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Charlie the Carriage Horse's Cause of Death a Mystery

By Mary Johnson | December 16, 2011 5:54pm | Updated on December 17, 2011 12:32pm
The carriage horse industry in New York City has been the subject of heated debate since Charlie the carriage horse (not pictured) died on Oct. 23, 2011.
The carriage horse industry in New York City has been the subject of heated debate since Charlie the carriage horse (not pictured) died on Oct. 23, 2011.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

MANHATTAN — The ASPCA announced Friday that there will be no answers in the death of Charlie the carriage horse, who collapsed on his way to work in Central Park nearly two months ago, despite an agency vet's initial assertions that the horse died in pain.

The organization, which monitors the horse-and-carriage industry for animal cruelty, said the necropsy performed on Charlie was inconclusive. The agency is closing the case, leaving the cause of the horse's death unknown.

Charlie, a 15-year-old Amish work horse, collapsed in the middle of West 54th Street near Eighth Avenue on Oct. 23. In the weeks following the incident, the ASPCA released preliminary findings from the necropsy, which was then incomplete and similarly inconclusive.

Those findings indicated that Charlie was likely in pain before he died, suffering from a cracked tooth and a stomach ulcer.

But a few days later, Dr. Pamela Corey, the ASPCA’s head equine vet, tried to retract statements made in the official ASPCA press release. She claimed that she was under intense pressure while writing the release and that, in fact, there was no evidence Charlie was in any sort of pain before he died.

The ASPCA then suspended Corey without pay, and sources said the veterinarian has filed a formal complaint against the agency with the attorney general’s office.

Although not conclusive as to the cause of Charlie’s death, the full necropsy results indicate some scarring of the liver that is “of unknown clinical significance.” It also mentions stomach issues, though not an ulcer specifically.

“Though the visual examination of the stomach showed gastritis (inflammation of the stomach), much of what was seen visually may have been the result of tissue breakdown after death,” the ASPCA statement read.  

The statement also said that Charlie was in “good nutritional condition,” and there was no evidence of a heart condition. It is possible, the report continued, that Charlie was exposed to something toxic or suffered an allergic reaction or that he had an abnormal heartbeat.

But the ASPCA repeated again and again that nothing could be proven.

Stephen Malone, spokesman for the Horse and Carriage Association of New York City, said he was not surprised that a cause of death was not found.

“We said all along that Charlie was in good health while he was operating a carriage in Central Park,” Malone said. “We are very good, very diligent horse people here, and we take our jobs and the health of our horses very seriously.”

For animal rights activists, who claim the industry constitutes cruelty to horses, the necropsy did nothing to support their allegations.

But Edita Birnkrant, from the advocacy organization Friends of Animals, said that doesn’t matter.

“We know that he had clear health problems—the stomach ulcer, the tooth issue—which clearly caused pain,” Birnkrant said.

“I would’ve preferred that we had some conclusive proof,” she added, “but the fact that we do know that the health problems did exist there…that’s really all I need to know.”

In a statement, Carly Knudson, executive director of New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets, said that her organization would continue working to pass legislation— Intro 86A—to replace the carriage horse industry in New York City with a fleet of vintage-style electric cars.

“Intro 86A is a needed change to this archaic industry— one that will maintain jobs, generate revenue, attract tourists and, most importantly, save the lives of the city's carriage horses."