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American Girl Place Bans Horse Carriage Rides After Protests

By Amy Zimmer | July 28, 2011 3:59pm

MANHATTAN — A boisterous group of horse lovers protesting the city's carriage industry burst into the American Girl Place on Sunday afternoon, much to the shock of young doll fans in the Fifth Avenue store.

The tourist Mecca had recently organized a series of horse-drawn Central Park carriage ride events, prompting the dozen or so animal activists to shout, "Cancel carriage rides! There's no excuse for horse abuse!"

Their stunt seems to have worked.

The next day, the American Girl Place store told the Friends of Animals group — which organized the protest and also gathered more than 1,000 petition signatures in three days — they would discontinue the rides.

"It's not very easy to get a big corporation to change their decisions. But the petition and doing an in-store demonstration made them realize it's not worth the backlash," said Edita Birnkrant, director of Friends of Animals' New York office. Her group has been working with state Sen. Tony Avella on trying to ban the city's horse-drawn carriage industry.

The Friends of Animals said the store promised to stop the rides on Monday just hours before a taxi near Central Park crashed into a horse-drawn carriage, injuring three tourists and the horse driver when the carriage flipped onto its side, knocking the horse over.

"I hope that accident showed them how dangerous the carriages are," Birnkrant said.

American Girl Place officials did not return repeated calls for comment. But a staffer who answered the phones Thursday said they were no longer offering carriage rides.

"We have canceled that event, we had protests, they were in our store," said the woman, who worked in the reservations department. "There was a lot of negative feedback."

She said the store would "probably not" restore the carriage rides in the fall.

For $74 per person, American Girl Place had been inviting customers to come to its the 609 Fifth Ave. flagship for a café meal and "then, step outside for a luxurious horse-drawn carriage ride to see the sights of Manhattan," according to event details. "The carriage ride continues through scenic Central Park, where your journey ends."

Birnkrant said she had met with a senior marketing manager of American Girl Place on July 21, amid the store's campaign to offer the carriage rides — which especially concerned Friends of Animals since it was in the middle of a heat wave.

Birnkrant said she was initially told the store "does not take a political stance" on the carriage horse industry and that the rides would go on.

That's when Friends of Animals mobilized with the petition, which attracted vehement responses against the store.

"I was just there at that store and spent a fortune on gifts," Lu Ann dalesandro, of the Bronx, wrote on the petition. "I will have to bring my gifts back. This is unheard of and I won't buy anything else there if they don't stop this act of inhumane abuse.

Nicky Hagan, of Manhattan, wrote: "These animals suffer awfully in the heat. The young girls will see this and will be upset by the misery you are forcing on these beautiful creatures."

Friends of Animals was prepared to hold a press conference on Thursday morning in front of the store — but it didn't come to that. American Girl Place had already bowed to the pressure of the advocates.

American Girl Place did not return repeated calls from DNAinfo, but according to the store's response posted on Friends of Animals' website, they said: "American Girl made the decision [Monday] to discontinue the rest of the carriage events and has no plans to offer this type of event in the future. We hope this information helps to alleviate your concerns."

Birnkrant was appeased, saying the store's decision meant it "regained the good will of the many New Yorkers, politicians, veterinarians and animal organizations, who are working to end horse-drawn carriage operations in New York City and throughout the state."