Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Revelers, Honking Horns, and Horses

New York City is a strange place during the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. Residents and tourists shuffle around with vacant looks, blowing on New Year's noise-makers and window-shopping. This evening, the city is in a state of total traffic gridlock; this is particularly true anywhere in the vicinity of midtown Manhattan. Main avenues are blocked off to make way for the New Year's Eve spectacle that will be taking place in Times Square. At Columbus Circle (about 17 blocks north of the festivities, and at the southernmost entrance to Central Park), horse-drawn carriages are stuck nose-to-tailpipe in heavy traffic that is being forced to detour. As ever, drivers are in a state of endless road-rage.

If you have never visited New York City, perhaps you think the horses live inside the park in Disney-esque fashion. Not so. They trudge through Times Square--"the Crossroads of the World," where avenues intersect--to and from their cramped and dirty stables on the city's west side. One such stable is at 520 W. 45th Street, the location of the sad-looking mess operated by Ian McKeever. Walk past it, if you dare. Don't be unnerved by the sprawling corner gasoline station that services all of the taxicabs, which then speed back onto the avenue to make a fare.

Visit Google Earth and see the dreadful traffic conditions in which New York City carriage horses are forced to work (search "Times Square.")
I fear for the horses. Every day, they work alongside fire engines, police sirens, buses, and angry drivers. And on December 31, a huge fireworks display in Central Park.

NY Sun: "The Objective Standard"? Oh, My!

Truth is stranger than fiction...

The editorialist at The New York Sun dismisses Councilman Avella's courageous legislation as "horse pucky." (Oh, no, he didn't! Yes, seriously!) This assertion would appear to be based on a letter from the ever-quotable Shamrock Stables owner, Ian McKeever, who has taken to calling Mr. Avella "a horse's ass." In a recent letter to the Sun, Mr. McKeever is said to have described the carriage horses as being in "excellent health and condition," according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and "our own independent veterinarians." That's good enough evidence for the Sun, it seems, to throw its full support behind this cash-only business that the city also endorses. (Say, what's the latest on Cornelius Byrne, who was arrested on charges of offering a bribe to an official to overlook seven violations at Mr. Byrne's stable?)

In the interest of accuracy, Mr. McKeever's statement requires clarification. In 2007, the ASPCA fully supports the ban that is proposed by Councilman Avella, as does the Humane Society of the United States and a host of other respected humane organizations. These decisions are not made lightly and are based on a review of best available evidence that in 2007 is incontrovertible.

Depending on who is speaking, a visit that Mr. Avella made to Shamrock Stables about two years ago is described in very different terms. Mr. McKeever takes every available opportunity to recount his recollection of the visit by Mr. Avella: "He was very happy and had nothing negative to say." Councilman Avella sharply dismissed that assertion; he calls it a "total lie." On that visit, Mr. Avella said recently, he visited stables, inspected conditions, and submitted follow-up questions that he says were never answered.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

I Always Wanted to Be an Extremist!

"Look, mom, I'm an extremist!" and other musings of a misfit

Carolyn Daly is the public relations wizard who was hired to represent the interests of the horse-drawn carriage industry in New York City. [Note to self: Yikes! She wants to blow my cover and is seeking to educate the public on us bad extremists.]

People protesting the industry "aren't activists, they are extremists," Ms. Daly said in a newspaper interview. [Wow, now that's a pretty sharp flack!]
"This is an industry that lives under a microscope," she said. [Pithy proclamation! I wonder if she will try to win our hearts and minds..."]

Maybe the pay raise that Councilman Gennaro has proposed for the horse-drawn carriage drivers can help the association afford the services of Ms. Daly, late of the labor council.

In supporting the important bill proposed by Councilman Avella, I am inspired to borrow a page from Ms. Daly's political playbook and paraphrase a famous campaign slogan: "In your heart, you know he's right." (That's right, the famous line from the Goldwater campaign. To which the industry replies, "In your guts, you know he's nuts." Guffaws all around.) Kudos to the editor for using "Goldwater" and "Daly" together!

Newsroom: Carriage Horses in Perspective

Support for the proposed ban on horse-drawn carriages in New York City has come from near and far. Read a robust report from New Zealand or this account from The (Glasgow, Scotland) Herald.

"Self-Regulation: Anything But Appropriate"

Two of the nation's largest humane organizations--the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)--support a ban on horse-drawn carriages in New York City. A spokeswoman for the HSUS denounced the carriage horse industry as unsafe. "Horses do not belong on the crowded, congested streets of modern cities and we are asking the New York City Council and Mayor Bloomberg to put a stop to this cruel industry," HSUS staff attorney Sherry Ramsey said December 8, 2007, at a news conference announcing legislation (Intro. 658) that would ban the industry in New York City. "As we have seen far too many times, mixing horses with busy city traffic is a recipe for disaster," Ms. Ramsey said.

The ASPCA also has joined a long list of supporters
of the legislation introduced by New York City Councilman Tony Avella. Recent events "underscore the urgency to get these horses off the streets," said ASPCA president and chief executive officer Ed Sayres. “As the primary enforcer of New York City’s carriage horse laws, the ASPCA can no longer accept the status quo."

In a news release, the ASPCA reinforced its position and sounded a cautionary note opposing two bills introduced by New York City Councilman James Gennaro; Intro. 652 would double the rates drivers can charge consumers, making the industry more lucrative, and Intro. 653 would remove the authority of the Departments of Health and Mental Hygiene and Consumer Affairs, the police, and agents of the ASPCA to inspect the horses and the stables. Instead, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene would contract with a non-governmental third party to perform this function.

Sayres cautioned that Councilman Gennaro's bills would remove oversight of the industry by law enforcement agents, including the ASPCA’s officers, who have expertise in equine care and a commitment to the welfare of animals. "What’s more, there will be nothing that precludes this industry from self-regulating through the proposed third-party arrangement—which is anything but appropriate,” said Sayres. “As the Comptroller’s recent audit clearly pointed out, this industry needs more effective enforcement, not less.”

Read "The HSUS Calls on New York City to Eliminate Inhumane Carriage Horse Industry"
"ASPCA Supports Proposed New Bill to Ban Carriage Horses from New York City"
Read Intro 658, the bill introduced by Councilman Avella

Monday, December 24, 2007

Carriage-Horse Accidents: Town and Country

Photos used courtesy of Shining Light Ministries, Texas (February 2008)

Public safety is a concern whenever carriage horses are deployed onto city streets. In New York City, at least six people have been hospitalized and three horses have died as a result of carriage horse accidents since 2006. An animal weighing 1,500 pounds or more becomes dangerous to itself and anything in its path when spooked. Consider what happened in September 2007, when the mare Smoothie panicked and died on a sidewalk just south of Central Park. As if that weren't tragic enough, another horse got startled by the commotion and ran over the top of a Mercedes-Benz with two passengers in it; the car was severely damaged but the passengers were not injured. In 2006, two occupants of a station wagon were injured when a horse ran into the vehicle in midtown Manhattan. The horse broke a shoulder and a leg and was euthanized.

The list of carriage-horse accidents in New York City is long. Smaller cities and towns with horse-drawn carriages also have their share of accidents. In December 2007 alone, carriage horses have been involved in accidents in St. Augustine, Florida; Thomasville, Georgia; Alton, Texas; Kansas City, Missouri; Ontario, Canada; and Tucson, Arizona, Aiken, S.C., and Farmington, Pa., to name a few. In Carlsbad, Mexico, two carriage horses were injured in a dog attack.

Horse-drawn carriages don't belong in traffic, anywhere. Putting a horse into traffic not only endangers the horse, but compromises public safety.

Update: Thankfully, in February, 2008, Shining Light Ministries in Alton, Texas reported that the injured minister has recovered from his serious injuries that he suffered in the December accident. He required numerous operations. The horses (shown in the photos) trampled the man after one of them was apparently spooked by an ATV. I did not see a report on injuries suffered by the horses; however, in the 2nd photo, one horse is seen with a leg bent onto the hood of the vehicle and the other is seen standing.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Quotable: Wayne Pacelle

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, weighed in on the issue following the death in September 2007 of Smoothie, a mare who collapsed after getting spooked by a drummer (a daily part of life in New York's Central Park.) Here's an except.

"The carriage horse owner's association now says it wants to limit music and noise in the area to protect the horses. It's a typical diversionary tactic from the industry. Trying to limit noise that may startle horses on the margins of the park is like trying to stop birds from singing in the hinterlands. It's folly.

The only way to protect the horses is to get them off the streets. If you go to New York, don't patronize this carriage horse business. If you live in New York, let your city council members know you are unhappy with the treatment of these animals."

Read "Big Apple Bustle No Place For Horses," posted Sept. 18, 2007 on Wayne's blog
Read "The
HSUS Calls on New York City to Eliminate Inhumane Carriage Horse Industry" (Dec. 8, 2007)

Eds' Note: Many experts have agreed that anything less than an outright ban on horse-drawn carriages in New York City would be inadequate. A "Band-Aid" proposal purporting to improve the treatment and circumstances of NYC carriage horses would be, well, folly. Nor is this an industry that is capable of regulating itself. (See December 22 post on Mr. Byrne.)

Say, How Does One Become a Carriage Horse Driver?

The New Yorker asked this question in 2006, following the particularly grisly death of a carriage horse. The horse, Spotty, had gotten spooked before galloping into a station wagon on Ninth Avenue at 50th Street. Ironically, this tragedy happened near the site of the old American Horse Exchange. The writer, Lauren Collins, acknowledged that the sight of a dead horse on a New York City avenue evoked a throwback to the brutish era of Boss Tweed. Anyway, Ms. Collins set out to determine what a prospective carriage driver needs to do to acquire a license. A home-study course was said to be required, although Ms. Collins didn't find evidence of any such course. A money order in the amount of $25 came in handy, though...
Read "From Here to There: Municipal Velvet." Published January 16, 2006.

Carriage Horse Owner Arrested on Bribery Charges

Cornelius Byrne, the owner of a carriage horse that died in a bizarre accident in Central Park, was arrested on charges of paying $100 to an undercover investigator to overlook violations at his stable. [New York Post, Dec. 14, 2007]

State of the NYC Carriage-Horse Industry, 2007

"The agencies entrusted with oversight here have dropped the ball."

--NYC Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr, in an interview published in The New York Times following the release of a city audit critical of the care of carriage horses.

The inconsistencies are "fascinating"...

Friday, December 21, 2007

Stay Tuned...

This site is new and under construction. Things are moving quickly. I'll hurry. Coming soon: history, bribery, and enthusiastic support from all over the world for a ban on horse-drawn carriages in New York City.

Horses Don't Belong in Any City's Traffic: Dispatch from America's Oldest City

In a letter to the editor of the St. Augustine Record, Eva Bromberek described a recent visit to the historic city: “We were going into a restaurant when I saw a horse that looked like it was in such bad condition. A van was behind the carriage honking at it, practically pushing it. It ruined my whole night,” Eva wrote. She also mentioned a hit-and-run recent accident (Dec. 8, 2007) in which a car rear-ended a horse-drawn carriage in St. Augustine and noted, “Through the years I have seen St. Augustine traffic get progressively worse, and the horses seem to be in more danger than ever before.” Eva wrote that while she has always enjoyed her visits to St. Augustine, she may not return. "I have almost reached the point that I have to make decisions about how much heart-wrenching animal suffering I can bear to watch on the streets of St. Augustine,” she wrote.

It is troublesome to imagine the plight of the horses who are forced to work in the sweltering heat of Florida, pulling carriages full of tourists while drivers honk their horns. Similarly, it is terrifying to see the horses working in New York City. It strikes fear and dread in my heart. Tourism is a major industry in Florida and New York, but inhumane treatment of animals is an inappropriate attraction. City leaders everywhere should take notice that prospective tourists making travel plans are taking into account the treatment and mistreatment of animals. People around the world are looking to New York City to set an example. St. Augustine and New York both have their glimpses of "old-world charm." The sight of horses pulling carriages in traffic, or lying dead in the street, does nothing to enhance this image.
Time to get the horses off the streets. Enough is enough.

Not a New Yorker? You can help NYC horses
NYC residents: Ask City Council Members to Support Intro. 658 (Introduced by Councilman Tony Avella)
Ask St. Augustine Mayor Joseph L. Boles to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages In the Nation's Oldest City