman Avella’s term ends at the end of this month. Thankfully, the bill will be reintroduced in early 2010, under a different number, by it’s new sponsor, Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito.

     An integral part of the proposed legislation in my eyes, is that it revises §17-329 concerning ‘humane disposition’ of the horses as: ‘either being sold or donated to a private individual, or a duly incorporated animal sanctuary or animal protection organization, that signs an assurance that the horse will not be sold and shall be kept as a companion animal and cared for the remainder of the horse’s natural life.’ 

     The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), executive director, Ed Sayres states ”the ASPCA, a privately-funded agency, continues to voluntarily – and at it’s own expense – do the city’s job, monitoring the activity and enforcing the regulations that govern horses’ handling, care and welfare. The city’s taxpayers (knowingly or unknowingly) are subsidizing the very industry the city should be overseeing by allowing them to work out of city owned property, and revenues from their business are not subject to sales tax.” (www.aspca.org)

     The New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets (NYCLASS), executive director Jared Rosen, states, “The horse carriages…are expensive, unsanitary and dangerous to humans and the horses.” Not only does it affect the public health, it also subjects the horses to inhumane conditions. Furthermore,  “the carriage horse [live in stables on] prime real estate that could be used for more affordable housing for people, which the city desperately needs…It’s time for New Yorkers to demand an alternative to the carriage horses, specifically ‘green’ (eco-friendly) replicas of antique cars.” (www.ny-class.org) Furthermore, a similiar initiative has been successfully implemented in San Francisco, by NYCLASS.

     These cars can provide the rides that tourists want, offer jobs to the carriage workers with the potential for higher wages, and maintain the historic and romantic feel of the tours through Central Park.  The cars will eliminate the sanitation and health concerns for humans but, most of all put an end to the cruelty and inhumane treatment of the horses. 

     NYCLASS also vows that it “will rescue all carriage horses and place them on farms or other suitable sanctuaries to be recuperated to their natural, healthy capacity and live out the remainder of their lives [in peace and safety].”

     I agree with his suggestion. In this day and age, when we as a culture are moving towards ‘green,’ I think this is a great way to help clean up NYC and save the horses as well. Plus think of the nostalgia associated with driving through Central Park in a replica of a 20th century car, a remembrance to yesteryear, without animal cruelty. Because, after all, isn’t that what the tourism industry is trying to achieve with the horse-drawn carriages.

     However, NYCLASS and ASPCA propose a ‘phase-out’ of the horse drawn carriages over a three year period, as opposed to an all out ban NOW. In my heart, I disagree with that suggestion, even though it might be a more ‘politically acceptable compromise’ in the end.

     The Coalition and other animal rights activists say that the animals can’t wait. This practice has gone on way too long already. They propose a two-step process: first the total ban NOW, then later introduce the ‘vintage car’ industry as a replacement.

     In my OWN opinion I believe that the politics and economics will be the deciding factor in the end. A total ban NOW to be followed years later, if ever, with vintage cars will negatively affect the NYC economy at the worst possible time. We can’t just eliminate jobs without providing assistance to the drivers in the way of jobs or money. Unfortunately, I believe the only way that NYC can have enough votes to pass legislation and put the horse carriage industry out to pasture, will be if there is some sort of phase-out.

     Now don’t get me wrong, first and foremost, I’m an animal lover. I wish we could end it NOW, but realistically I don’t think it is feasible without the phase-out. To get any legislative change takes time, no matter what the industry, or the issue. Emotions run high because of the animals. But the end goal of both proposals is the same – the end of the cruelty and abuse of the horses. If that involves a phase out to achieve that goal, then although, it may have to be a tough pill for some activists to swallow, we will have to do it.

     All animals deserve respect not cruelty and abuse. They need a voice. Be that voice, go to the website www.banhdc.org, watch the videos and clips from the city council hearings on www.youtube.com, read the proposed legislation and take a stand. Help end this cruel, archaic, and unromantic industry.

     I’d love to hear your comments on this issue.

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