MANHATTAN — City officials joined animal rights advocates on the steps of City Hall on Monday to call for stronger regulations of the carriage horse industry, including a five-day work week and a ban on horses working in severe weather.
The regulations — proposed by the ASPCA and New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets (NYCLASS) — would mandate necropsies for all deceased carriage horses, would restrict carriage operations to Central Park and would require an hour of exercise in an open corral or paddock every day for each horse.
"What we're doing with horses in this city is cruel and unnecessary," Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said at the press conference on the steps of City Hall Monday, flanked by activists brandishing posters and placards. "The reforms that have been laid out make total sense, and we should act on them right away."
The horse-drawn carriage industry has come under fire in recent weeks following several accidents involving carriage horses. The most serious of these incidents resulted in the death of a 15-year-old carriage horse named Charlie, who collapsed in the middle of West 54th Street while on his way to work on Sunday, Oct. 23.
Charlie was pronounced dead at the scene. A necropsy on the horse’s body is currently underway at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
ASPCA President and CEO, Ed Sayres, said he supports the proposed regulations, which would accompany City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's push for better veterinary oversight in the carriage horse industry.
"We like the first step that Speaker Quinn has taken," Sayres said. "[But] we’d like to suggest that this really doesn’t go far enough."
Animal rights advocates were joined by several elected officials, including Borough President Scott Stringer, City Councilman Peter Vallone, City Councilwoman and Rosie Mendez.
An ASPCA press release containing an analysis of the preliminary necropsy findings claimed that Charlie was likely in severe pain prior to his death because of a stomach ulcer and a cracked tooth. However, the ASPCA’s head equine veterinarian has since contested the information included in that press release, claiming that there was no evidence the horse was in pain.
On Monday, officials said the new regulations outlined during the press conference would ideally be a temporary measure, with the ultimate goal being an end to the carriage horse industry in New York City.
Several City Council members have gotten behind Intro 86A, legislation sponsored by City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito that would trade carriage horses for vintage-style electric cars.
"This is about humane treatment of all beings," Mark-Viverito said.
Mark-Viverito also challenged the notion that carriage horses were an irreplaceable part of the tourism industry in New York City.
"I don’t know of any tourist that says they will not come to New York City because they cannot ride [in] a horse carriage," Mark-Viverito added, prompting cheers from the crowd.
Proponents of the legislation claim that new, vintage-style electric cars will provide the same option for tourists without the need for horses, and there is currently a prototype of these vehicles in the making, said Carly Knudson, executive director of NYCLASS.
The cars would cost about $175,000 a piece, and Knudson said her organization would secure the financing for the project. The city would not bear any cost for the vehicles.
Knudson added that if the carriage horse industry was eliminated, current, licensed carriage drivers would be tapped to drive the new vehicles in the hopes that no jobs would be lost.
As for the horses themselves, NYCLASS and the ASPCA would help find them new homes through private adoptions and rescue facilities.
"No horse would be sent to slaughter," Knudson said.
Neither the carriage drivers' union nor the spokesman for the Horse and Carriage Association of New York immediately responded to requests for comment.
By Mary Johnson
Photo by Mary Johnson