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ASPCA Vet Suspended After Debate Over Carriage Horse Death

By Mary Johnson | November 8, 2011 4:12pm
Charlie the carriage horse was 15 years old when he died in late October 2011. Advocates recently held a candlelight vigil to honor the horse.
Charlie the carriage horse was 15 years old when he died in late October 2011. Advocates recently held a candlelight vigil to honor the horse.
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Marcus Pierno

MIDTOWN — The lastest drama surrounding the death of Charlie the carriage horse involves the ASPCA’s head equine veterinarian.

Dr. Pamela Corey, who attempted to backpedal on her original claim that the horse was in severe pain before he died, has been suspended from duty without pay, according to a recent New York Times article.

The reason for her suspension remained unclear.

Charlie, a 15-year-old work horse recently brought to New York from an Amish farm, died on Sunday, Oct. 23, while walking to work in Central Park. He collapsed in the middle of West 54th Street near Eighth Avenue and was pronounced dead on the scene.

Corey’s original statement noted that preliminary necropsy results revealed Charlie was likely suffering from pain due to a pronounced stomach ulcer and a fractured tooth. Those comments were blasted to news organizations in the form of an ASPCA press release last week, further incensing animal rights advocates.

“We are very concerned that Charlie was forced to work in spite of painful maladies,” Corey’s statement read. “These particular health issues can be difficult to diagnose because draft horses are by nature a stoic breed, not displaying signs of pain until they are very severe.”

According to the Times, Corey tried to issue a correction for that release, in which she hoped to clarify that there was no evidence the horse was in pain and that his injuries were common in working horses.

In the Times article Corey also said she was “under a lot of pressure during the writing of that press release.” As the release read, it “implies that the carriage driver or other stakeholder was aware of the condition”, and Corey was concerned about this implication, according to the article.

Several attempts to reach Corey for comment were unsuccessful.

An amended release was never issued, and the ASPCA said it was “perplexed” by Corey’s backtracking.

“Our 10/31/11 statement does not imply that the carriage horse driver would be able to observe pain or ill health,” spokesman Bret Hopman said in an email. “Dr. Corey was intimately involved in drafting and ultimately reviewed, edited, and approved the final statement. We are not aware of any new facts that have come to light.”

Hopman said he could not comment on personnel issues and therefore could not provide more detailed information about the reason for Corey’s suspension.

A spokeswoman for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which provides permits and licenses for the carriage horse industry, said that the department agreed with Corey’s amended analysis.

“There was no evidence of pain by the veterinarian that previously saw the horse, and Dr. Corey herself had signed off on that medical clearance,” said the spokeswoman, who said she learned of Corey’s retraction from news reports.

“If you see Dr. Corey’s statement that she wrote,” she added, “she thought that both [the cracked tooth and the stomach ulcer] were incidental findings, and they were not conditions that would result in the horse dying.”

The spokeswoman reiterated that the results publicized by the ASPCA were preliminary and did not determine a cause of death. A full necropsy report is pending.

“Our concern is obviously for the health of the horses,” the spokeswoman said. “While this industry is here, our efforts are to make sure that these horses are fit for duty, healthy and are protected as much as possible.”