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ASPCA Probing Stable Death of NYC Carriage Horse - denied health records; asked to do FOIL request

NEW YORK, February 8, 2008—The ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) , in looking into yesterday’s death of a carriage horse in his stable, has been told to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the New York City Department of Health, in order to obtain the horse’s veterinary and other records.

“This is unprecedented,” said ASPCA President & CEO Ed Sayres. “ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement agents have never before been asked to file a FOIA request in order to obtain records that would help to determine whether or not an animal’s death is due to an act of cruelty.”

The horse, an eight-year-old, male Draft Percheron, was found dead at the Clinton Park stables on 11th Avenue near 52nd Street at approximately 10 p.m. on Thursday, February 7, according to stable personnel. The horse reportedly had not worked since last Saturday, February 2, and was being treated by a licensed veterinarian.

The Department of Health reported the horse’s death to the ASPCA today at 1 p.m. When ASPCA agents requested the horse’s records from them, administration officials refused to provide information and directed ASPCA agents to file a FOIA request, which can be an extremely long process.

“The ASPCA is authorized by the Attorney General to enforce animal cruelty laws in the state of New York, and we’re being stonewalled by City government,” said Sayres. “All we want to do is ascertain the cause of death and take the appropriate action, should it turn out to be due to animal cruelty—but without those records, our hands are tied.”

Since its founding in 1866, the ASPCA has enforced carriage horse and animal cruelty laws in New York City as part of its extensive local services. Its agents currently monitor horses and their drivers while out in the field, in addition to a providing a dedicated agent to all matters relating to their care. In December 2007, the ASPCA supported Councilman Tony Avella’s proposed bill to ban carriage horses from New York City streets.

The carriage horse industry has been coming under increasing scrutiny in recent months. Last September, New York City Comptroller William Thompson released an Audit Report on the Licensing and Oversight of the Carriage Horse Industry by the Departments of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) and Consumer Affairs (DCA). The report pointed out the lack of required number of inspections of horse-drawn carriages, an absence of veterinary examinations in the field, the presence of too many passengers in carriages and the lack of designated formal hack stands that result in horses often standing in their own waste without shade or water. Further, an amendment to the New York City Administrative Code proposed in 1982 to create an advisory board only recently convened, and is comprised primarily of industry representatives and supporters.

Under NYC law, DOHMH and DCA are currently tasked with regulating the carriage horse industry, as well as licensing drivers and enforcing regulations to govern the horses’ care, and the New York City Police Department is authorized to enforce the laws governing carriage horses and animal cruelty laws. However, the ASPCA has long overseen the treatment of the carriage horses on a voluntary basis, despite limited resources.

“Unfortunately, neither New York City’s urban environment, nor the current law, can provide horses with these fundamental necessities to ensure their safety and well being,” Sayres said, “and we need to change that, once and for all.”

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