On the morning of June 24th of last year, I turned on my computer to see an e-mail that immediately caught my attention.
The subject line was “ex-carriage horse in kill broker lot PA.”
The e-mail asked if I knew anyone who could help to “save this gentle gelding from slaughter” since they had only two days until Saturday at 6 p.m. to find a secure home.
If one was not found in that time, the horse would return to the slaughter pen.
His description read “Bay gelding ex carriage horse has license plate on front left hoof quiet, gentle broke to ride/drive.” He had already been purchased by a kill buyer but a Good Samaritan was trying to find a home for him.
Knowing the urgency, I quickly went into high gear and reached out to several people to see who might rescue this horse. Fortunately, Susan Wagner of Equine Advocates accepted the challenge. With all the paper work involved, it was not until Monday that the horse, who later became known as Bobby II Freedom, arrived at their sanctuary in Chatham, NY.
HORSE SLAUGHTER IN THE US: For years, polls have shown that the majority of Americans are opposed to horse slaughter.
The horse has a special place in our history. We don’t eat him and we don’t like to see him slaughtered. And we do not tolerate seeing him abused.
Although there are currently no slaughter facilities in the United States to process horses for human food, it is not illegal to truck American horses to Canada and Mexico to be slaughtered for meat that is shipped to countries like France, Italy, Belgium and Japan where it is considered a delicacy.
In 2010, 53,104 horses from the United States were sent to Mexico and 59,693 were sent to Canada to be slaughtered. So far this year, almost 70,000 horses have been exported for slaughter. This information was reported by the Equine Welfare Alliance.
Kill auctions like New Holland in Pennsylvania and Unadilla in upstate New York, to name a few, are the first stop on the way to the slaughter facilities. These two are convenient to NYC carriage owners. Auctions are hazardous places and the horses are in danger of being injured, killed, becoming ill – and being purchased for slaughter as Bobby was.
The NYC carriage industry has often been accused of sending their horses to auction, but we did not have proof until now. This was a careless transaction by the owner where the horse was dumped at a public auction – New Holland – with a visible 4-digit ID number engraved on his left front hoof. But it was good fortune for Bobby and was the means I used to track him back to West Side Livery stable, one of four carriage horse stables in NYC.
These kinds of transactions are usually not so open. Over the years we have heard rumors that this ID number is sanded off when the horse is taken to auction so there is no way to identify a NYC horse.
WHERE DO ALL THE HORSES GO? Since 2005, I have been analyzing Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DoH) horse registry lists, which I obtain through the Freedom of Information Law. At any given time, there are approximately 200-220 registered NYC carriage horses in the system. My analysis has revealed that at least 1/3 of the carriage horses, between 60 and 70, who are in the system one year, are not the following year. And because this is a snap shot comparing two dates, which are usually about one year apart, it is probably on the low side since some horses come into and leave the system in that period of time.
The carriage horse owners claim that they find homes for all their horses. But the law is written in such a way to support a closed door secretive industry. If they do find homes, then the industry should not mind a system where they need to provide records and do the best thing for the horses.
The existing law requires that if a horse is sold within New York City, the seller must provide the name and address of the buyer to the DoH within ten days. Horses sold within NYC are generally sold within the industry to another driver. NYC is not a horse buying town.
However, if the horse is sold outside NYC, the only requirement is to let the DoH know that the horse is no longer in the system. There are no protections and no controls for the horses.
It is no mystery why the existing law does not regulate horses being sold outside of NYC. This way, the owner can make his living in a system that has as few controls as possible on his business. He can sell the horse to another carriage horse business, to work on an Amish farm or bring the horse directly to the slaughter auctions. Or he might even retire the favorites to a sanctuary or his own farm if he has one.
But the horse has no protection and his fate is entirely at the discretion of his owner.
LILLY’S STORY: The late Lilly O’Reilly was a NYC carriage horse sold to a carriage business in Boston in 2006 via New Holland. She was fortunately rescued along the way and her story can be seen on the web site of the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages. She was 200 pounds underweight. She was also very depressed and distant and did not come out of her shell until she was adopted by an equine veterinarian and went to live with another horse and a rescued donkey who quickly became her pals. She only lived a short time after that, but at least she was loved and wanted. Both she and the other horse had gotten sick but she did not recover. Her caretaker said it was due to her previous hard life on the streets.
PUT UP OR SHUT UP: The new bill, Intro 670, introduced by Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, finally has the horses’ welfare at heart. Owners will be required to sell or donate their horse to an individual, animal sanctuary or animal protection organization that must sign an assurance that the horse be kept solely as a companion animal, will not be sold, will not employed in another horse-drawn carriage business and will be cared for humanely for the remainder of the horse’s natural life. Records with the buyer’s contact information must be submitted to the Department of Health.
We hope that the City Council will support this bill and understand that these horses must be treated with kindness and respect.
Bobby Rolling Image Source: Jim Craner