ASPCA — huh?

This is a bit off topic for this site, but it’s been nagging at me, so here goes — I’m a big mush about animals. Usually, if I hear about mistreatment of animals, I’m as outraged as anybody. However —

Currently there’s a growing movement to end the horse-drawn carriage rides in Manhattan. There’s an article about this at the Guardian that implies the carriage business is unregulated and the horses overworked, suffering, and maltreated generally. It portrays the animals pulling boatloads of tourists in all kinds of weather and then going home to dirty little stalls in somebody’s basement.

I did some googling and learned —

The horses may not work in temperatures above 89 degrees F or below 19 degrees F. They are not allowed to work in blizzards. The Central Park website advises tourists, “Often the authorities will send the carriages home at 87 degrees…. ASPCA has, on occasion, sent horses home on short notice when it snows.”

They may not pull more than four adult (as in over 12 years old) passengers at once. NYC carriage horses come in all sizes, but most of the ones I’ve seen run toward heavier builds, with some probably weighing as much as 1,500 pounds. They keep to a moderate pace. They work 9-hour days, which includes time standing in the shade on Central Park South waiting for fares.

Carriage horses must be between the ages of 5 and 26. They must be seen by a vet twice a year. The size and condition of their stabling is regulated. According to a recent NY Times editorial,

The horses are well treated and monitored closely by the city. We dropped unannounced into Clinton Park Stables, one of four allowed to provide city carriages, and saw that the horses are treated better than advertised. They have large stalls, water that flows with the nudge of a nose and plenty of hay. “These horses were bred to pull a carriage,” says Dr. Dennis Farrell, a veterinarian who helps the city with its large horse population (think police, etc.).

The down side is that most of the year the horses have no free time in a pasture. Per a new ordinance passed last year, they must get five weeks of vacation in country pastures every year.

The carriages are not allowed south of 34th Street. They tend to stay in or near Central Park, sometimes venturing into other parts of midtown. Generally air quality is pretty good, for a city, around there. No smog or toxic smells. People are always jogging in Central Park, after all. There are occasional incidents with cars, but I can’t find an example of an accident in recent years that injured the horse. A recent incident in which a taxi struck a carriage resulted in severe injury to the driver, but the horse was fine.

So while this may not be horsie utopia, it doesn’t strike me as extreme abuse, either.

Now, here’s where it gets weird. Earlier this year a carriage horse named Charlie, aged 15, was being walked to his job in the park when he collapsed and died. All I know about Charlie’s history is that he had spent most of his life as an Amish farm horse. The ASPCA released results of a necropsy that said Charlie had had a chipped tooth and a stomach ulcer and had died in pain.

However, very recently the veterinarian who did the necropsy issued a retraction:

Dr. Pamela Corey, the ASPCA’s head equine vet, tried to retract statements made in the official ASPCA press release. She claimed that she was under intense pressure while writing the release and that, in fact, there was no evidence Charlie was in any sort of pain before he died.

The ASPCA then suspended Corey without pay, and sources said the veterinarian has filed a formal complaint against the agency with the attorney general’s office.

Although not conclusive as to the cause of Charlie’s death, the full necropsy results indicate some scarring of the liver that is “of unknown clinical significance.” It also mentions stomach issues, though not an ulcer specifically.

“Though the visual examination of the stomach showed gastritis (inflammation of the stomach), much of what was seen visually may have been the result of tissue breakdown after death,” the ASPCA statement read.

The statement also said that Charlie was in “good nutritional condition,” and there was no evidence of a heart condition. It is possible, the report continued, that Charlie was exposed to something toxic or suffered an allergic reaction or that he had an abnormal heartbeat.

The New York ASPCA joined the opposition to the carriage horse trade awhile back. And now they’re pressuring their vets to issue bogus necropsy results for The Cause?

If the life of a Manhattan carriage horse really does amount to maltreatment, I’d support stopping the business. But I wonder if some of the opposition to the carriages isn’t a bit fanatical. I think some people might have read Black Beauty a few too many times.

Update: Here’s another article about the movement to ban the carriage horses. There’s definitely something screwy going on. One of the people involved in the movement is a real estate developer named Nislick who wants to get his hands on the land where the stables are now. I’m disappointed the SPCA got sucked into this.

10 thoughts on “ASPCA — huh?

  1. I live in rural Maine, and one of my neighbors (and a friend) has a few draft horses he uses for ecological wood-lot maintenance. In other words, they pull whole trees out of the forest without having to make roads. He says the biggest problem is slowing them down. They love, love, love to work.

    I’ve suspected that the carriage horse story is manufactured, so thank you for looking into it.

    Maybe the SPCA has done such a good job preventing genuine cruelty to animals that they need to create demand for their services. That last sentence is, of course, snark.

  2. I first went to Sea World in the 70%. There was an original Sham, and I saw him ‘kiss’ a visitor selected at random from the crowd. Now they won’t let the crew in the water with the whales. Yes, there was a fatal accident. Killer whales are not kittens, but the bond between man and animals is beautiful with a cat or dog. The relationship is sublime when the creature is as big, smart and strong as an Orka.

    Sea World is many generations into their program. Many (if not all) the killer whale ‘performers’ were born at Sea World. That says something about how comfortable the animals are. No one who has seen the show could be indifferent to whaling, or casual about our responsibility to the seven seas. Not everyone agrees with me, but top quality zoos, including those which have interaction between humans and animals do an enormous service.

  3. I too, am very sensitive to the care and feeding of animals, and to make sure that there’s no abuse.

    And while there have been abuses in the past, I know that things have improved for the horses in the last century plus, and especially in the last few decades, because of GOVERNMENT regulations, oversight, and inspections.

    My question is, where is the right-wing on this?
    Come on, folks – let’s apply some Conservative principles to these issues:
    -Let’s see, the horses can’t be too young or too old? Where’s Newt talking about pony labor? Or someone talking about horses working until they drop, and then sending them to the glue factory.
    -They can only work a certain number of hours and can only pull a certain number of adyults. Sloth! Why limit equine productivity?
    -They can’t work when it’s too hot or cold or in certain areas. Do we now have an OSHA for horses, too?
    -They have to be properly watered, fed and housed? We never give a sh*t if our employees are well fed, are properly hydrated, and the conditions they live in, why do we care about the horses?
    If one of our Galtian Overlords wants to hire a horse drawing a XXXL carriage on a 100 degree day, load it with 20 of his “Job Creator (all kneel)” pals, and take it down to Wall Street down the FDR Drive, why can’t they?
    Where’s the freedom?
    Where’s the Liberty?
    Where, for the love of Jesus, is the American Equine Exceptionalism?

    I’m sorry, but in this day and age, it’s kind of strange to see this much more concern over the working and living conditions of animals than people.

    And NOT that it’s a bad thing at all. Maybe this is all a step in the right direction.

    What a much better country we’d be if we were only as sensitive to the care. feeding, and housing of humans and their families, and to make sure that there’s no abuse.

    And while I can’t be sure, I don’t think in this case there was any abuse.

    But I do know that if there was, it would be a lot harder for the person who worked it to death, or didn’t take care of it, to get another horse, than for an abusive employer to find another person willing to try to do the same thing under the same, or worse, conditions. And it happens every single day.

  4. We have two horses and until a few years ago we had two older rescue horse as well. I agree with Gordon, horses need to be well cared for and well fed, but if they have those conditions, they really do seem to love having something to do. Star, one of our rescue horses was blind and over thirty years old, I used to let her roam free in our front yard. She had very good “map” of the layout in her head, probably guided mostly by smell and the sound of the radio in the barn. One day one of the neighbor’s kids, who was a very experienced rider, wanted to ride her. Star LOVED being ridden. It was really remarkable to see her pick her head up high and trot with what seemed like real pride. I know, I am anthropomorphizing.

    Horses are also very curious and they seem to enjoy being involved in human activity. If I am fixing a fence or something inside the pasture, our horses are always right there putting in their two cents and massaging the top of my head with their lips. — I guess the point is if they haven’t been abused, they enjoy human company and affection. Having carriage passengers pet them and fuss over them would be something they would enjoy and benefit from.

    The lot of horses is not always as fortunate as we might hope. It sounds like the carriage horses have a pretty good life compared to many. Besides, anyone who has had horses knows that skimping on nutrition and veterinary care would be very false economy indeed and end up costing a lot more than keeping the animal healthy. By the way, gastric problems are a major cause of death and medical problems in horses. They have fragile guts and even a variation in their hay can cause them to colic.

    Unrelated, but a sad reminder, an estimated 350,000 horses died in WWI. Those who have read Civil War history will shudder to think of the ordeal they weathered.

    Sorry, to have gone on so long and pointlessly, as you might guess, I am rather partial to horses.

  5. Cundgulag wrote: -They have to be properly watered, fed and housed? We never give a sh*t if our employees are well fed, are properly hydrated, and the conditions they live in, why do we care about the horses?

    The difference here is that as workers, we can go get water just about anytime we want, and we can certainly stop by a water fountain anywhere on the street or in the plant. The horses cannot do this: they are hooked up to those carriages, and yes, they are controlled. Good handlers will make sure they have all the water they need to keep them healthy. Handlers who have little experience with horses will not. And that is why rules need to be made for horses being used in our parks and on our streets. Not all owners understand the needs of their horses.

  6. Hmm, me too, goatherd. I used to keep horses and they are fascinating personalities – not nearly as dumb as many people think.

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