Multiple Agendas Revealed in Legal Battle over New York Carriage Horse Industry

Most of you have already read about the heated legal battle over the horse-drawn carriage industry in New York City, where some groups have been pushing for decades to outlaw carriage rides. On its face, the battle seems to be about whether or not the industry is inherently cruel or dangerous for the horses. But more recently, some facts have surfaced pointing to other interests and agendas that may be fueling the push to banish the carriage industry from New York.

Emily B. Hager authored a story published last week in the New York Times that delves into underlying interests of some who are attempting to ban carriage rides in New York City. A link to the article can be found here.

One issue raised in the Times article are allegations of foul play related to the ASPCA’s involvement in the efforts to outlaw the horse-drawn carriage industry. According to Ms. Hager’s article, Dr. Pamela Corey (chief equine veterinarian for the ASPCA), said her supervisors pressured her to distort her findings about the death of a carriage horse in order to turn public opinion against the carriage industry. After Dr. Corey spoke out, the ASPCA suspended her. Dr. Corey has since filed a complaint with the state attorney general’s office, in which she states that she had been pressured on several occasions to slant her professional opinion to help achieve a ban.

Ms. Hager also points out that while the ASPCA is one of the groups leading the effort to ban horse-drawn carriages, it is also one of three entities that regulate the carriage industry in New York. 

The ASPCA’s president, Ed Sayres, is also reported in the Times to have teamed up with Stephen Nislick, chief executive of the development company Edison Properties, to develop a plan to replace carriage rides with electric-powered replicas of antique cars. Sayres and Nislick are reported to have started a nonprofit organization, known as NY-Class, that has collected more than 55,000 signatures backing city ordinances that would end the carriage horse industry in New York. NY-Class was allegedly started up through a $400,000 donation from the ASPCA and a contribution from Mr. Nislick.

With respect to these potential conflicts of interest, Ed Sayres is quoted in the Times as saying, “I don’t see it as a conflict. If we don’t bring forward the risk factor that we are observing, then it would be negligent.”

Real estate developers (including Mr. Nislick) are alleged to be involved in the movement to outlaw the carriage industry because they covet the land on the Far West Side where the horses have long been stabled.  

According to Ms. Hager’s article, some carriage owners acknowledge carrying out a campaign to infiltrate the activist groups and secretly record their strategy sessions. In one recording, Mr. Nislick is said to describe efforts to gain the support of city politicians by giving them campaign contributions. 

The carriage industry is reported to have filed its own complaints with the city and state agencies against the ASPCA and NY-Class.

The Times article includes some stats on drivers’ earnings, which reportedly range from $40,000 to $100,000 annually, depending primarily on whether they own their horses, whether they work the day or night shift, and how bad the weather and economy are.  If you know how much it costs to live in Manhattan, you know that even $100,000 per year before taxes can be hard to live on there. One would think that the last thing the carriage drivers would want to do is abuse or mistreat their horses if their livelihood depended upon them.

These latest allegations are definitely thought-provoking.  One must wonder whether those who donate money to the ASPCA hoping to fund food, medicine, and shelter for unwanted animals know that the Society has spent at least $400,000 on this political campaign.

Also, should the ASPCA still be one of the regulatory bodies governing the NY carriage industry, given the conflicts and allegations that have now arisen?

Finally, what would happen to the horses if those pushing for a ban were successful? According to Dr. Nena Winand, an equine veterinarian from upstate New York who is a member of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, “If we banned the carriage horse industry tomorrow, they would go straight to slaughter. There is no big field out there, there is no one to pay the bills.”

As discussed in this prior post, mistreatment of or cruelty to horses is already illegal in State of New York. Given these latest allegations, this fact does cause one to ponder whether animal welfare is the real impetus behind the movement to outlaw the carriage industry in New York City.

New York City Council Passes Regulations Affecting Carriage Industry

In 2008, I posted Should the Carriage Ride Industry in New York City be Banned? after discussing the topic casually with my brother-in-law, Adam Rowe.  The post prompted a lively discussion from both sides. Some of the comments the post received were of such a "heated" nature that I could not publish them.  This is undoubtedly an issue about which both sides are extremely passionate.

Last week, the Huffington Post reported that New York's City Council has passed new regulations requiring carriage horses to have larger stalls, five weeks off per year, and blankets in cold and wet weather. Safety requirements for the carriages are also included in the new rules, requiring carriages to have manure-catching devices, emergency brakes, and reflective signs.

According to the Huffington Post report, Mayor Bloomberg supports the bill and is expected to sign it.

These new rules may act as a compromise for animal welfare advocates, who have campaigned for years to shut down the Central Park carriage industry.

Advocates of the carriage ride industry have argued that the horses are treated well, and that the horses will be abandoned or sent out of the country to be slaughtered if the industry is shut down.

The new rules are expected to increase the cost of carriage rides from $34 for the first half-hour to $50 for the first 20 minutes.

I welcome you to share your thoughts on the new rules and how they might affect the well-being of the carriage horses.

Should the Carriage Ride Industry in New York City be Banned?

My brother-in-law, Adam Rowe, recently asked me what I thought about the ASPCA's and other activist groups' recent attempts to pass legislation that would ban horse-drawn carriage rides in New York City.  The activists claim that the industry as whole should be banned because the horses are allegedly overworked and deprived of proper food, water, and shelter.  If you go to the Carriage Horses-NYC blog, a site maintained by one such activist group, you see a woman standing next to a horse in harness and holding a heart-shaped sign bearing the slogan, "Give These Horses Their Freedom."

My first reaction to the activists' cause was, assuming at least some carriage operators treat their horses well, why would they want to ban the trade as a whole? The draft horses have a job and are being put to use, which in my mind is preferable to the dubious fate of the "unwanted horse", which many of these horses might become if they cannot be used for surrey rides.  Due to the recent ban on horse slaughter in the U.S., many in the horse industry predict that unwanted horses will be now be euthanized and disposed of, or shipped to Mexico or Canada for slaughter.  See USA Today article on subject.  The activists (and many other horse lovers, myself included) would probably prefer that the carriage horses be released into vast green pastures to run free for the rest of their lives (which can be 30 years or longer).  However, the activists trying to pass this legislation seem short on ideas on who will take care of the horses once they are "given their freedom."

Another thought is that the mistreatment of carriage horses is already illegal in New York.  According to New York law (McKinney's Agriculture & Markets Law Sect. 353), a carriage driver is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor if he "overdrives, overloads, tortures or cruelly beats" a horse or allows another to do so. He is also liable if he deprives a horse of "necessary sustenance, food or drink," or neglects or refuses to furnish a horse such "sustenance, food, or drink".  I assume that if a particular carriage driver is charged under this criminal statute, his business will not flourish for long. 

Perhaps the most humane thing the activists can do is involve local law enforcement in the investigation of the carriage drivers whom they suspect are guilty of animal cruelty, and let the carriage operators who properly treat their horses continue to do business in peace.