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Carriage Horse Drivers Association Fights Back Against Critics

By Mary Johnson | November 21, 2011 6:40pm
The horses are provided with hay and constant access to water inside their individual stalls, sources said.
The horses are provided with hay and constant access to water inside their individual stalls, sources said.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

MANHATTAN — The Horse and Carriage Association of New York City is fighting calls for increased regulations of its industry and defending itself against repeated accusations of animal abuse and neglect in the wake of the death of Charlie, a carriage horse.

The association is planning to file complaints Tuesday against the ASPCA and the animal rights organization New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets (NYCLASS).

It is asking the State Attorney General’s Office, the New York City Department of Investigation and the city's Health Department to investigate both agencies and their role in policing the carriage horse industry.

"Both the ASPCA and NYCLASS have made false, misleading and/or deceptive statements about the carriage industry," Stephen Malone, a spokesman for the Horse and Carriage Association, said at a press conference Monday with City Councilman Jim Gennaro at the Clinton Hill Stables on West 52nd Street and 11th Avenue.

"And we believe that this activity constitutes a potential to defraud the public," Malone said.

While the Department of Health issues licenses and permits for carriage horses, the ASPCA is tasked with policing the industry for animal cruelty violations. Carriage drivers have railed against this arrangement, claiming it creates a blatant conflict of interest because the ASPCA has come out publicly against the industry.

Malone asked city agencies to pursue their own investigations "to determine whether or not the ASPCA can ever be a fair and impartial law enforcement agency, acting on the city's and public's behalf, with regard to the carriage industry."

In a statement, the ASPCA said it had no firsthand knowledge of any complaints being filed and therefore could not comment on them.

"The ASPCA has voluntarily performed carriage horse enforcement for decades," the statement continued. "Our carriage horse enforcement work has been carried out with objectivity and fairness and always within the bounds of applicable law."

Monday's announcement, followed by a tour of the stables, was the latest move in the drama that has surrounded the industry since Charlie, a 15-year-old work horse from Amish country, dropped dead in the middle of West 54th Street near Eighth Avenue on Sunday, Oct. 23. He was on his way to work in Central Park.

In the weeks following the incident, the ASPCA released a report detailing the preliminary findings of the necropsy performed on Charlie’s body, noting that a cause of death had yet to be determined but that the horse was likely in severe pain due to a cracked tooth and a stomach ulcer.

Several days later, the ASPCA vet in charge of the necropsy, Dr. Pamela Corey, tried to issue a retraction, claiming that she had been under pressure at the time of writing the report and that, in fact, there was no evidence that Charlie was in pain before his death.

The ASPCA then suspended Corey without pay.

Malone, of the Horse and Carriage Association, said that his organization was asking for a "full and thorough investigation into the alleged in-house 'pressuring' of the ASPCA's vet to issue misleading and unscientific statements about the death of Charlie."

He claimed that Corey also filed a complaint against the ASPCA with the Attorney General.

A call to the Attorney General's office to confirm this was not immediately returned.

Several elected officials have since gotten in on the battle, reiterating calls last week for legislation that would replace horse-drawn carriages with vintage-style electric cars. They also championed a string of new regulations, including a mandatory five-day work week for horses and a ban on horses working in severe weather, until the industry has been eradicated from the city.

But on Monday, City Councilman Jim Gennaro dismissed the legislation, claiming it was not a viable option and saying that the claims of cruelty in the carriage horse industry were inaccurate.

A few hours after the press conference at the Clinton Park Stables, NYCLASS hosted an event of its own on the steps of City Hall.

The organization, along with actress Kathy Najimy, was scheduled to celebrate the collection of 55,000 signatures from those who support passing the law to replace carriage horses with vintage cars.

Also on Monday, two animal rights organizations, the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages and In Defense of Animals, announced that they had sent a letter to the president of the ASPCA, asking him to release reports of all carriage horse industry accidents that have occurred since January of 2009.

"The public has a right to know just how unsafe this industry is," said the coalition’s president, Elizabeth Forel, in a statement.