(Article changed on August 26, 2013 at 17:29)
By Robert Wilbur and Martha Rosenberg
Reports of Democratic mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner's sexting recidivism have vaulted Democrat Christine C. Quinn into the front-runner position. Quinn, currently speaker of the New York City Council, is running against Weiner, New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, former New York City comptroller William C Thompson Jr. and others in the September 10 Democratic primary. But even though Quinn is an out lesbian and has significant feminist and LGBT support, especially as the only woman Democratic candidate in a sea of male sex scandals, there could be a dark horse in the primary known as New York City's carriage horses.
Manhattan's carriage horses, immortalized by Sex in the City episodes, may charm tourists but they do not lead charmed lives. The 2011 death of carriage horse, Charlie, as he pulled a carriage, is only one disturbing event say opponents. In 2006, a carriage horse named "Smoothie" was euthanized after an accident says Edita Birnkrant, New York director of Friends Of Animals. Many incidents of animals collapsing and dying go unrecorded, especially if they occur out of public sight in the stables, she says.
Quinn, like Mayor Bloomberg, affirms the industry as a valuable source of jobs but critics say the largely foreign carriage drivers are not even legal American workers and lack basic empathy toward their equine charges. The issue has proved a wedge between Quinn and her natural constituencies, spawning web sites like Queers Against Quinn, Christine Quinn Sold Out and Anybody But Quinn. One site, Quinn Hates Animals, itemizes other anti-animal stances Quinn has allegedly adopted such as opposing humane education in public schools and allowing circus animal abuse.
Feminist icon Gloria Steinem calls the carriage horse issue a "sticking point" in her support of Quinn because Steinem is also an animal advocate.
Last summer, the carriage horse issue came to a head when tennis celebrity and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) spokesman Martina Navratilova and others were berated by a driver with shocking slurs , using the N word, C word for women and D word for lesbians, while they were protesting the carriage rides.
Stephen Malone, a stable owner, carriage driver and spokesman for the industry, admitted that only two of the approximately 150 drivers are American in an interview. But, he says the industry is a New York "tradition" and animal advocates are trying to take "food" out of his children's mouths.
According to Edita Birnkrant of Friends Of Animals, the New York Department of Health and Department of Consumer Affairs nominally regulates the carriage horse industry but gives complaints to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) which has 12 to 18 officers, only one or two monitoring carriage horses. But Stephen Malone, the carriage horse spokesman, disputes that there are only one or two officers watching the industry and rattled off several ASPCA names that he says drivers work with.
According to animal advocates, the life and fate of the city's 200 to 220 current carriage horses is cruel. After facing heat prostration, exhaust pipe fumes, inhumane stable conditions and driver mishandling, they are bought by killer-buyers for slaughter at a mere four to seven years says veterinarian Holly Cheever. Every year, as many as 60 horses "disappear" from city records, presumably dying in the stables or going to Mexico or Canada for slaughter, say Dr Cheever.
Ruth A. Juris, a former equine veterinarian who testified about the carriages over twenty years in front of Mayor David Dinkins, agrees. "Horses are among the most skittish and sensitive of living creatures and the most humane solution would be to ban the carriage horse industry at once because all measures to confine horses to Central Park, and to ensure that the horses have proper food, water, and humane stables, have failed," she says.
Would the retired horses earn a one-way ticket to the slaughterhouse? Not necessarily, says Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals, who has worked for 30 years against the carriage rides. Feral believes all the animals could be placed in sanctuaries, preferable to slaughterhouses where horses "are not always dispatched humanely" but killed by rifle fire, which can require up to 15 rounds.
Horse meat, not commonly eaten in the US, is a popular commodity in other countries though it can harbor butazolidine ("bute), steroids and toxic veterinary drugs since the animals were not raised for food. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) supports the "humane" slaughter of horses which the USDA has taken steps toward approving, though legal battles continue.