Carriage Horses: An Animal-Rights Battleground

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The generous carriage horses in cities across America became a favorite cause for animal-rights groups like the Humane Society of the U.S. about 20 years ago, and nowhere has the battle been more heated than in New York City, home of the storied drive through Central Park in a horse-drawn carriage. The battle lines were re-drawn in October, when a carriage horse named Charlie dropped dead one morning on his way to Central Park.

Officials of the ASPCA, which the city government charged with overseeing New York?s carriage horses several years ago, swooped in to whisk Charlie?s body off for a necropsy, and a few days later they issued a statement that said the horse had been suffering because he had a broken tooth and a gastric ulcer. These common conditions sound serious to people who know nothing about horses, and that was exactly the ASPCA?s plan. They wanted to suggest that these were signs that Charlie was being abused.

A few days later, Dr. Pamela Corey, the ASPCA-employed veterinarian quoted in the release about these conditions, sought to distance herself from the statement, pointing out that they were not signs of abuse.

Not surprisingly, ASPCA officials immediately placed Dr. Corey on administrative leave, today?s clever way of not actually firing someone until the furor dies down and you can do it without anyone noticing. But Dr. Corey got the local Teamsters Union to come to her defense, which has accused the ASPCA of ?lying to the media and the public? and demanded that they rehire her.

For more than 25 years, I've been warning my fellow horse owners and trainers about the danger lurking behind the clever curtain of animal-rights groups, groups with heart-warming names like the Humane Society of the U.S., the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. And now the Horse and Carriage Association of New York City and the owner or Charlie are embroiled in combat with eh ASPCA.

The root problem with these organizations, which take in millions of dollars of mostly kind-hearted people?s money every year, is that their mission is?not?animal welfare. Their mission is?not?to ensure that the animals in our lives?pets or livestock?are properly cared for. Their mission is to eradicate animals from our lives, because their core belief is that animals are the same as humans. They consider riding or driving horses, raising cows or pigs for milk or meat, having dogs work livestock, or having dogs or cats as pets to be the same as human slavery. that's why PETA members so cleverly turn dogs loose from kennels or, as they did a few months ago, slip all the dogs at a dog show poisoned treats that killed many of the dogs. Through some sick twist of logic, they believe that it's better for the dogs to be dead than to be in people?s lives. Makes sense, huh'

I've written about the HSUS before, and the main point to remember is that they are?not, as widely believed, a national organization of local humane societies. The group?s leaders chose that name to make you think that, but they have nothing to do with the people in your town who are trying to save neglected or abused animals. Only a tiny percentage of the HSUS? multi-million-dollar budget goes to any kind of animal-welfare work. The bulk of it goes to lobbying for laws (mostly state and local) that make it harder and more expensive to own and keep animals.

The ASPCA was founded about a century ago as an animal-welfare organization, primarily to care for animals, especially horses, that were neglected as America evolved from a rural country to an urban country and from a country that depended on the horse for transportation and other work uses to one that used cars, trains and other forms of power. But in the last two decades it's been taken over by animal-rights activists and its mission twisted about.

I'm glad to see that the Horse and Carriage Association of New York City is fighting back. they've filed a lawsuit against the ASPCA and its affiliated lobbying group, called New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets (NY-CLASS). A man named Ed Sayres is the president of both organizations, and, according to the HCA, the ASPCA gave NY-CLASS $250,000 when the latter group was founded in 2008. The HCA further asserts that to two groups ?have made false, misleading, and/or deceptive statements about the carriage industry in conjunction with fundraising and solicitation of donations, and we believe that this activity constitutes a potential to defraud the public.?

Further, the HCA is asking New York City officials to do the following:

?We are seeking an investigation into NY-CLASS?s (and, by extension, the ASPCA?s) questionable participation in deceptive anti-carriage-industry advertising campaigns by animal-rights organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and the private company, Manhattan Mini Storage, owned by Edison Properties LLC of Newark, NJ.? NY-CLASS?s co-president is Steve Nislick, CEO of Edison Properties.

?We are also asking for a full and thorough investigation into the alleged in-house ?pressuring? of the ASPCA?s vet to issue misleading and unscientific statements about the death of Charlie on October 23rd.

?Finally, we are seeking recourse for the glaring conflict of interest which has been laid bare by all the aforementioned activities of the ASPCA and NY-CLASS. This conflict of interest concerns the ASPCA?s Humane Law Enforcement Division?s primary duty as a law enforcement agency, as required by its NY State Charter and by NYC Administrative Code, to oversee and enforce laws pertaining to our industry, while the secondary activities of the ASPCA seek to eliminate our industry altogether.?

I suspect that Charlie, who was 15, died of an aneurysm or a ruptured aorta, two always fatal cardiac events that we horsepeople know could happen at any time, to any horse. It most often happens during demanding competitions like racing or on a cross-country or show jumping course, but it can happen to stallions while breeding or to horses trotting around a field. I had a 4-year-old steeplechaser rupture his aorta during a race 17 years ago, and the great show jumper Hickstead succumbed to some kind of cardiac event while competing in September.

I hope that Charlie?s death will have a useful outcome. I hope that it will become a moment that reveals to America?s animal-loving public what animal-rights groups like the HSUS, the ASPCA and PETA are really trying to do.