Infrastructure & Environment

Philadelphia Wants to Keep Its Horse-Drawn Carriages

January 3, 2014
 

By Jeff Gammage

The mayor of New York says his city's horse-drawn carriages are taking their last ride, to be banned because the work and conditions are cruel to animals.

Might a ban in Philadelphia follow?

Nay, says a spokesman for Mayor Nutter.

The city has no plans to outlaw the popular carriages that ferry tourists through Independence Mall and Center City. But the administration is studying whether to strengthen the licensing and enforcement regulations around horses and horse stables, said Nutter's press secretary, Mark McDonald.

The issue has gained traction in Philadelphia, where several recent incidents involving carriage horses, cars, and dogs have resulted in injuries to people and animals.

"Our proposal is an outright ban," said Ed Coffin, a spokesman for the Peace Advocacy Network, a local activist group. "There's no reason to be using these horses for entertainment."

No horses were working on Independence Mall on Thursday because of the cold weather.

To the north, Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised to quickly outlaw the carriages that operate around Central Park, suggesting they be replaced with electric antique cars and driven by the same operators. His effort is sure to face resistance, and any ban would have to be approved by the New York City Council.

"We're happy to see the New York issue is really out in the open now, so everyone has an opportunity to comment on it," said Linda Kramer, stable manager for 76 Carriage Co., Philadelphia's largest operator. "It's going to be a political quagmire for him. There have been a lot of people who have stepped up and said, 'This is America. You can't ban something as inhumane when you have no proof.' "

She sees no likelihood of a city effort to eliminate carriages in Philadelphia. She believes the proposed New York ban is actually about money, not humanity, because the property now occupied by stables is seen as valuable and desirable by developers.

She said her company takes great care of its horses, who were stabled or getting exercise in a yard on Thursday.

Others insist it's cruel to horses and dangerous for people to have the animals on city streets.

In November, a horse named Silver stumbled and fell near Seventh and Sansom Streets in Center City, leading several people to post on Facebook and Twitter that the animal was dead. Actually, police said, Silver was alive when taken from the scene. Kramer later provided a report by Ambler veterinarian Dale Schilling that concluded, "Horse is fine."

The incident was among several that have brought unwanted attention to horse-drawn carriages.

In 2011, a woman was hospitalized after the carriage she was operating hit two cars in Old City, after her startled horse trotted into traffic, police said. In 2010, three people were hurt when a car hit a carriage on Independence Mall, triggering a chain-reaction crash involving two other coaches. The same year, a pit bull slipped its leash and attacked a horse in Old City.

New York has had similar experiences, including one in 2012 when a black-and-white horse named Oreo took off through Midtown, crashing into cars and dumping his driver and passengers, two of whom were hospitalized.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg supported the horse-drawn carriages, calling them "something that a lot of tourists really love," but the new mayor feels otherwise.

"We are going to get rid of the horse carriages. Period," de Blasio said shortly before his New Year's Day inauguration. "They are not humane, they are not appropriate for the year 2014. It's over."

Animal-rights activists say the horses are overworked, endangered by traffic, and forced to constantly breathe exhaust fumes. The ASPCA believes that operating horses in New York "is unnatural, unnecessary, and an undeniable strain on the horses' quality of life," spokesman Bret Hopman said in an e-mail on Thursday. If a ban takes place, the ASPCA will happily help find new homes for the horses, he said.

More than a dozen cities around the world have banned carriages, including Las Vegas, London, Paris, and Beijing, according to the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages. Since 1995, there have been more than 200 incidents in which passengers, drivers, or horses were killed or injured, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

"Everyone's watching to see what's happening in New York," said Coffin, the animal-rights spokesman. "It will be pretty embarrassing if New York takes this step and Philadelphia is still participating in such a cruel industry."

(c)2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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