Horse Drawn Carriages
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Horse Drawn Carriages

A Face-Off Over Horse-Drawn Carriages

February 14, 2008, 5:49 pm
By Sewell Chan
See full article - NY Times

Opponents of the horse-drawn carriage industry, left, faced off against supporters of the industry in dueling Valentine’s Day protests on Central Park South. (Photo: Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times)

Even Cupid couldn’t bring these two together.

Valentine’s Day, like Christmas, is often associated with feelings of amity, reconciliation and good will toward others. But a rally by animal-rights activists seeking a ban on horse-drawn carriages in New York City resulted in police intervention this afternoon, after supporters of the industry held a noisy counterprotest. Police officers set up metal barricades to separate the two sides, which screamed and chanted at each other. Each group tried to drown the other out.

About 40 supporters of Friends of Animals, a nonprofit group that says it has 15,000 members in New York City, gathered on Central Park South near Fifth Avenue around 1 p.m., seeking to draw attention to what they described as the neglect and mistreatment of the roughly 200 horses that are licensed by the city to carriages.

“Valentine’s Day is one of the busiest days for carriage rides, but there’s nothing romantic about animal abuse,” Edita Birnkrant, the New York City campaign coordinator for Friends of Animals, said after the rally. “We just wanted to be there to tell the truth, that this isn’t romantic. It’s animal abuse, it’s cruelty, it’s an industry that exploits and causes suffering to these horses.”

The carriage industry, which is regulated by the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs, has faced a string of bad news in recent months.

Last July, after a collision that injured a horse and a taxicab driver, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages called for a ban on horse-drawn carriages. In early September, an audit by the city comptroller’s office found inconsistencies in the oversight processes used to ensure the well-being of the horses. Later that month, a horse was killed in an accident on Central Park South, prompting an investigation by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

But the greatest threat of all to the industry came in December, when City Councilman Tony Avella, a Queens Democrat who is planning to run for mayor in 2009, proposed a legislative ban on horse-drawn carriages, saying: “The animals are not being treated properly, and enough is enough. Horses are incompatible with traffic, especially Midtown traffic.”

Mr. Avella’s bill has not been acted upon yet, but the carriage owners have mobilized to defend their industry, hiring two lobbyists and a spokeswoman.

The spokeswoman, Carolyn Daly, dismissed the animal rights activists as a fringe group. “The horses are in excellent condition,” she asserted. “We’ve never had a cruelty violation. We have an impeccable safety record and it’s a popular, popular tourist attraction.”

Ms. Daly said the counterprotest was led by members of the New York Therapeutic Riding Program, a nonprofit group that uses horses — many of them held in the same stables where the carriage horses live — to assist adults and children with disabilities.

“They’re sick and tired, as are most New Yorkers, of this small group of animal extremists who just won’t shut up,” Ms. Daly said of the counterprotesters.

Calling the opponents of the industry “extremely delusional,” she insisted that there was “no public momentum” in support of a ban. The industry remains as popular among ever, she maintained, with “lines and lines of people every day” waiting for rides.

Ms. Daly also criticized the timing of the animal rights activists. “They continue to have a mean-spirited, negative approach to everything they do,” she said. “It’s Valentine’s Day. Go out with your boyfriend. Meet your husband for dinner. Love a horse. But no, not them. They’re outside, as usual, talking to deaf ears.”

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