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.