Friday, January 17, 2014

Horses At Work: Not a Walk in the Park?

This week I learned of a brewing controversy in New York City regarding the Central Park carriage horses.  Author Jon Katz told us the story on our creative group "Open Group for Bedlam Farm" upon his return from the Big Apple. We're having respectful discussions pro and con, but I keep thinking we're missing the broader picture.

On one side, animal rights organizations and others have spoken out for the ban, claiming abuse and misuse of the animals.  On the other side, points made based on observation and discussion of the carriage ride industry and the wellness of the animals are all positive.  Still others have made equally weighted statements concerning other issues and problems within New York City that have a direct impact on the human condition.  All good and valid point and counterpoint, but I keep feeling there's more to the story based on the background research I've performed.

First of all let me make the following statements so you understand my point of view:
  1. Yes, I've been to New York City.  Yes, I've taken a carriage ride or two (or many).  All the horses appeared to be in good condition.  Getting on a carriage pulled by a scrawny horse ain't my idea of fun. I've also taken carriage rides on a trip to Rome.  In fact, the horses proved to be the better way to get around Rome safely and efficiently.  Roman cab drivers scare me to death!
  2. Yes, I've owned horses.  I've owned and worked as a stable manager where we took in horses from rescue organizations.  Horses that were in deplorable condition, so I know the face of abuse.  It ain't pretty.  In fact, it's pretty heart-wrenching, but care and love brought these creatures back to health.
  3. I also went to school with police officers who were accepted into our Mounted Patrol Unit when it first formed.  They'd tell me about the mounted law enforcement training program. They'd relay the terror of controlling a 1200+ lbs animal under them during a tear gas exercise.  Of reining in an animal as shots were being fired overhead.  The horses came from rescue and donations.  Some clearly too flighty for this type of work.  A few broken ankles and wrists made that clear.
  4. Very briefly, I had joined a rescue group and then unjoined.  They ran on so much emotion and humanization of the animals that they couldn't see the animals from the humans and then stories began to surface of how they'd turn animals away, but if you slipped them $50. all of sudden there was room at the inn (or shelter, in this case.)  My common sense antennae told me something was amiss. (by the way the stories were all first person accounts.)
So I did some digging into media reports to find the real story or at least to get a sense of where the arguments were going.  Each article reported on the abuse angle, the 19 million dollars that carriage ride industry contributed to the city coffers, stories about large campaign contributions made by animal rights groups to elect the new mayor as well as alleged lucrative real estate deals should the carriage industry become history.  Now celebrities are coming out for both sides.  Cue the lights. Roll camera.  Action!

Now here's where I have a problem with this mess (please stay with me on this).  First of all, how all of a sudden did these groups come up with the scratch to make these campaign contributions?  I'm the type whose heart bleeds every time she sees a public service announcements featuring sad, maimed and disfigured animals who've suffered abuse only to read that my sacrifice to donate went to a campaign contribution and not the welfare of the animal?  Hello!  Does something seem "off" there?  This practice forces me to research these organizations to determine exactly how much of my scarce dollars goes directly to animal care.  I do not intend to contribute to an organization in order for them to get their crony elected.  Lobbying, maybe OK, campaign contribution?  Not OK.  It feels dishonest to contributors.  IMHO!

Secondly, every article spoke to the dangers to the Central Park horses due to New York City traffic conditions around the park.  Yes, a horse did pass at the hands of an abuser last month, which is awful, but the other 299 seem fine.  Their solution to protect the animals?  Put more cars on the road in the form of electric antique cars.  Yessiree Bob, that'll fix it.  Does this make sense to anyone?  It certainly doesn't make sense to me, "fixing" a problem by compounding a problem.  I don't get it.

And finally, and what I consider a major hypocrisy, lies in the continuation of the NYPD Mounted Unit.  I don't know about you but the thought of a horse and rider standing in the middle of Times Square traffic doesn't leave me feeling all warm and fuzzy.  Where's the outcry?  Before anyone jumps to conclusions, I feel that this unit is vital and necessary to NYC law enforcement.  Horse and rider are trained to precision standards.  The same argument can be raised concerning their future, but none comes forward, which tells me that there must be another reason in back of the carriage horse issue. 

That "something" might have to do with money.  Could it be that the rescue organizations might be duped?  Or could they garner something in return for forcing the matter?  Can the electric car replacements generate more dollars?  

I don't have answers to these and other questions.  The purpose of this post doesn't focus on animal behavior, but human behavior.  I got a feeling there's a rotten apple in the Big Apple somewhere and clearly the magnitude of the issue can't be compared to how humans neglect humans in need.  And, folks that's not a walk in the park.   

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