Monday, July 28, 2008

Policing the industry

New York's finest must enforce the laws
New York Police Department officers have a mandate to enforce all laws, including those associated with the carriage horses. More often than not, however, NYPD officers choose not to enforce the laws around the welfare of the carriage horses.

When you see a horse in distress or suspect that a carriage driver is violating the law, make a complaint. Call the ASPCA at (212) 876-7700, extension 4450. It's helpful if you can provide the horse and the carriage identification numbers when making a complaint. Also, please notify the mayor's office at (212) 564-7757 about your concerns. There are a number of logistical challenges in this process, but authentic complaints will be investigated.

Be a voice for a horse. There aren't enough people looking after them.
Barbara, from Australia, spoke with me in June, near the hack line. She said: "The horses don't look healthy." Brandy and Steven, who moved to NYC from Paris, confirmed for us that horse-drawn carriages have long been banned in Paris--despite allegations to the contrary.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

In defense of Rome's carriage horses

At least someone in Italy has the guts to escalate the issue of carriage horse mistreatment to a higher level. Read more

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

New York City's wild west

Can things get worse in Hell's Kitchen?
First, there's Shamrock Stables (pictured), and nearby are two other stables that have been in the news of late. None offers respite for overworked carriage horses.

A brave correspondent gave a hair-raising account of illegal, dangerous, and outrageous misconduct that she witnessed this week in the neighborhood. Not surprisingly, the route would indicate that this involved a carriage driver from one of two southernmost stables, either the awful West Side Livery or the dreadful Central Park Carriage Stables. (The latter, of course, is the stable owned by Cornelius Byrne, who was arrested in December on accusations of attempting to bribe an undercover officer to overlook alleged violations at his stable on West 37th Street).

The driver had traveled north on 11th Avenue, and then turned right on W. 45th Street. WHOA! That's a problem, because at this point the driver was traveling EAST on a WESTBOUND street, by way of the sidewalk!

It got worse. To get right at the busy intersection of 10th Avenue and 45th Street, the driver then decided to cut through the HESS fuel station, a block-long monstrosity of angry taxicab drivers, at-risk pigeons, jaywalking pedestrians, and automobile drivers who zigzag diagonally across the station to get from point A to point Q. Finally the driver pulled out onto 10th Avenue and went the correct way--with traffic--northbound on that dangerous journey to Central Park.
I COULDN'T DREAM THIS UP! Last year, a car knocked over a gas pump at that Hess Station! Thank God for shutoff valves. For the sake of humanity, please don't make horses go the wrong way on a way-way street and walk onto the speedway that is the Hell's Kitchen Hess station.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Ten minutes in the life

On Sunday night, just before 8 p.m. on West Drive in Central Park, I watched three mischief-making children try to climb onto a moving carriage that had passengers. One child fell into the roadway, losing a shoe and only narrowly avoiding the carriage's wheels. This incident, while not the carriage driver's fault, is typical of the nonsense that goes on in the park, especially on a summer weekend. Keep in mind that the New York City carriage driver is not required to carry much in the way of insurance.

Not two minutes later, the driver of this carriage was seen letting a young child take the reins, with his supervision, near Tavern on the Green. That same child--a little girl of around 6 years old--had both hands on the reins when I saw this carriage around 61st Street, preparing to exit to Central Park South. The horse was moving at a brisk clip, a canter, and the kid was loving it. She knew nothing of the danger, of course.
Wrong, misguided, and illegal. Where is the ASPCA when you need it? The drivers have got eagle eyes. Maybe the rare sighting of an ASPCA humane law enforcement officer is what the drivers are always discussing so earnestly on the cell phone--another favorite pasttime of theirs. I guess it does get boring, counting cash and operating what the drivers view as an amusement park "ride." The carriage's license number started with a "10" and ended with "3." He knows he who is.
The horse shown in the photo is not the one that is described above. Rather, this horse is seen eating food off the streets of NYC. Let's hope some water was made available.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Noisy spectacles: what have we learned?

Noise near horses: "human error"
The sights and sounds of Central Park, particularly the southernmost section that is the carriage horses' primary workplace, lend it a carnival-like atmosphere. Indeed, Wollman Rink is transformed into an actual amusement park in the summertime.

A recent parade procession unfolded near the hack line, complete with floats, bells, drummers, and bullhorns herding parade-goers toward Fifth Avenue. It ended well, but conjured up memories of the accident last year that killed Smoothie. Spooked by the sound of drums, the mare bolted, collapsed and died.

Such a response to noise is tragic but predictable among these nervous animals. After Smoothie's death, the carriage industry said it would call for a ban on "overly loud" music in the area. “It’s a deep human error on their part to make that music around these horses," said Smoothie's owner, Cornelius Byrne, speaking from his heart as well as his head. But nothing changes--the noisy spectacles continue in the park and around the hack line.
The park was very crowded and had a circus atmosphere on Thursday evening, a muggy night that saw the horses out in full force. The Parks Department, among other entities that can issue summonses for failure to comply with regulations set forth for the carriage industry, is a virtual non-entity in enforcing these laws, generally speaking. As for the parade, an ASPCA officer who was asked if the horses should be out under these circumstances said there's nothing he could do.
Photo used courtesy of a friend of carriage horses; video provided by Donald Moss.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Feeling the heat in Rome, Memphis

Exposed to a million dangers
When in Rome, take pity on the carriage horses. As in New York, these beasts of burden toil in searing heat and heavy traffic and live in shabby stables. Time for the Eternal City to move forward and ban this industry.
AP Photo/Courtesy of ENPA/HO

Anyone who needs a reminder of why it's a terrible idea to put horses in traffic should read about Tuesday's accident in downtown Memphis, where a truck rear-ended a horse-drawn carriage that was sitting on the side of the road. The carriage driver is recovering and, against all odds, the horse and a puppy that was a passenger on the carriage escaped serious injury in the crash.

Horses do not belong in any city's traffic. In New York City, we have an unprecedented opportunity to support legislation that would ban horse-drawn carriages (Intro. 658). Let your City Council member hear from you on this issue today!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Of log books and law judges

Problems of infrequent and substandard veterinary care were disclosed in the 2007 city audit of the carriage horse industry, and so was poor record-keeping. Here's a neat example of both.

In July 2007, a carriage driver escaped an inhumane treatment charge, but was fined $200, after a Department of Consumer Affairs inspector noticed an open wound on the withers (the area between the shoulder blades) of a working carriage horse, in violation of city rules that prohibit working a horse with an open wound. The driver helped his case, apparently, by testifying that he had discovered the wound in the stable after a day's work, and that he immediately dressed the wound and took the horse out of service. However, the driver's testimony could not be confirmed by his log book entries.

Based on testimony, an administrative law judge dismissed the inhumane treatment charge. But because the judge found that the driver had not consistently entered in his log book the times he had returned the horse to the stable, the driver was fined $200. [Violation # LL5047122]

The audit had plenty to say about the disturbingly bad record-keeping. Hmm. I wonder why they do that? The drivers--and the industry's public relations machine--keep saying that the industry is a pretty tight ship. What would be the advantage of keeping poor records of the horses' shifts and their physical ailments (including open wounds)? This from an industry that wants more self-regulation. Shameful.

And what about that driver I saw fairly galloping a horse July 4th on Central Park West? Mr. Carriage Driver (whose name I won't share here), you know it's illegal, don't you? It would be great if the ASPCA had more than a handful of humane law officers, and if the police would do their jobs and enforce the carriage industry laws, and if the Department of Health would do its job in minding this business. The latter surely won't happen, given that Linda Gibbs of the DOH is married to Thomas McMahon, whose lone associate in his firm is a carriage industry lobbyist. All of which is an embarrassing conflict of interest. It's junior high school politics. Except it's real life in my city.
Read: Political Entrenchment 101 (HorseWatchNYC)
See a recap of the audit of the industry and read the NYC Comptroller's News Release (2007)
Familiarize yourself with the laws pertaining to the industry and the horses' treatment

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Don't ask an officer to help a horse

The treatment of the horses in Central Park in summertime is an absolute disgrace, and few people give a damn about it. Suppose you are a compassionate person who wants to report mistreatment or abuse, at 11 p.m., or midnight, or even later. You would tell a police officer, wouldn't you? Sadly, most don't care and most don't know the laws pertaining to horse-drawn carriages.

Last night in Central Park, at 1 a.m., a horse's legs were buckling under, no doubt after a long shift or two in the heat with not enough water (lack of water was one of the problems disclosed in the city's audit of the industry in 2007). The police officers were told and did nothing, and even acted indignant. The night before, at the request of tourists, a driver whipped a horse to gallop. Did you know this is against the law? This was news to the individual who returned the call from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Animal protectors? Pardon me while I puke.
Is this provincial China or New York City? It's becoming difficult to tell the difference. Corrupt politicians, complacent police officers, and ignorant employees of an organization that has a mission to prevent cruelty. ASPCA founder Henry Bergh must be spinning in his grave. And cops here are known for their ignorance of law. I've seen them say it's illegal to feed pigeons, for example. NOT.
READ "A Day at the Hack Line" (2007)
DON'T just stand there, do something! Volunteer for the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages
HOLIDAY weekends? Not for the horses. Learn more about Bud's accident (2007)
Note: THE ASPCA supports a full ban on horse-drawn carriages, and this can't come soon enough because the organization obviously is ill-equipped to do much about the plight of the horses.
UPDATE: The New York Police Department has a mandate to uphold all laws, including those pertaining to carriage horses. Officers generally choose to look the other way when they see violations in the horse-drawn carriage industry. Summonses can be issued also by the NYC Department of Mental Health and Hygiene and the Parks Department, as well as the ASPCA.