Mahatma Gandhi once said, "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated."
By this measure, 21st century New York City is failing this basic test of humanity.
Just take a walk along Central Park South, perhaps the wealthiest strip known to mankind, and you'll see countless horses shackled and forced to work long hours through heat and snow and who live in small, filthy multi-story "stables" up to two miles away from Central Park, where people think they live.
Horse-drawn carriages might have been quaint in the 19th century -- before New York became congested with fast-moving taxis, buses, cars, bicycles and pedestrians.
But today it is an affront to any thoughtful New Yorker who cares about public safety and how we treat one of nature's most graceful creations.
Here's the public safety argument: When horses spook and flee in midtown Manhattan, they become unwitting weapons, crashing into cars, bicyclists and pedestrians. In the last year alone, four people have been injured. In the period 2002-2005, 12 horses died or had to be euthanized in stables. In the last year and a half, there have been 15 accidents. Additionally, the public doesn't even have access to the true number of injuries and deaths because the horse-drawn carriage drivers are not required by law to report them.
While the risks to public safety should not be underestimated, it is the humane issue that has triggered an international call to take these horses off of the streets. How can we deprive grazing animals with daily access to a pasture where they can run, roll and interact physically with other horses, as herd animals do? And how can we justify forcing these docile animals to navigate around aggressive drivers in the most congested city streets in the country, ingesting car exhaust and pounding the hard pavement, causing injury to their lungs, their legs and their spirit?
Almost 100,000 people have signed a petition to shut down the anachronistic, cruel and dangerous horse-drawn carriage trade in NYC. There is star power behind this movement. "Carriage horses are rolling torture wagons for nature's most dignified creatures," said Jack Donaghy (aka Alec Baldwin) on the sitcom hit 30 Rock recently.
Celebrities like Pamela Anderson, Liv Tyler, Russell Simmons and Lea Michele ("Glee" star) have lent their star power to the cause by joining NYCLASS ("New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets"), a group aiming to replace the carriages with electric vintage cars -- a fitting 21st century replacement that would preserve jobs for the carriage drivers.
The current speaker of the City Council, Christine Quinn, has blocked the efforts to take these horses off the streets and out of harm's way since a bill was introduced to ban the trade in 2007. Mayor Bloomberg has weighed in by suggesting that banning this (very small) trade would hurt the economy, but we know that tourists would spend their money elsewhere.
The next mayor (and I hope to be that person) should do the right thing and listen to New Yorkers who have said in poll after poll that they support an end to NYC's archaic horse-drawn carriage trade.
It's past due time to do the right thing. Ban the unsafe and inhumane horse carriage industry, and retire the horses to the sanctuaries who have volunteered to take them.
Those who oppose this enlightened movement will assuredly be on the wrong side of history.
Free the horses!
You can help by signing the petition at StopHorseAbuse.com.
Tom Allon is a 2013 candidate for mayor of New York City.