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NYTIMES–ONLINE - by Sewell Chan -  July 11, 2007

Alarmed by a July 3 collision in which a startled horse bolted from its driver and crashed into a taxicab on Central Park South — "slashing its leg and sending a cabby to the hospital," according to The New York Post — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages held a rally with more than 30 people near City Hall this afternoon to call for the elimination of the equine-powered vehicles from the city.

Of course, that is unlikely to happen. The carriages have been a mainstay of Central Park since its completion in the 19th century.

Nevertheless, the call for a ban on the carriages is interesting because the animal-rights advocates have shifted their argument to safety, of both humans and horses. PETA said in a news release:

Injuries — to horses and humans — caused by horse-drawn carriages are a regular occurrence in New York. In January 2006, a horse died following a collision. The same year, three people were also seriously injured in collisions. Just last September, a horse named Juliet collapsed in Central Park and was repeatedly whipped by the carriage driver in order to force the ailing horse to her feet. An angry crowd of witnesses temporarily stopped the beating, but it resumed after police arrived on the scene. Juliet died in her stall early the following morning.

Horses are forced to pull carriages in all weather extremes, and many become lame from constantly walking on hard pavement. And because their noses are near the same level as auto exhaust pipes, they breathe noxious engine fumes all day long. A simple car backfire or a honking horn can cause a horse to panic and run around uncontrollably, endangering the horse, the carriage occupants, and car drivers.

"Horse-drawn carriages are accidents waiting to happen," said PETA director Debbie Leahy. "There's nothing 'romantic' about animal abuse, injury, and death. How many more horses will be mangled and how many more drivers will land in hospital beds before New York City bans these devices?"

Lisa Wathne, a PETA spokeswoman, said in a phone interview that the group has been closely monitoring the carriage situation and last held a protest against the Central Park carriages in September 2006, after the death of Juliet.

The carriage industry is regulated by the City Department of Consumer Affairs, and reports of animal abuse are investigated by the City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

"Horse-drawn carriages are a very important part of our city, and D.C.A. works with the Department of Health and the A.S.P.C.A. to ensure the safety and care of the horses and the carriages they work," said Frances Freedman, associate commissioner for external affairs at the Department of Consumer Affairs.

The city licenses about 68 horse-drawn carriages in Central Park, a figure that has not substantially changed in decades. The maximum fare is $34 for a short ride (typically lasting 25 minutes) and $10 for each additional 15 minutes.

The horses are kept in five stables.

Cornelius P. Byrne, owner of Central Park Carriages, which controls six of the carriages and a stable on West 37th Street, said in a phone interview: "We get a bad rap. We're under a microscope with this business."

He added: "I would say we're well overseen by different city agencies as to our care of these horses. They have an awful lot of care. Their life expectancy is far better than the average." In the wild, a horse might live 10 years, Mr. Byrne said; his horses, he said, can work for 20 to 22 years and live another decade in retirement.

He said of the animal-rights activists, "They like to complain but don't have an alternative."

Joseph Pentangelo, an A.S.P.C.A. official, said the July 3 incident is under review. "The regulation of horse-drawn carriages is a responsibility that should be shared among city agencies," he said, noting that the A.S.P.C.A. is a private organization. The A.S.P.C.A. does have enforcement powers with respect to animal abuse within New York State. Its officers are armed and uniformed and can make arrests, issue summonses and execute search warrants.

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