Carriage Ban Debated at NY City Hall Meeting

February 1, 2009 | By Amy Lieberman | 990 comments
Tags: cruelty & abuse, horses

NYC Councilman Tony Avella, pictured right, stands on the steps of City Hall to introduce his ban on horse carriages in the city. The practice is inhumane, he says. (Pet Pulse Photo by Amy Lieberman)

It's been around since the 1940s, but tradition aside, horse carriages in New York City now have to go, one Councilman is saying. Tony Avella introduced the ban on the practice Friday at City Hall, where parties from both sides gave public testimonies.

NEW YORK -- A horse carriage ride through Central Park has been a classic tourist excursion since the 1940s, but a group of New Yorkers, led by Queens Councilman Tony Avella, are now saying "neigh" to the practice, which they cite as inhumane.

Avella introduced a ban on the practice on Friday afternoon at City Hall, where he and hundreds of people issued public testimonies against horse carriages.

It wasn't all laughs and a bale of hay, though -- several representatives of the approximate 285 carriage drivers also turned out, crying the potential loss of jobs this ban could prompt. They also said that the animals are treated fairly.

"You know what it is to have a job and not be able to pay your mortgage?" asked Kevin Brudie, a member of the union Teamsters Local 553, to the hundreds of people holding up signs of mutilated horses and the word "BAN!" on the steps of City Hall.

"You know what it is to have to walk through New York City midtown traffic for nine hours at a time, dodging cars and fumes?" one protester yelled back.

Inside City Hall, the ambiance retained a comparable intensity; Avella and other councilmen questioned representatives of the NYC Department of Health and NYC & Company, a marketing and tourism agency, hoping to assess the potential financial loss the city would face if the ban goes through.

Avella and the Coalition to Ban Horse Drawn Carriages say any monetary ramifications could not compete with the pressing issue of animal cruelty.

"This issue has to be put out to pasture," Avella said. "We believe we have grown enough in society to recognize cruelty to animals is no longer appropriate. This is an industry that makes its living on the backs of these animals."

The horses, which are all privately owned, are allowed to work eight to nine hours, seven days a week. They only must be brought into their stables if the temperature exceeds 90 degrees Fahrenheit, or dips below 19.

Three carriage horses perished in various accidents in 2006 and 2007, but the thought of a ban has been around since the 1970s, long before the deaths made headlines in New York City newspapers and television stations.

"This has been going on for years, but we couldn't get any politician to support it and introduce a bill until Tony Avella came along," said Christine MacMurray, vice president of the Coalition to Ban Horse Drawn Carriages. "We lose horses every year -- they die in the streets or are put down anyway."

Avella's measure, Intro 658, stands in opposition to Intro 653-A, which would raise horse carriage fares and amend regulations on the commercial industry, which draws in 550,000 to 700,000 tourists a year, according to NYC & Co.

Representatives from the company say the ban could cause the city's tourism industry to take a hit; Avella argues tourists don't just come to New York for a carriage ride, anyway.

Avella's ban would include provisions that provide for the drivers, granting them re-training opportunities in different professions. Teamsters Local 553, however, says that is not enough, and that this is "an issue of fairness," said Executive Officer Demos Demopoulos.

"This is about doing what is right for the working people, especially in this economy. The industry has not had a fare increase for over 20 years," he said.

Currently, carriage drivers are permitted to charge $10 for every 15 minutes; that fare is often manipulated, though, said Avella, citing higher prices listed on various Web sites.

"They are scamming New Yorkers left and right," he told Pet Pulse News.

Despite his qualm with the loose fare system, Avella said the issue here "is not really about the drivers. It's about the horses and their safety."

The ASPCA is partially responsible for monitoring the working animals' well-being. In 2008, the ASPCA conducted 54 separate inspections, according to Stephen Zawistowski, the organization's executive vice president and science advisor.

The majority of the horses were found in good health, but four have been sequestered to their stalls after the ASPCA deemed them too weak or sick to work. Inspectors also took issue with lighting conditions and the stables' placement on a second floor, which could make it difficult to fully evacuate all the animals during a fire.

"We have seen consistent difficulties and have catalogued problems," Zawistowski said. Despite the drivers' willingness to accept the ASPCA's recommendations along the way, the practice's inherent nature still presents problems, Zawistowski said.

"The law is still limited," he explained. "These horses will still be working on the streets, presented with the dangers of traffic, fumes and needing to go in and out of traffic. It's not the romantic image that is given."

One councilman then questioned Zawistowski, saying that all New Yorkers have to contend with a similar set of issues on a daily basis.

"New Yorkers make that choice for themselves," Zawitowski pointed out. "And they are not forced to do it for nine hours a day."

This cold winter, in particular, has been rough on the working horses, the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States say. In late December, the horses were kept out as a snow storm blew through Manhattan.

"I'm sure we all remember the first blistering ice storm on December 19, when the horses were forced to work that day," HSUS New York State Director Patrick Kwan said. "Despite it being bitter cold and icy, with slippery conditions, the horses were kept out."

The ASPCA eventually forced the drivers to bring the horses back into their stalls.

One driver named "Brenden," however, previously told Pet Pulse News that the drivers do not generally push the horses to work in harsh conditions.

"It's a-100 percent conformity on that law -- probably the only law in New York City that people conform to," said "Brenden" in an interview last summer. "Like last week, we got a four day block where it exceeded 90 degrees Fahrenheit, so we didn't even bother coming to work."

Demopolous maintained in the testimony that the drivers care for their animals properly and "know what they are doing." The horses, he says, are simply not abused.

Pet Pulse did not hear testimony from any of the drivers, who were represented by the teamster union. In previous interviews with Pet Pulse News, one driver said that he never works his horse "Colin" more than six hours a day.

"He works a five day week, Monday through Friday," said the driver, who only gave his first name, "Colin." "It's pretty easy, not very strenuous at all."

The NYC Department of Health backed the drivers during the testimony and opposed Avella's bill. It works alongside the ASPCA in conducting inspections and "monitoring the use of carriages to ensure a safe operation," according to Edgar Butts, the assistant commissioner of veterinary and pest control services.

The Department of Health has not cited any issues of health or safety that could support the ban, Butts said, noting that no working horses are younger than five, or older than 20 years.

There is no need, Butts said, to "destroy part of the ambiance of the city."

"We don't want to take away features that make New York more attractive when there is no need to," he said.

Avella has not set an exact time frame for passing the bill, explaining to Pet Pulse, "I really had to push for this hearing. Let's just see how it goes."

He has received some support from other members of the NYC council, but says that Mayor Mike Bloomberg's opposition to the ban has left people weary.

Avella believes, though, that as the ban receives additional media attention, more New Yorkers and tourists alike will support the cause. He recommends people talk to their councilmen and women about the ban.

"The average New Yorker who understands this issue will say, it is time for this industry to go," he said.

If the ban passes, New York City would join the ranks of London, Toronto, Paris and Beijing, which have all banned the practice.

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daryl b.
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daryl b.
5 years ago

does anyone know what is going on with this. a carrage ride through central park is wonderful

Good Point | Reply ›

Erica M.
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Erica M.
5 years ago

I think this issue may be part of the larger question, what is the relationship between humans and other animals? In what ways, may humans use animals? What are the criteria we use to judge the morality of a particular use for an animal? The problem is we don't all agree. Some would say human entertainment is an acceptable use. Others would disagree with that, but believe using animals for food is okay. Some strive to avoid animal entertainment and products of all kinds. There are so many ways people differ in their viewpoints.

Good Point | Reply ›

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