When it’s time to open up and say, “Ahh,” who performs your annual health checkup? Apparently members of a New York City animal rights group visit their neighborhood mechanic.
Admittedly, it’s not a logical choice. Then again, New Yorkers for Clean Livable and Safe Streets (NYCLASS) aren’t exactly the standard-bearers in that realm. Yet, according to its latest proposal targeting Central Park’s carriage horses, its leadership wants the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission to replace the health department and Department of Consumer Affairs as chief regulators. New York Police Department (NYPD) currently enforces animal abuse laws and reportedly would remain in that role.
“Since the Department of Health is clearly asleep at the switch — despite whistleblower attempts to shame them into action — streamlining oversight under the [taxi commission] would be a smart move to protect horses from this ongoing abuse,” a NYCLASS spokesman told Politico.
Smart? How can the taxi commission possibly protect horses?
“They are a for-hire transportation industry, which is what we regulate,” says Nora Marino, a Queens attorney and animal rights activist who is a member of the taxi commission. “So, it just kind of dawned on me, why don’t we have the horse-drawn carriage industry? We’re better equipped, we’re better experienced, and ... I think having one agency oversee this industry … would be far more efficient.”
It’s a curious position to take for a group that claims it’s advocating for the welfare of animals. After all, there’s no doubt that the taxi commission is better equipped, better experienced and far more efficient in regulating motor vehicles. Animal health is another matter entirely.
“We like the Department of Health regulating us and inspecting our stables because they have veterinarians on staff, and NYPD has its own mounted unit; they know about horses,” says carriage industry representative Christine Hansen. “Having someone who knows nothing about horses in charge of regulating the industry does not make sense.”
NYCLASS has a history of clashing with the health department’s veterinary experts on what classifies as abuse. Yet, independent veterinarians say the group has no reason to object to the current oversight of the industry.
“I had my eyes open for any and all problems,” says Werner, a past president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners. “I was pleasantly surprised not to see them.”
O’Grady, who shares the distinction with Werner of being a member of the International Equine Veterinarian Hall Of Fame, concurred.
“If this is overwork for a horse, I don’t know what the jumpers do that I see every day,” he says. “I mean, if I had my choice and I were a horse, I wouldn’t mind being in this situation. You go out and smell the roses and kids are putting flowers on you every day.”
Their examinations are backed up by a study conducted by Western University, in which it was concluded that carriage horses are less stressed than those that are in pastures.
“We found no evidence of stress in these horses,” says Joseph Bertone, a professor of equine medicine at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Western University in Pomona, Calif., and Lebanon, Ore. “The conclusions made by the many experts in equine veterinary care who have visited the facility, and spent time in observation, [match] the physiologic data we collected.
“Although not part of our study, we also observed for behavior associated with equine gastric ulcer syndrome. Ulcers result from stress. None of the behaviors were seen. We found the horses rested comfortably at night as well. That is another important feature of horses in a safe, comfortable environment.”
But why should the scientific findings of equine veterinarians be relied upon when NYCLASS clearly has the better equipped, better experienced and far more efficient New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission?