Monday, September 29, 2014

The Human/Animal Connection and Bond


Early connection?  Wild Canada geese making friends with and learning to trust humans in Central Park yesterday.
A little girl making early connection to animals.
Carriage horses leading the way in Central Park.
Tony and Prince -- a horse who truly lives up to his name and seems to enjoy close bond with his human(s). .
Sunday in Central Park. A family of four Canada geese interacting with people at the Boat Lake. Dogs chasing balls and returning to caregivers in the early morning. Carriage horses strolling easy and familiar route as their drivers point interesting sights to passengers.
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These are all examples of the human/animal connection.
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But, what exactly is human/animal connection and bond?  
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Well, for some animals domesticated over thousands of years, such as dogs and horses, the bonds go back a long way and incorporate everything from working with the animals to selectively breeding them for specific tasks, to using them for fun or sporting activities, to keeping them as "pets" for companionship. 
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Some can argue the merits or "morality" of domesticating animals in the first place, specifically for human use and sadly in many cases abuse.  (Particularly true of modern meat and dairy production of cows, pigs, chickens and other animals via intensive "factory farm" practices.)
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But, that is like closing the barn door long after the horse or cow has left (literally).
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Reality is, we are not going to "undomesticate" billions of human-reliant animals short of releasing them all to the wilds and woods and wishing them "good luck."
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Were we actually to do that to animals so long dependent on humans over centuries, most would perish within a few short years or at the very least, live harsh, unpredictable and perhaps even lonely or terrifying lives.
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Presumably, over a few generations, many domesticated species could revert back to a "feral" state (assuming enough survived long enough to reproduce), but life for most wild animals is challenging at best and short and cruel at worst. 
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If a wild predator species, most of life consists of trying to capture prey species who, over time, develop adaptations to avoid being eaten. If a prey species, nearly all of life is taken up by constant vigilance to avoid predation and seeking food.  True, virtually all wild animals find time for mating, raising young and sometimes just kicking back and sun bathing or even playing and having fun.  But, most of the time for wild animals is devoted to not-so-simple survival. Anyone doubting these realities only need watch a few National Geographic documentaries.
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There are some people in the Animal Rights movement who believe it was wrong to ever domesticate animals in the first place and that all "use" of or "working" with animals is inherently wrong on its face.
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I personally don't believe this because it appears that many animal species apparently decided centuries ago that forming a kind of alliance/connection/trust with humans benefited them in more ways than it harmed them. (Animals frequently make these kinds of calculated decisions in the wild.)  One for example, wonders what was going through the first wolf's head who accepted a bone from a human or the first cat who figured out that hanging around humans brought with it, certain benefits like easy food and sheltering?
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Has such "decision" (if it truly was that) worked out for most animals who are now considered domesticated?
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Yes and no, depending on the species and humans' general treatment of them through the ages.
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One could rightly argue that even nature is not as cruel as humans can be to those they consider to be of lesser value and importance. -- Those they consider deserving of no rights and merely deemed "property" like a inanimate clock or a chair.
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But, on the other side of that question are the animals who have largely benefited from human bond and connection. Particularly, domesticated dogs, cats and horses who generally live longer and easier lives with humans than do their wild counterparts without humans. (Sadly, we cannot say the same for most domesticated chickens, cows and pigs.)
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The good news for many domesticated animals -- particularly dogs, cats and horses -- is that "rights" for them are now being recognized in courts and it is incumbent upon "owners" to provide proper food, sheltering and medical care or owners risk having animals confiscated or potentially facing animal cruelty charges. 
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Laws protecting "food animals" are, unfortunately, far weaker and less often enforced.  (Most animals killed for meat or experimented on in laboratories, for example are not even covered under the federal Animal Welfare Act.)
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Certainly, if one is concerned about "abuse" of animals and lack of protective law, then it seems the first place to set sights and focus should be the abuse and killing of more than 5 billion "food" animals a year in our country (most of them slaughtered at young age and subjected to the stresses associated with intensive factory farming).
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Certainly too, all is not bliss in the dog, cat and horse worlds.  Though the numbers are way down from previous decades, (thanks to spay/neuter programs), we still kill several million cats and dogs in shelters every year.  And 160,000 horses were apparently sent to slaughter last year from the US, many of them, comparatively young and capable of living a productive life.
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All of these represent areas that still need work, focus and law in order to mitigate animal neglect and cruelty and to hopefully bring out the best of the animal/human connection.
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But, one area (in my personal view) that does not appear to warrant specific focus and attention for alleged "animal abuse" are the carriage horses in Central Park (though ironically they have been the center of Animal Rights and media attention in New York City for some years).
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The horses of Central Park, their owners and caregivers and the thousands of people who pass or interact with them on a daily basis actually seem to represent the best of the animal/human connection and bond.
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The horses seem to enjoy a steady and comparatively safe and easy routine. They appear to want to please their humans and they get plenty of attention and moderate exercise.  Moreover, the horses never have to search good quality food, be fearful of predators or anticipate death if suffering a treatable injury or illness.
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Isn't that what we ideally desire for most of our domestic and/or companion animals?
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Yesterday, I spent good part of the afternoon simply observing human/animal connection and bond.
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I saw it in the happy faces of city dogs walking on leash beside their caregivers.  I saw it in the faces of "wild" geese making preliminary connection with humans and learning to trust. And I saw it in the faces of relaxed horses either walking (or in two cases, actually trotting!) slowly through familiar route in Central Park as humans softly murmured in the carriages behind them.
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But, perhaps I saw the human/animal bond most of all in a horse named, "Prince" and his owner/driver, Tony.  Yes, Prince is a wee bit "spoiled" and has truly lived up to his name in more ways than one.  Though 17-years-old, Prince has the confident spirit of a youngster and the sheer "chutzpah" to let any human know what he wants and when he wants it. (Prince will nudge his head into your chest in demand for treat!) 
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When remarking to Tony how youthful and vibrant Prince appears, the caregiver responded with a chuckle, "Well, he gets his Glucosamine and supplements every day. I want to keep him that way!"  
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Ah, the human/animal connection and bond. Though there have been many grievous and unfortunate stumbles along the way, when finally accomplished right, it is sheer magic and joy to behold. -- PCA
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Saturday, September 27, 2014

DeBlasio Bumped Off High Horse



Our new mayor rode in on a white horse, but it wasn't a carriage horse. Perhaps it should have been?
He rode into the New York City mayoral job, verbal guns a-blazing, like the perennial knight on the white horse (though obviously not a carriage horse).  
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With lofty promises like, "banning horse carriages during first week in office," Bill deBlasio won the hearts of thousands of self-described animal activists, wealthy benefactors and others too naive to understand how city government actually works. Despite handily winning the election, the fact is, no mayor bans anything without an actual bill and backing from the City Council.
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But, nine months into the new administration, there have been some bumps along the way for our knight in shining armor.
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DeBlasio first encountered problems when apparently failing to look out his window one morning and notice a foot of snow falling on New York City streets. Tardiness to dispatch snow plows to the Upper East Side in Manhattan resulted in major traffic tie-ups and delays that caused thousands of motorists and children to sit in cars and school buses for many hours. 
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DeBlasio's second bump occurred with his lack of support for charter schools resulting in scores of parents and others traveling to Albany to protest. The governor had to step in to help navigate a course through that snafu.
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Then of course there was the broken promise of "banning carriage horses during his first week in office."  That particular bungle resulted in a heated protest outside of Gracie Mansion last month from some of deBlasios former biggest fans.-- Some romances it seems, are short lived.
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But, none of these things quite compare to Charlottegate of this past week. 
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What is Charlottegate?
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Last February on Groundhog Day, deBlasio traveled to the Staten Island Zoo to pick up and hold a groundhog named "Chuck" to determine if the critter saw his shadow (an annual tradition in NYC).
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But deBlasio was obviously uncomfortable with the terrifying venture and elected to wear thick, yellow gloves. Despite the protective armor, deBlasio dropped the groundhog causing a hard spill to the ground.
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According to the New York Post, the groundhog died a few days later. Further investigation revealed that "Chuck" was actually "Charlotte."
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Hints of bait and switch, along with cover-up of an animal death and vague explanation of it, resulted in the New York Post story going viral on the Internet and hitting virtually all of the national and established media, including the Washington Post, NY Times and even LATimes.   The incident later became fodder for all the late night comedy shows.
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Now, I don't want to be unduly cruel here and blame deBlasio for deliberately causing poor Charlotte's untimely demise without actual evidence. Perhaps its just unfortunate coincidence that he drops an animal and a few days later, the animal dies.  (Toxic gloves, perhaps?)
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But, perhaps a man who hasn't had an animal of any kind since a small child should not have been expected to comfortably hold one -- even a hamster.
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The question is, where does all this leave us now -- especially with the issue of the carriage horses still looming?
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Personally speaking, I don't know how a man who seemingly knows little or nothing about animals (and is certainly not comfortable holding any) should be judge and jury to what's actually best for our hooved, feathered or pawed friends.
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What does deBlasio actually know about horses -- or for that matter, dogs, cats or goldfish?
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Moreover, why was this man viewed as a crusader for animal rights when he doesn't even appear comfortable around animals?  Does deBlasio want to get rid of carriage horses in NYC simply because he is not comfortable with them or any animals in the city?  (That would not seem to bode well for my beloved Canada geese in New York who are already under the gun -- literally).
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To this point, an actual bill to ban carriage horses in NYC has not yet been introduced to the City Council -- and its not certain one will be anytime soon.
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From my few interactions with council people, it seems most want to avoid this issue like the plague -- though many are under extreme and intense pressure from anti-carriage folks. (Most council people have failed to take a position.) 
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Guess is that the mayor and the council are simply hoping that if they stall long enough, the issue will go away like a stubborn cold. -- A good strategy under normal circumstances.
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But, these aren't normal circumstances as those so engaged in fiery and often virulent campaign to banish carriage horses in NYC aren't going away like an annoying cold.
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It seems that deBlasio and some members of the council have painted themselves into a corner.  They are damned if they do (deBlasio and pals likely don't have the votes for an anti-carriage bill to pass) and they are damned if they don't (protests outside district offices and Gracie Mansion.)
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The irony is that unless taking what appears to be, earnest action to banish the carriage horses of NYC, deBlasio could find himself in 2017, in the same position Christine Quinn found herself in 2013. --  Recipient of none too flattering and relentless charges like "animal abuser" and "DeBlasio hates animals."
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Ah, the politics of dirty deals and personal destruction.  It ain't always pretty.
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Perhaps deBlasio might do well to think of a quote shared with me a few days ago by a personal friend:
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"Irresponsible behavior is an inescapable incident of the human condition."
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It was perhaps irresponsible behavior that ultimately resulted in the accidental death of Charlotte the groundhog, as it does death to people from bike collisions or even the remarkably few incidents with carriage horses over the years. -- "Crap happens" as said a few days ago.
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But, it is also irresponsible (and non-accidental) behavior to label others "immoral" simply because they are engaged in a work or recreational activity one doesn't like and it is irresponsible to announce decisions for animals and their owners/caregivers when taking little time to actually learn about them.
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Its time for deBlasio to dust himself off.  But before getting up on his high horse again, actually take the time to learn how to ride and interact with them before making decisions for them.   -- PCA
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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Balance, Benefit and Reason on NYC Carriage Horse Issue?


Can New York City find reason, balance and fairness to keep our beloved carriage horses here as we find in other contentious issues?

This past week, a woman tragically died as result of a collision with a bicyclist in Central Park. This is the second such death within a two month period at CP.
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Last year, there were 316 reported injuries in NYC as result of pedestrian and cyclist collisions:
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This is obviously a legitimate safety issue in New York City (particularly in public parks) and is currently being addressed through greater police ticketing and law enforcement, as well as cycling clubs taking on the issue with their own members. 
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But no reasonable person is suggesting or demanding that cyclists be banned from NYC parks or city streets.
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Such demands are however being made to "ban" horse drawn carriages partially on the basis of alleged safety issues.
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Accidents involving NYC carriage horses and either pedestrians or vehicles are extremely rare.  To date, no human has died as result of carriage accident, but sadly, three horses have. (Reportedly, two of the incidents involved horses dying as result of electrocution due to faulty manhole covers -- a problem Con Edison is apparently addressing as several pet dogs have also died similarly.)
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It is not reasonable to expect that any enterprise, mode of transportation or even hobby can be 100% risk free all the time.  As the saying goes, "S&*% happens."
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Considering 3 to 6 million horse carriage rides over the years, the safety record for the industry is extraordinarily high -- higher actually than any other transportation activity short of walking.
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Walking is in fact, what carriage horses do (and at usually slow pace). Walking is a healthy and easy activity for both humans and horses and is usually pathway to healthy and long life. Most of the carriage horses personally observed over the past week were well into their teens with one being 19.  Most have been working as carriage horses for some years, in one case, 12 years.   All appeared remarkably fit, healthy and of cheerful, alert and outgoing disposition for their ages.
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All these things considered, it is hard to justify the drumbeat to completely "ban" carriage horses in New York City.
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Put simply, with so much attention and thousands of eyes fixed upon these animals every day in New York City it is virtually impossible for the horses to be "abused" in any significant manner and nor do they represent real and actual threat to human or for that matter, animal safety.
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Some might read what is said here and think, "What does this woman know about horses? She has never had one!"
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That is true. Nor have I been inside the stables recently to check on whether carriage horses are "neglected, abused" or drugged. 
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But, one woman has.  Someone who is not an industry spokesperson, carriage driver or person with vested interest, but rather a legitimate horse rescuer and expert.
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Dr.Janine Jacques is founder of Equine Rescue Network and recently visited carriage horse stable in NYC unannounced.  She reports and confirms in her newsletter much of what has been reported in this blog over the past week.  To succinctly sum up: NYC carriage horses do not need rescue and banning of the activity would be "unnecessary" and likely counterproductive to the actual lives and safety of the horses:
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Over the past week, I have been reading much online material, representing both sides of the controversial and contentious issue.  It seems both sides have "dug in" their heels with little wiggle room or place to go.
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That is very unfortunate as it is ultimately the animals who lose in situations like these.
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As Sean (one of the carriage drivers pointed out last week) improvements that could be made in stables are not being made now for fear they will be shut down. Money, efforts and resources that could be used to save even more horses or improve treatment and conditions for present ones are instead being diverted in attempt to fight back against unfair and particularly virulent campaigns and attack.
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It is all quite frankly, ugly and completely unnecessary.
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As previously noted, improvements are always a sought desire in anything, from schools, to law enforcement, to cyclists in our parks.
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So they should be for carriage horses, too. 
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Ms. Jacques' commentary for example, suggests the micro chipping of all current carriage horses to insure that when they are no longer capable of working, they do not fall through cracks and wind up on potential slaughter block.
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I personally think this excellent and responsible idea and fully endorse it.  Thankfully, it seems the stable manager endorses it, as well.  Does it need to become law and mandatory in order for all horse owners to comply? Probably.  But, certainly at the very least, it seems something important for all horse advocates to support and push for, regardless of which side of the general issue they are on.
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But, is this even a realistic and practical demand in light of the current push to ban horse carriages entirely?
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(Or, what about the complaint that working carriage horses don't get pasture time? Why seek a place for pasture in the city, if the ultimate goal is to get rid of the horses all together?  It doesn't make sense.)
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Unfortunately, the more extreme of animal rights activists are seemingly putting the proverbial "carriage before the horse" by demanding something for which there are no set protocols for insuring where the horses actually wide up.  There is talk and vague promises of current carriage horses going to "bucolic" farms and fields to "frolic," but there is no actual law or regulation requiring or guaranteeing such.
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Obviously, I personally do not support the push to ban horse carriages in New York City for these reasons and many more.
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One simply cannot find the explanations for such demand to be compelling, reasonable or of sound merit.
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But, what is ultimately tragic is that such unreasonable and destructive demand virtually eliminate all discussion and effort of improvement of any sort or degree in favor of proverbially "throwing the baby out with the bath water."
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As said at the top of this entry, one does not see any serious discussion or consideration of "banning" cyclists in city parks despite the two people killed by them in the past two months and hundreds injured over the past year.
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Rather, what is sought is reasonable regulation and improvement for the safety and benefit of all.
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That any politician, including our mayor would seek ban on carriage horses without any attempt at meaningful and reasonable dialogue and compromise seems to suggest a reckless disregard for horses, the people who work with them and even the general public who, in most cases simply enjoy seeing the horses in Central Park, whether or not they actually take a carriage ride.
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If improvement and balance can be sought and implemented for the safety and benefit of cyclists and pedestrians, then it can certainly be achieved for the carriage horses of Central Park and the people of New York City -- most of whom treasure and want to keep the horses safely here.  -- PCA
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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

For Them and For Us -- Happy Horses



Passengers offering carrot to "Zeus" after carriage ride this past Sunday in Central Park.

There was a time when sheep grazed at Sheep Meadow in Central Park. There was a time rabbits romped the paths of the Rambles and horses galloped the Bridal Path.  There was time, only a few years ago, when at least a hundred Canada geese graced the waters at Harlem Meer this time of year.
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The sheep and rabbits are long gone from Central Park. Riding horses have since been replaced by endless runners on the Bridal Path. And the geese have been relentlessly slaughtered and harassed in New York City to the point there is only now, one pitiful family of four geese remaining in the 839 acre park.  Soon, even they will be gone.
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This past Sunday, I went to the Boat Lake to see the geese, but could not find them anywhere on the lake that was covered by at least 50-60 rowboats.  (Apparently, the geese were hunkering down somewhere as it was middle of the day.  My friend reported seeing them yesterday morning.)
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Feeling somewhat disconnected to my surroundings, I left the Boat Lake and continued to walk south to 59th Street where I was sure to see some animals in Central Park -- the carriage horses at least.
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While walking there, I stopped to watch (for a long time) passing horses and carriages at the 72nd Street park drive, carefully searching for any signs of abuse, overworking, exhaustion or cruelty.
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Though I saw close to 20 horses and carriages and it was a fairly warm, humid day, not one of the horses had even broken a sweat nor did any appear to be even slightly tired or straining to pull carriage.  
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On the contrary, all the horses appeared relaxed and walking at very slow and leisurely pace -- almost as if they were walking themselves.  Drivers barely had to do anything but point to various sights of interest to their passengers.(like tour guides).  The horses know where to turn, when to stop and even where to get fresh, running water.
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If not knowing better, one would almost think the horses were fully in charge and command during the carriage rides and not the humans.
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Of course that is not really the case (just ask any of the people opposing horse carriages. According to some, the horses are "enslaved.")  But, no matter how much time spent or horses observed, I could not detect even hint of any kind of "abuse" or "exploitation."
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On the contrary, either up close or from distance, I kept feeling I was looking at basically happy and secure animals. Horses who are confident in who they are and their place and job/role in the world.
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"Happy" is of course, a very subjective word and it can be hard to discern in either humans or animals.  What is "happy" after all?
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Some us might think that in humans, "happy" is intensity marked by smile, laughter, a kind of free, devil may care attitude, wealth, success, love and a general joie de vivre.  That is all probably true, but it might cause us to wonder and question why sometimes comedians and others who seem "to have it all" commit suicide?
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In animals, "happy" can be even more complex to discern. What is a happy animal?
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Quite frankly, it seems in both animals and humans, happiness is sense of balance, harmony, security, connection to others and the world around one.  It is knowing and feeling confident and comfortable with one's place in the world and one's "role" in life.
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It is seemingly "icing on the cake," if one (animal or human) has an ideal and beautiful place to live, bountiful friends/relationships (with one's own kind) and plenty of leisure (non-worry and non stress) time.  But, these are not necessarily determinants of happiness.
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I have for example, seen stray cats and even dogs living in junk yards where life was harsh and unpredictable, but who nevertheless, appeared "happy."  By contrast, there are many cats and dogs living in beautiful homes exhibiting "behavioral issues" associated with depression, anxiety disorders and stress.
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Obviously, beautiful surroundings and even "love" as we define it are not necessarily preludes or determinants to being happy for either man or beast.
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But, harmony, balance and comfort with one's "lot in life" seem to be. Those and sometimes a little stress and challenge thrown in just to spice things up and keep them interesting.
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Comfort with one's lot in life is perhaps what I have most observed in the carriage horses of Central Park over this past week. Yes, there is noise and activity around them. Yes, the streets of New York City might not be the story book environment for them. But, like the nine million people living here and adapting to the stresses of life in the big city, the horses appear to be very adaptable, too.
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Should we assume that 9 million humans living and in most cases, working in NYC are "miserable?"  Should we assume millions of dogs and cats living in city apartments are "abused" because they don't have a yard in which to run around?
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If we cannot accurately make these assumptions for humans and other animals living in NYC, why should we assume the horses are "miserable" and "abused" because they are not living the life some of us envision for them? ("Frolicking on farm or bucolic setting.")
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What I saw this past Sunday were horses being rewarded with carrots, buckets of oats, a pat on the neck and/or praise when returning from rides. Part of their "job" seems to be posing for photographs and putting up with people lavishing compliments.  One driver even laughed that when talking too much with people and not paying enough attention to his horse, she nipped him on the arm as if to say, "What about me? Pay attention to me!"
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It reminded of when my dog, Tina would get jealous anytime I paid more attention to Puppy Boy.  She'd interject herself between us as if to say, "What about me?"
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But, these things seem to point more to relationship between human and animal than to any neglect or abuse.  Certainly, I was not abusing my dogs.
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In writing all this, it is not to paint a Pollyanna picture that everything is "fine" and perfect with carriage horses of NYC or that every driver loves or cares about his/her horse in the same way or to the same degree others do. Nor am I saying every carriage horse is "happy" all the time and to the same degree.
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What I am saying simply, is that these horses do not need rescue. (Tragically, tens of thousands of other horses do.)
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Improvements need to be made.  Loopholes need to be closed that allow for any type of neglect or irresponsible abandonment. Horses should have opportunity for some pasture and grazing apart from that offered by 5 week vacations in the country alone.  I am sure there are many others, but as the saying goes, "Rome wasn't built in a day" and everything is work in progress.
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What doesn't want to be seen are the carriage horses disappearing and being banished from Central Park, the same way so many other animals have vanished or been wiped out over the years (including my beloved Canada geese).  
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Horses helped to build this great city. Incalculable numbers actually perished doing so as there were no laws to protect them in centuries past. But it is very different now.   How ironic and hard-hearted is it for us to come all this way and say now, we no longer want and welcome horses here -- even if just to pull a carriage through part of Central Park? 
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Does it ever occur that the horses might actually derive a little bit of comfort and happiness from knowing and exercising their role and place in the world and that there are humans who greatly appreciate, cherish and strive dearly to hold on to and protect that -- both for them and for us?   -- PCA
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Friday, September 19, 2014

"They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"


Working NYC carriage horse, the driver barely holding reigns.
13-year-old carriage horse and pigeons enjoying his leftover, spilled oats.
Sean and Betty Black.
A special relationship?
Betty knows her name and responds when her caregiver calls her to look back.
Although being an Animal Rights advocate for nearly 40 years and an animal rescuer for at least half that time, there is one animal issue I have avoided like the plague in terms of either writing about or taking actual position on. That is because to do so would likely alienate me from other AR activists, many of whom are otherwise deeply respected and known for years.
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I am speaking about the horse carriages of Central Park -- an issue that has grabbed newspaper headlines in recent years, as well as garnered hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent political funding and campaign contributions (most specifically to the successful deBlasio campaign for Mayor of NYC).  The goal is for the eventual demise and ban of horse carriages in New York City.
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I have followed the campaign to ban horse carriages in NYC for many years, but always had reservations and mixed feelings about it. Because of such internal conflict, I remained neutral and on the sidelines.
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On the one hand, attentiveness and pressure on the industry and politicians was a good thing in terms of bringing about important laws and 140 pages of regulations designed to protect horses from overwork and abuse and to insure proper nutrition and care. Among important regulations is a mandatory five week vacation in the country for carriage horses every year.
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On the other hand, the push for an outright "ban" seemed too extreme and over the top to me. What, I wondered, would become of the 220 horses currently working and even more significantly, future horses who would no longer have these job avenues as potential homes? (Presently, 130,000 horses are sent to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico every year for having lost their homes and not having new ones to go to.)
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One can of course correctly argue to the over-breeding of domestic horses in America as we do with cats and dogs, but that doesn't magically produce homes for the millions of animals already here, desperate for placement and dying.
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So, what was the ethically correct and pragmatic way to come down on this issue?   It all seemed so complex and fraught with land mines, I personally chose to avoid it all together. I tried to tell myself that never having personally owned a horse nor worked with them, I was in no real position to "judge" what was ultimately best for them.
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But, I see now that there are many people judging and portending to speak for horses who have actually never owned, worked with or rescued any  -- including our city Mayor deBlasio who refers to the horse carriages as "immoral."
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Perhaps it was incumbent upon me too (as advocate for animal justice) to do some personal investigation and try to find way through the mine fields to an actual position on the highly controversial issue.
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I don't know that I have actually arrived at hard core "position," (though at this point, am certainly leaning in sympathy to one side) as much as I have mostly been deeply troubled over that learned over the past few months and specifically, the last two days.
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I have, in fact. spent the last two days closely observing carriage horses at Central Park, as well as speaking with drivers, some of whom are owners.
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What has been observed have been beautiful, well kept horses who clearly enjoy being around people and genuinely appear happy in their lives and their work.
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In speaking with a few of the drivers, I learned one horse, "Prince" is 17 years-old, was purchased at auction and has been working with his owner for the past 12 years in CP.  (I had to ask myself if that could be true of an animal actually being "abused?") Prince was lively, alert and kept confidently nudging me for more carrots.  "He's pushy," the driver laughed.
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(In fact, all of the carriage horses observed over past two days were between 8 and 19-years old. Most were purchased from the "Holland" Pennsylvania horse auction, where many horses are sold to killer buyers. Other carriage horses are former race trotters.)
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Three horses visited with on Wednesday (Max, Lucky and Tickles) were equally outgoing, confident and seemingly cheerful and content as Prince. -- Nothing at all like they have been portrayed by some in the anti-carriage campaign ("Miserable, sad, overworked, abused"). I looked deeply into all of their eyes and what I saw were calm, ease and seeming comfort with their lives and their caregivers.
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One carriage driver pointed to me a Mexican woman vendor standing nearby and bags of carrots in the horse carriage.   "We buy our carrots from that lady everyday."  (Another person whose job and income will be impacted should a ban pass, but the Mexican lady will not be noted in statistics.)
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Hundreds of pigeons also live a life of ease around the carriage horses.  As one driver quipped, "horses and pigeons go together!" This same driver told me that whenever the horses have to be removed from streets during very hot of cold weather, the pigeons are "desperate" for their return as they are not used to fending for themselves. (This too is something never discussed, though as a bird lover, it bears some consideration to me.)
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I asked a couple of the drivers about the mayor and the campaign against them.
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This is a highly emotionally charged and very hard thing for some to talk about. Prince's owner seemed especially distraught. He shared with me, the alleged, "frustration" of ASPCA humane law enforcement officers who frequently complained of being called off  true animal neglect and abuse emergencies in the Bronx and elsewhere to investigate so-called "abuse" of carriage horses as reported by one particular anti-carriage crusader. According to the driver, the agents felt "prevented" from doing their actual jobs.
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I also spoke with Christina Hansen who is both horse owner/driver and spokesperson for carriage drivers. (She owns "Tickles" who is a large, powerful draft horse working for Christina for, I believe, 8  years at CP.)  Christina is very knowledgeable and articulate on issue. She realizes the "gun" this industry is under and is fighting hard for herself, the horses and the other drivers. She told me, "There are currently 40,000 horses in desperate need of homes and adopters. The anti-carriage people have not contributed anything towards actually saving horses and are rather engaged in a misanthropic, hate campaign to deprive horses of the good homes they already have and put decent people out of work."
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"Its all about land grab," added Christina (and other drivers/owners). "The three story stables are surrounded by luxury, high rise buildings in prime real estate area.  Apartments in such buildings sell for millions."
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I tried to assure that not all animal rights advocates are pawns for rich Real Estate developers, ambitious politicians and/or engaged in or even supportive of the campaign to ban carriage horses in NYC, (me, being one of them). Quite frankly, for people under such constant attack I was surprised they did not have equal hatred for those crusading against them. On the contrary, the horse drivers I spoke with seemed to understand that true lovers and carers of animals would not be behind a campaign of such exaggeration, name-calling and acrimony. Rather, they refer to the protesters as "Radical Animal Rights."
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I spent much time observing some of the horses actually working to take people around Central Park.  The walks were slow and leisurely with drivers barely having to even hold the reigns.  The horses know the routes by heart and walk gingerly with heads level and (to my eyes) cheerful disposition.  (If this is "abuse" then perhaps I have been guilty of such when "forcing" my dogs to walk sizable distance through Central Park all these years?)
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When finally leaving on Wednesday and saying good-bye to horses and their owners, I said, "Don't worry. It's likely the ban will not happen."  (But, to be honest, I am not so sure of this anymore.)
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Yesterday, I returned to Central Park South as I did not have my camera the first day.
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More observations and interviews, similar to the first day.
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But, one driver/owner  was particularly despondent and pessimistic over the future for NYC carriage horses and their owners.
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"I used to love this work," said Sean, a 50-something-year-old Irish immigrant who has been working the beat for many years, "But, its become so hard."
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Sean is owner of "Betty Black," a beautiful black mare literally saved from slaughter 8 years ago.  "An Amish guy saved her from the killer buyer and called me saying, "'I've got the perfect horse for you.'"  I went and bought her the next day."
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Sean is planning to return to Ireland where he grew up on a farm. He claims to have a "beautiful home" lined up for Betty Black on a Virginia farm if and when the time actually comes. "There is no joy in this work anymore apart from what I share with my horse," Sean said.  "The protests, the lies, the accusations, the dirty politics, the land grab have all become too much."
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Sean went on to relate one particular incident that apparently got to him in soul and spirit.
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"A few weeks ago, I was driving a woman and her elderly mother. The mother was dying from cancer and it was one of her last wishes to take a horse carriage ride through Central Park.  Suddenly, two women, waving signs and pointing fingers started to shout repeatedly, 'Shame, shame!  Animal Abusers!'  I was so angry, I muttered a cuss word to them and then had to apologize to my passengers. But, they were pleased I had done that as the experience was ruined for both the daughter and her dying mom.  It has all just become too much over the past few years. I can't hold my temper anymore...." his voice trailing off...
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In reply, I attempted to spout empty platitudes like, "Well, don't give up. Nothing is ever hopeless" to which Sean lamented, "You know, the irony is we have wanted to make some renovations and improvements to the stables to make them even nicer for the horses...stuff like lighting, new pipes, etc, but sensing that the stables will be coming down, it doesn't make sense."
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I could only offer weak condolences and cliches as I did not have answer for that or for that matter, anything else heard previously.
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Finally bading Good-bye to Sean and Betty Black and  leaving Central Park South around 7 PM, I was struck by the general air of despondency surrounding the few remaining horse carriages and some of their drivers. Seemingly gone are the fancy dress of drivers and frivolous decorations on horses, instead replaced by more casual and basic garb.
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Is this, in fact, a "dying industry?" One done in by the modern tech age, pricey Real Estate land grabs, seemingly "bought" politicians, well meaning, but ultimately misinformed and misled "Animal Rights" proponents and a general public that, quite frankly has more important things to worry about?
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Is Sean right to give up on all this and retreat back to Ireland?
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I don't know.
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These experiences, however are known.
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For nearly 20 years I did cat and dog rescue and placement (both strays and AC&C animals; more than 3,000 in all) and saw more than my share of abused, neglected, sad, suffering, starved, defeated, desperate, sick, terrorized, tortured, horribly stressed and dead animals.  I did not see any hint of such over past two days. Moreover, I like to think I am particularly sensitive to animals and would easily recognize animal suffering if/when I saw it.
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So much of this is of course, subjective.  But, to claim "abuse" one should have actual evidence, not just feelings, the ability to name-call, money to throw to political campaigns or the repeated pointing to random and extremely rare incidents of misfortune.  The fact that some animals "work" does not in and of itself prove abuse.  Some might actually argue the opposite.  In humans for example, loss of work and purpose can be preludes to major depression.  In animals too, work, place and purpose are important to most, if not in fact, all species.  Boredom is neither a happy nor normal state of existence for any living being.  
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Should the ban happen, I don't know what will become of the unemployed carriage drivers or the Mexican lady depending on them to buy dollar bags of carrots everyday. Hopefully and presumably, they find other ways of making a living.  Hopefully too, the hundreds of pigeons who have had such easy pickings all these years will find other means of food and survival.
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But, for the unemployed horses, the future is a lot less clear.
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Sean may have a beautiful home lined up for Betty Black. The question is for all the future Betty Blacks for whom the call from the Amish farmer will have no receiver?
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Various cliches come to mind in closing. "The road to hell is paved by good intentions." "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." "Everything is political."
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But, perhaps the one most pertinent here is, "They shoot horses, don't they?"  -- Only we told ourselves at the time of pulling the trigger, we were doing it for their own good.  -- PCA
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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Puppy Boy -- The Former "Vampire Dog"



Puppy Boy (AKA, "Chance") as he appear now. No longer the "Vampire Dog."
One goose and mallards at Harlem Meer last night. Though Puppy enjoyed the mile walk to see them, it was a very different story on the way back.
His official and formal name (from Animal Care and Control) is, "Chance."
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But truth is, I rarely, if ever call him that.
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From the day he was rescued from death at the city pound, I have called the then 10-year-old, puffy Pomeranian with "severe" temperament  issues, "Puppy Boy" (or sometimes, just plain, "Puppy.")
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I should be the last person on the planet to have a powder puff, "purebred" dog like this as my MO had always been to be champion (and caregiver) to the all American "mutt."  Nearly every dog I ever had (with lone exception of a wonderful rescued German Shepherd many years ago) has always been a combination of mixes -- "Heinz 57's," if you will.
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But, Puppy Boy was in big trouble 8 years ago.
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Normally, purebred, small dogs are the first animals to be rescued by established Breed Rescue groups should they be in danger at Animal Control pounds. 
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But, Puppy Boy's picture on the shelter Euth List was not one to warm the cockles.
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Rather, the stark photo showed an angry looking, black-eyed dog obviously snarling with mouth wide open and bearing, not the typical four, but FIVE sharp-pointing FANGS. (Puppy Boy actually had an extra fang jutting down from the center of his mouth just ready to take a  chunk out of someone!)
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I am not sure what prompted me to call the New Hope hotline to "pull" this frightening image off the Euth list, but perhaps something told me that "Vampire Dog's" photo might not generate other rescue calls -- especially with the "Severely Aggressive" behavioral evaluation attached to poor Puppy Boy's shelter record.  He apparently had tried to bite everyone at the shelter.
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Sure enough, I was the only one to have called, willing to take Puppy Boy.  -- A circumstance that apparently so pleased and relieved the shelter director, I was surprisingly awarded $200.00 to take the feisty Pomeranian. (The only time in my life, I was actually paid to rescue an animal!) 
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I was provided with information that Puppy was already neutered, had been owned by someone who had died and that the relatives apparently didn't want him. (Surprise, surprise!)
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Well, one could certainly understand why all of this was so traumatizing to poor Puppy. 
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Death, rejection and then worst of all, the final humiliation of this fancy dog ending up in the city pound.  Guess I would have been pissed off too -- though I didn't have five fangs to flaunt and show for it.
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Though a startlingly beautiful dog, Puppy Boy had not received the best care.
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His rear end was in fact, caked with at least several pounds of stuck on, hard and hanging feces -- a situation that caused much embarrassment when walking him along the streets of Park Avenue and my fancy, Upper East Side Manhattan neighborhood.  I could just feel the shocked stares and glares.
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Moreover, because Puppy was initially so distrusting, stressed and "angry," I dared not  take him to a groomer or try to bathe him myself -- unless wanting to end up in a hospital.
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So, I had to wait until Puppy had sufficient time to "de stress" at which time, I eventually bathed and cut all the crap off myself.
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The good news in all this was that Puppy Boy was good with other animals, particularly getting along well with my other dog, Tina.  That was actually my main concern with him.
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I don't remember if I had ever considered trying to find an adoptive home for Puppy once he had calmed down and been cleaned up. (He was actually a very nice dog after many weeks of care and fostering.)
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It was, after all, my usual standard to always provide adopters the original shelter records from Animal Control. This reality scared me in terms of a potential lawsuit, should Puppy bite someone.  (i.e. "Knowingly" adopting out a "vicious" animal.)  Moreover, Puppy's "Vampire Dog" photo on the shelter records was enough to scare and deter most people.  (Gee, how I wish I had saved that gem!)
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So no, I never made any attempt to adopt Puppy Boy out.  He was really mine from day one.
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All of this occurred nearly 8 years ago.
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Since that time, I had Puppy's extra fang removed by my vet to give him a less scary appearance and have been pretty good about general maintenance (though I have never taken Puppy to a groomer for fear it would be too stressful for both him and the groomer).
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Fast forward to the past year.
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As noted in recent blog entries, most of my attention over the past year was on my other dog, 21-year-old, Tina who was suffering ravages of old age and in somewhat rapid decline.
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Vet appointments and medications did much to relieve Tina's pain and stave off the inevitable.  But, eventually the inevitable comes as it did for Tina and my family this past Labor Day.
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Since then, though dealing with grief and loss, I have been also focusing more attention on my surviving pets, of which Puppy Boy is now the only dog.
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Though also elderly now (18), I have recently been taking Puppy Boy for longer walks in hopes of strengthening his muscles and helping insure vitality.
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I noticed on one of these walks last week, a slight limp.
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When later examining his paws, it was clear Puppy's nails had grown too long and seriously needed clipping.
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Though having dog nail clippers, I decided to take the easy way out and inquired about having Puppy groomed at Petco.  But, I would need to update all of Puppy Boy's vaccines and due to his advanced age, I did not want to take unnecessary chance on this.
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So, I would have to clip his nails myself.
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That would turn out to be like a trip down memory lane -- though not in a good way.
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Puppy Boy never actually attempted to bite, but he was extremely unhappy with the procedure. -- A procedure that prompted the loudest of shrieks, yelps and piecing screams I have ever heard from a dog.  (Thankfully, my neighbors didn't report me to the ASPCA for animal torture and cruelty!)
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What normally takes a groomer a couple of minutes to do, in fact took me more than two days as I had to conduct the "torture" in small steps, one nail at a time.
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But, the positive result of all this is that Puppy now walks normally and gingerly - a circumstance that prompted me last night to (foolishly) walk Puppy Boy more than a mile to Harlem Meer in Central Park.
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It has been more than a year since making this trip with Puppy Boy.  And he was perfectly fine with the mile plus walk there.
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It was beginning the walk back, however, from the Meer, where either the somewhat warm temperature (68 degrees) or just the sheer distance got to him.
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Puppy Boy began to pant and he significantly slowed down; a situation that caused me to realize I would have to carry him virtually all the way home.
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Though a purebred Pomeranian, Puppy Boy is no "teacup."
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He weighs approximately,17 pounds.
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Barely over 105 lbs myself, it was a bit of a trek, holding Puppy Boy like a baby and walking the mile back towards home.
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It was quite the "workout" for biceps that have mostly been neglected over the past few years.
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But, for his part, Puppy seemed to enjoy the free ride.  He settled back in my arms like a content infant, enjoying the changing scenery.
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A few times I put him down just to rest my arms, but Puppy gave me the pitiful, "abused animal" look to let me know, he wanted no part in walking the rest of the way home.
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Walking as fast I could, we finally made it home, my shoulders and arms by that time, aching.
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Puppy ran to his food bowl to let me know all the "exercise" had worked up a gargantuan appetite. After filling his belly, Puppy settled down to sleep for the rest of the evening, as if I had cruelly forced him to run a marathon.
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So, in essence, there are two things I learned over this past week:
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If at some point, struggling for money, I will never make it as a "dog groomer" considering it took two full days to cut the nails of a small "powder puff" dog.
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Nor will I make it in the competitive world of women's weight lifting.
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As for whether I will walk Puppy Boy to Harlem Meer again to see the ducks and (currently, a loner goose there), the jury is out on that one.
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I imagine not without money in pocket for taxi fare home.  -- PCA
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