With New York's mayoral race just days away, the city is facing the possibility that the carriage horse industry, dating back to 1935, may soon be abolished, as both mayoral candidates have stated their strong opposition to the industry. I understand that the New York Daily News is on the side of the carriage horse drivers. What I don't understand is how the paper can call its coverage of the issue "journalism."
Below are three key arguments presented in Mara Gay's "Both major mayoral candidates want to ban horse-drawn carriage rides in Central Park, but effort to 'rescue' the horses could lead to slaughter instead," published October 29. My concerns follow each one.
1. New York City Carriage Horses Live a Life of Luxury
These hard-working animals "clip clop," as a Daily News editorial depicts their labor, in traffic and fumes and in temperatures up to 90 degrees, regardless of humidity. Their tiny stalls are too small for them to stretch out in after a long day's work, and "guaranteed retirement at age 26" means horses work, in human years, until they are 78 years old. The job they are "lucky to have" -- pulling carriages that weight up to 2000 pounds when loaded with tourists -- is a job that has resulted in at least 20 carriage accidents in New York in less than three years, one of them killing a horse. Charlie, the horse who passed away on October 23, 2011, had a nagging ulcer and cracked tooth, both found during his autopsy. "We are very concerned that Charlie was forced to work in spite of painful maladies," said Dr. Pamela Corey of the ASPCA.
2. If the industry dies, so will the carriage horses.
Buddy, a 28-year-old blind Appaloosa, was surrendered to Catskill Animal Sanctuary seven years ago because his family could no longer care for him. Casey, approaching forty, hobbles around on arthritic knees but is still his wise, unflappable self. These and other special-needs horses will, indeed, live out their days at our 110-acre haven two hours north of Manhattan. But New York City carriage horses aren't special-needs animals, first of all, and secondly, few horses are more adoptable than these sound, beloved, iconic animals. They've got fans and sanctuaries around the country, CAS included, who would happily step up to ensure that each animal gets the home s/he deserved. Having recently purchased thirty additional acres in order to help greater numbers of animals, for instance, Catskill Animal Sanctuary will accept a number of carriage horses, should they become available, then use our nationwide network of animal advocates and "horse people" to place them, thereby making room for additional animals.
What's more, when sanctuaries combine their efforts, we can do a pretty good job at accomplishing "the impossible" -- like the recent saving of 3,000 chickens destined to be gassed by an egg-laying facility. If sanctuaries can place 3,000 "spent hens" in a matter of a couple weeks, I daresay placing beloved carriage horses will be a walk in the park, no pun intended. For the Daily News to report that "they would all die" is sloppy, slanted "journalism" at best; fear-mongering, or something more malevolent, at worst.
3. Well, then, okay... if the carriage horses don't die because sanctuaries and private individuals take them in, then that means 200 other horses will die.
To the uninformed reader, this argument might seem credible. But each successful sanctuary has its own "formula" for accomplishing the greatest good. For instance, while Catskill Animal Sanctuary is currently maxed out in terms of permanent residents, we are often able to accept animals we believe will be adopted. By both providing sanctuary for a number of desperate "unadoptables" (horses who are old, blind, or unsound) and remaining open to accepting those we know from experience can generally be placed, we believe we do the greatest good for the greatest number. When we accepted ten miniature horses from a hoarding case, for instance, all were adopted within a few months.
High-profile rescues bring other residual benefits. Media attention to a large horse rescue brings thousands of eyeballs to our website, more visitors to our sanctuary, more funds to support our lifesaving work. It also raises the visibility of all our animals, not just those getting the news coverage. My strong suspicion is that the attention that would come from placing 200 beloved, iconic, deserving animals at reputable sanctuaries could result in greater numbers of horses being helped, not fewer. I feel certain that I'm not the only sanctuary director who'd have appreciated the opportunity to address this issue and others.
Most of us don't question the use of animals by humans for our own purposes. I do, and at Catskill Animal Sanctuary we work every day to usher in a kinder, more compassionate world for all beings. Still, if they are accurate and logical, I read opposing viewpoints with interest and an open mind. But The Daily News' coverage of the carriage-horse industry is neither accurate nor logical, and it certainly is not unbiased. From its depiction of the horses' lives as idyllic to their choice of "experts" to interview (Mayor Bloomberg, an expert on placing horses?) -- and more notably, those not to interview -- I'm not sure what you would call its reporting. Just don't call it journalism.