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Lindsey Thomas
December 2008

Councilman alleges horses are subject to inhumane treatment

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Central Park's horse-drawn carriages may soon be gone. Hold your (allegedly) abused, overworked and easily spooked horses. New York City Councilman Tony Avella introduced a bill on Dec. 11 to ban the horse-drawn carriages in Central Park because of alleged inhumane treatment of the animals.

Organizations like the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals backed Avella's bill soon after its introduction. The carriage industry of the city, on the other hand, has been supported by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Within the NYU community, the group Students for Education on Animal Liberation has taken up the cause as well and stands by the proposed ban. SEAL screened a documentary about the treatment of carriage horses in Central Park.

"The footage was brutal and gruesome beyond words," said SEAL Secretary Christine Kim, a senior in the School of Social Work. "It's also somewhat expected in any animal industry, that wherever profit is derived from using animals, the welfare of the animal is secondary or even disregarded."

"The ASPCA can no longer accept the status quo," said ASPCA President and CEO Ed Sayres in a statement. "Increased accidents, the recent death of a carriage horse and the city comptroller's report all underscore the urgency to get these horses off the streets."

The horse accident mentioned by Sayres happened in January 2006, when a horse en route to its stable collided with a vehicle on Ninth Avenue. The horse later had to be euthanized. And last September, a break-dancing troupe's loud drumming noises spooked two horses; one died after it bolted and its carriage got trapped by a tree, and another horse crashed into a car.

Also in September, New York City Comptroller William Thompson released an audit report outlining the faults of the carriage horse industry. The report cited the industry's failure to meet carriage inspection requirements, the lack of veterinary examinations, the occasional excess of passengers in the carriages and the absence of regular shade or water for horses, which often forces them to stand in their own waste.

Carriage companies have defended their industry.

"The horse is our livelihood," said Arthur J. Nichols, owner of the Manhattan Carriage Company.

Nichols added that carriage drivers have families to take care of and mortgages to pay, and that if the bill is passed, these drivers will be out of work.

He also disputed accusations of animal mistreatment.

"Carriage horses in New York are given a purpose in life," Nichols said, and are treated well.

The ASPCA, according to its statement, is not completely against the use of horse-drawn carriages, "provided that animals' physiological and behavioral needs are fully met, housing and stable conditions are humane, and their working hours and conditions - such as temperature, humidity, proximity to traffic and rest periods - are carefully regulated."

Nichols said he believes improvements could be made in the industry's treatment of horses, but that "the city has never offered to subsidize, only criticize."

Another carriage company, Gotham Carriages, says that its horses are subject to daily inspections and aren't forced to work if sick or injured.

Carriage companies consider horse-drawn carriages a quaint staple of tourism in Central Park and New York City in general, a practice that is at once romantic and family-friendly.

"Our most important goal is to provide visitors with an enchanting experience and a lasting memory of a tradition that is undeniable New York," Francesca Alesse, owner of Gotham Carriages, wrote on the company website.

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