Tempers flare in New York horse war (US)

Cross-posted from AFP

A row of hansom cabs make their way through Central Park in New York City-AFP Photo
A row of hansom cabs make their way through Central Park in New York City (30 January 2009)-AFP Photo

NEW YORK (AFP) — Foes of Central Park’s horse-drawn carriages galloped into action Friday [30 Jan 09] with a divisive new drive to have the popular tourist attraction banned.

Hundreds of people crammed into City Hall to join a public debate on a bill seeking to outlaw the horse and buggies on the grounds of cruelty.

No vote was set on the proposed law, which experts on New York politics predict will fail since Mayor Michael Bloomberg is opposed.

But that did not stop New Yorkers whipping themselves into an angry frenzy over one of the city’s favorite obsessions.

Animal rights activists and a smattering of theater types engaged in a shouting match outside City Hall with carriage drivers, beefy transport union workers and even a Franciscan monk.

“End the suffering of the poor, worn-down animals,” called out Michael McGraw of the PETA animal rights activists, as supporters waved placards showing morose horses and slogans like: “Set Me Free!”

“Lunacy. Ludicrous. It makes no sense,” spluttered a furious Frank Rodden, who has been driving a Central Park carriage for 22 years.

A big man with a pony tail and beard, Rodden said: “These people don’t know what they’re talking about. The closest they come to a horse is when they protest against us.”

Tourists lounging in the old-fashioned carriages, which cost 40 dollars for an hour’s ride, can hardly imagine what passions are stirred up by the issue.

The approximately 150-200 horses working the park in shifts not only have cute names like Smoothie and Rufus, but teams of government inspectors following their condition, and vocal rivals claiming to speak on their behalf.

The death of a horse — three perished in various accidents in 2006-2007 — makes big news in the city’s newspapers and television stations. “For Central Park Carriage Horse, Death Arrives Inelegantly,” a New York Times headline read in 2006.

Tony Avella, the councilman who introduced the proposed ban, told Friday’s public hearing this is an “industry that makes its living on the backs of these animals.”

“The sentimental idea of enjoying a carriage ride through New York… can no longer be justified,” he said.

Foes say the horses — many of which previously served the Amish, a Christian community that rejects modern technology — are terrified by city conditions and forced to work in extreme heat and cold.

“The horses have miserable lives. We want them to have the life of a horse instead of a machine whose every instinct is thwarted in this horrible industry, all just for entertainment,” Edita Birnkrant, from Friends of Animals said.

But Rodden and other drivers said their horses were well fed, rotated so that they work only a few months a year, and under constant government supervision.

Father Brian Jordan, whose Franciscan order was founded by the Catholic patron saint of animals, Francis of Assisi, said he had surveyed every aspect of the trade and found nothing cruel.

“I can tell you, if there was any cruelty I wouldn’t be here. I’d be right over there with them,” he said pointing at PETA members and other activists.

At the bottom edge of Central Park, the main staging post for the carriages, bus tour salesman Marcelo Caceres said he felt sorry for the animals.

“They suffer. They should have a normal life. I think they’re made for farms, quiet places,” he said.

Nonsense said a man who gave only his first name, Emil, as he hand-fed peanuts to a flock of pigeons.

“They treat those horses well. They have stables, they have days off. What do you want to do with them? Turn them into dog meat? It’s all just politicians trying to get their name in the papers.”

Source: Google News/AFP

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