On Dec. 4, a white carriage horse collapsed on 59th Street outside New York City's Central Park. It was the third such collapse in six weeks, and it followed the well-publicized death of a horse named Charlie on Oct. 23.

 

In the wake of the tragic events, animal rights groups are renewing their calls to ban horse-drawn carriages in New York City. A Change.org petition organized by the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages currently has more than 80,000 signatures, spurred by a video of the Dec. 4 collapse:

 

 

The petition supports legislation, submitted by New York state Sen. Tony Avella and Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, which would prohibit the operation of horse-drawn cabs in New York City and prevent the sale of the animals to slaughter houses.

 

At the same time, the Humane Society of the United States is asking its members to support the ban on horse-drawn carriages and advocates replacing them with eco-friendly electric vehicles modeled after old-fashioned automobiles.

 

Animal rights groups say that busy Manhattan is an unsafe place for work horses. "Horses frighten very easily," Edita Birnkrant, the New York director for Friends of Animals, told the New York Times. "The noises of New York City, the chaos — it is all just an inherently dangerous environment, and they don't belong here."

 

An email from Change.org asking its members to sign the petition says December is even worse than usual for the animals. "The holiday season is particularly lethal for carriage horses in New York — because of the tourist onslaught, they're forced to work even longer hours than usual. They get only 15 minutes of break time every 2 hours, despite the cold temperatures and dangerous traffic conditions, and still have to go back to tiny, squalid stalls in Manhattan."

 

But Mayor Michael Bloomberg supports the industry. "Carriage horses have traditionally been a part of New York City," he told the Times. "The tourists love them, and we've used [them] from time immemorial as animals to pull things. They are well treated, and we’ll continue to make sure that they are well treated."

 

According to the official Central Park website, carriage rides are not permitted at temperatures above 89 degrees or below 19 degrees.

 

The death of Charlie on Oct. 23 remains controversial. An initial necropsy paid for by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals cited a painful stomach ulcer and a broken took. At the time, ASPCA chief equine veterinarian Pamela Corey said in a press release that the horse was not healthy and "likely suffering from pain." She later retracted that statement and said the ASPCA pressured her to distort her findings. The ASPCA has since fired Corey and she, in turn, has filed a complaint with the New York State attorney general's office. The ASPCA says Corey "reviewed, edited and approved" the press release.

 

There are a total of 216 horses employed by the carriage industry in New York City. According to official numbers cited by the New York Times, horse-drawn carriage rides are a $15-million-a-year business in the city.

 

MNN homepage photo: Batbob/Flickr