Monday, December 15, 2014

Animal Emotions -- Are Holidays a Stress on Carriage Horses? (Surprise, Surprise!)


Working carriage horse yesterday. "Abused, Miserable?" Note the forward ears and calm, engaging facial expression.
Mounted patrol horses yesterday in Central Park.
And a carriage horse quickly following in footsteps of police horses.
Alice enjoying some feed after ride.
 
Perhaps the one skill most important in animal rescue is the ability to accurately gage the emotions and energy of animals. This is vital not only for the safety of the rescuer, but also in terms of lowering stress, fear and panic in the animals and helping to ensure a successful outcome.
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I spent many years in animal rescue and placement -- both with strays on streets and Animal Control shelter animals. In nearly all cases, little if anything was known about the animals' histories and one had to rely almost exclusively on "intuition" and getting a general feel for the cat or dog.
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In 1981, when humanely trapping my first feral cat, (for spaying and release) I knew nothing about feral cats. While riding on the bus to take the stressed cat to the vet for spaying and shots, I made the huge mistake of putting my finger through the grating to try and calm the cat who was loudly yowling.  "Lilly" promptly sunk her teeth deeply through my finger and held on like a pit bull. By the time she finally released her grip, I was bleeding enough to completely soak through the large, fluffy white towel I had used to cover the trap.
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Later in the week, my entire arm blew up like a football and turned all the colors of the rainbow, making it hard to type at my job. The pain was quite intense making mere concentration difficult.
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But the good news was that both, I and the cat, Lilly, survived the ordeal no worse for the wear.
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Just as importantly, my first "initiation" into the world of stray and feral animal rescue was one that was ultimately beneficial, for it taught me the importance of being able to read animal emotions and how to work around them without being injured, bitten or severely stressing out an animal more than was absolutely necessary.
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For these reasons, I mostly abandoned use of humane traps for stray cats except in the most stubborn and resilient cases. It was preferable and more humane to slowly win trust of cats and gain their approach, at which time, I would grab the cat by the scruff of the neck and quickly lower or back up into a carrier. (Something that would not look pretty on photo or video, but is far less stressful for the cats.)  Such methods also work with stray dogs, though when gaining a dog's trust and approach, one gently places a slip leash over the dog's head.
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Though I would go on to rescue several thousand more animals over three decades, I was never seriously bitten or injured again (though got scratched and nicked a few times).
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The reason for relating all of this now is because, while I am not an expert on horses specifically, I have spent decades learning to gage animals' emotions in general, both domestic and some forms of wildlife (mainly, geese and ducks).
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For months, I have been researching  and reading the online sites of those whose goal it is to ban carriage horses in New York City with the claims that the horses are "miserable, abused" and "suffering" and represent "danger" to themselves and others (e.g. "weapons when spooked.").
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Though I have spent many hours actually observing the carriage horses in NYC, interacting with them and speaking with their drivers, I have yet to meet a single carriage horse who engendered in me the feeling that the animal was "miserable, overworked" and "suffering."
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On the contrary (as previously written), I have observed and experienced the opposite. -- Animals with sense of purpose who are thoroughly engaged in what they are doing and actually appear to enjoy the engagement with people and mental and physical stimulation.  
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So the question: Have I simply lost touch and ability to gage animal emotions?
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Yesterday, I sought to again observe carriage horses, but this time during one of the busiest seasons of the year for tourists and carriage rides.  Moreover, I went to Central Park and 59th Street late on a pleasant, but nippy Sunday afternoon when many of the daytime horses would be nearing the ends of their shifts. 
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Would the horses be straining and showing signs of exhaustion and overwork? Would they appear miserable and stressed?  This was something I had to see for myself.
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The first horses observed were those actively engaged in carriage rides through Central Park.
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Not only did the horses not appear to be in any way "exhausted," but on the contrary, there appeared to be more of a spring in their steps than usual!
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One carriage horse even quickened his steps to seemingly catch up to the horses on mounted patrol slightly ahead of him.
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Looking closely at the working carriage horse and the several police horses a few steps ahead, it was impossible to tell any difference among them in demeanor and mood. All appeared to be of good and lively spirit, the only difference being the mounted patrol horses had police officers on their backs and the carriage horse, a carriage to his/her rear. 
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But, confidence, energy and engagement were exactly the same.
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By the time I walked to 59th Street and Central Park South, I was already experiencing some measure of surprise, but even more was soon to come.
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As expected, the holiday crowds were deep and dense with many tourists and lovers taking carriage rides.  One could feel the high energy literally in the air as the horses were kept moving and busy.
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Because of the rush of activities, I did not get a whole lot of opportunity to talk with drivers or engage as much with the carriage horses as normal, but there was some.
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What struck me with the few horses actually approached was that they were not too interested in bumping chests and beseeching treat, but rather in staying focused on their work.  In other words an energy that said to me, "Nice to see you, but I've got a job to do and we're on a roll!"  An energy that quite perfectly mirrored that of their handlers and drivers.
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Several drivers did put out the buckets of feed for their horses at the end of rides, but even then the horses appeared more focused on activities around them than showing a whole lot of interest in eating.  It was as though they would miss out on something by munching, though most did take a few mouthfuls.
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Walking through the hurried crowds, one little boy squealed in delight to his mother after a ride and giving a carrot to the horse, "Mommy, the horse licked me! He licked me!" 
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Though there wasn't a lot of time to speak with drivers, one answered when asked what he thought of the proposed ban, "Those people don't know anything about horses and what they need!"
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From what I was observing, I had to agree though fully admitting not to be an expert on equines.  Nevertheless, the energy the horses were exuding was one of enthusiasm and eagerness.  "Despair and misery" were not in evidence anywhere -- least of all in the carriage horses themselves.
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Finally, walking home through Central Park, my memories drifted back to the days of working at the Russian Tea Room during the holiday season (a particularly popular restaurant with tourists).
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How great was it then to go into work each night and feel the hours fly by like minutes! The busier it got during the holidays, the more energized I and other workers became! So fantastic and invigorating was it, that I happily volunteered for overtime and double shifts right through New Year's as I could not get enough of the stimulation and vibrance of feeling needed and time speeding by. (Very different story unfortunately after the holidays.)
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That was what I actually felt from the carriage horses yesterday.
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Just like humans, they seem to revel in the feeling of being wanted, needed and appreciated. 
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Horses who (logically) should have been tired after a long day of work, appeared rather, willing and eager to do it all again -- just like I was so many years ago when so mentally and physically engaged and stimulated. (Gosh, what magnificent animals the horses actually are. They are to be awed, not pitied.)
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Perhaps I should return to Central Park South again after the holidays if the goal is to finally see what the anti-carriage folks have been describing as, "sad and miserable" horses?
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Only then I suspect the horses will return to their familiar and funny chest nudging, "Me, me!  Pay attention to me!" behaviors.  
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For sure, I will need many carrots then.  -- PCA
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Friday, December 12, 2014

The Children's Hour



"Miserable, broken down," a "weapon" on the streets? Ah, if only the horses could speak for themselves and their caregivers.

 Among the very worst accusations one can make towards others are, "child abuser," "wife beater," "rapist" or "animal abuser."
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Such denote the accused as predators who prey upon the vulnerable and defenseless. 
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These allegations are not to be thrown around lightly (without actual evidence to the crimes) for to do so, is not just to destroy careers, but in many cases, lives.
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For some years, those men and women who work with carriage horses in New York City have been barraged with accusations of "animal cruelty" and personally labeled "animal abusers" on a weekly and sometimes, daily basis.
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This despite the fact there is no actual evidence to the accusations. On the contrary, countless veterinarians, animal behavioral experts and even the Director of the Equine Rescue Network have testified to the physical and mental health of the horses and to the excellence of their overall care.  
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What does such repeated name-calling and scurrilous accusation do to one's self-image? How is the accused presented to his/her family, neighbors, friends and community? How does the accused defend against such allegations other than hiding in a corner?
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Actual criminals have right to legal defense in courtrooms.
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But those who are simply subjected to malicious innuendos and criminal accusations without proof are left twisting in the wind as it is always hard to prove a negative. (e.g. "I did not do what I am accused of.")
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Years ago, I had a Labrador mixed dog who lived for catching Frisbees. Fawn lit up like a Christmas tree every time she saw me grab the Frisbee because she knew she would be in doggie heaven for the next couple of hours in Central Park. So proficient was Fawn at running and jumping high in the air to catch Frisbees, (regardless of weather or conditions) she often entertained people in the park. Once, I even entered Fawn in a Frisbee contest! (She didn't win, but both she and I had a blast.)
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But, what if others interpreted these actions as "animal cruelty" or me "enslaving" and "forcing" my dog to perform tricks against her will?  How would I have felt if called an "animal abuser?" How would I have defended against such?
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For sure, I would have been very indignant and angry (as many carriage drivers are). But, it would have been actually hard to defend against the accusations as dogs can't talk to provide witness testimony.
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Horses of course, can't talk either to defend their owners and handlers.
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But, like my dog, Fawn, horses show through their body language and their willing and enthusiastic cooperation in the endeavors before them, their contradiction to the accusations. Put simply, If a horse doesn't want to do something, s/he doesn't do it -- just as none of my dogs previous to or following Fawn have shown any interest in catching balls or Frisbees.
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Unfortunately, one does not need to be convicted of actual crime in a courtroom to be convicted in the worlds of social media or on-street, name-calling.
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Repeat certain buzzwords like "animal abusers" or "cruelty" or "enslavement" long and often enough and many people start to believe them without actual facts and investigation.
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Copy and blow up, hundreds of times, photos of the few unfortunate and accidental incidents in which carriage horses have been injured or died over the course of many decades and millions of carriage rides and one can create and manufacture a case of alleged "abuse" or horses representing "weapons" on the streets of NYC.  Photoshop and highly edit videos to create dark images accompanied by equally dark music and it can be made to appear on YouTube that carriage horses indeed lead a "miserable" and bleak existence in NYC. 
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Indeed, these days one can cook up a credible case against almost anything with a little creativity, a camera and a computer.
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But, in courts, creative, edited and photoshopped videos and photos don't necessarily make the case for actual and criminally intended abuse as recent human controversies have demonstrated. There is much more in actual evidence juries and judges have to go by. Photos and videos are only part of the picture -- usually a small part as they generally don't show or go to state of mind and intent.
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Much of what has been happening with carriage horses over the past few years reminds of the famous play (and movie), "The Children's Hour." In that, two young and idealistic teachers start a boarding school for children, but become victims of malicious rumors and innuendos that they are gay based upon the repeated misinterpretations and exaggerations of one student who alarms an entire community of parents to withdraw their children. In the end, the young teachers lose everything, including nearly, their friendship with each other.
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It seems in the closing of the year, 2014, we are witnessing nearly the same thing as the bill to ban horse carriages in NYC based mostly on alleged "cruelty" has been officially introduced into the City Council this past week.
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With a seemingly "bought" mayor behind the bill, some dirty politics and the City Council Speaker also championing the legislation, its quite possible it might actually pass, despite it going against the wishes of most New Yorkers, organized labor and inspiring a rash of newspaper Editorials against it: 
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But, even if the City Council caves out of political self interest to this cruel and misguided legislation, it will never stand up when challenged in the courts. Courts are, after all, the places where actual evidence and constitutional free choice counts at the end of the day over innuendo, false labels, emotional projections and highly edited photos and videos.
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At least in this way, we are different and a little more progressed today than in the times of The Children's Hour or The Scarlet Letter, though many of the human tendencies towards suspicious, scurrilous and cruel accusations remain.  -- PCA 
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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Because it is The Right Thing to Do -- Fighting to Keep NYC Carriage Horses



Tara and I at December 8th rally to support and keep carriage horses in NYC.  
Carriage On!
Harry Potter nuzzling and saying, "Pick me! Pick me!"
Harry confidently posing and city in background --yes, horses BELONG in NYC!
"Payment" in carrots for a job well done.
I am back down to earth after a four day whirlwind that had me quite literally, over the moon.
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My daughter, Tara was able to get some time off from work and pay a special visit.
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We managed to cram as much as was possible into four days: Central Park, the Met museum, luncheons out, Rockerfeller Center, Fifth Avenue stores, at least one "animal activist" action  -- and Central Park again.
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But, mostly we talked and joked and laughed and talked and joked some more -- each night staying up till the wee hours of the morning. It seemed neither of us wanted to sleep for fear of missing out on just one more joke or one more laugh.
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My daughter is deeply religious and thoughtful, seeking daily guidance from God and saying grace before each meal in expression of gratitude and humility.
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Tara is also (like me) a lover of nature and animals and has always been a committed supporter of true animal justice and any and all efforts to save animals and help to make their lives on this earth just a little bit better.
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For those reasons, Tara was eager to join me yesterday in the rally at City Hall to support the carriage horses of New York City and to save the livelihoods of the more than 300 hard working people who love and care for them.
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It was a bitter cold day as we and many other dozens of carriage horse supporters were forced to wait outside the gate at City Hall to even get into the rally. (Something never experienced before at City Hall.) Embarrassed, I tried to make apologies to my daughter, but she was patient and undeterred. 
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By the time we were finally allowed entrance to the steps at City Hall, we had missed at least half the speeches, despite having arrived to the event on time.
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Perhaps other competing and simultaneous rallies at City Hall presented the obstacles and delay. Or perhaps it was the handiwork of a Mayor who has refused to meet with carriage drivers, referred to them as "immoral" and even failed to visit the stables though there is always a standing invitation.
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Despite absolute refusal to examine both sides of the issue (presumably because big money from anti-carriage special interest groups helped to fuel his successful mayoral campaign), deBlasio is behind and pushing for the bill to end the careers of hundreds of hard working horse people and send their 220 carriage horses to an unknown fate.
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How are such actions and attitude defensible in any way, shape or form?
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My daughter and I were honored yesterday to stand alongside the people fighting to keep the hopes of small, iconic business alive as well as the actual lives of 220 thriving New York City carriage horses.
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But, perhaps the icing on the cake (literally) to all the happy, love and pleasure filled moments was last night:
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While strolling along Fifth Avenue to take in all the Christmas decorations and joys of the season, Tara and I had saved some special moments to stop by the carriage horses at Central Park South to pay our respects and share some carrots.
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The "plan" was to go down the hack line, chat with drivers, hand out some carrots and take a few photos.
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But, the plan somehow got derailed with the very first horse visited.
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Stepping on the curb at 59th Street and Fifth Ave, we chirped to a young carriage driver, "Hi, what a beautiful horse!  What is his or her name?"
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But, before the young man could even answer, the super alert brown horse immediately turned his head to look back and promptly engage us. (The action made me wonder if the carriage horses can actually understand English -- or at least compliments?)
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"Ah, his name is Harry -- Harry Potter!" the young man smiled and answered in a slight foreign accent.  "He is a very nice horse....."
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But, it was hard to take in all the words of the youthful carriage driver as Harry Potter was so busy nuzzling his head into my chest and checking to see if I had any treats in my bag.
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I quickly asked Tara for some carrots.
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Harry assertively stepped on the sidewalk, obviously enjoying the pets, engagement and carrots and blocking our path to any of the other horses in the process. 
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"Wow, this boy really likes the attention!" I laughed.  "Is he always like this?"
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"It's been a quiet night so far," replied the driver."He has energy and enthusiasm and he always likes people."
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Asking questions, we learned that Harry and his driver, Ali had been out a couple of hours and had taken one ride.  If Ali was there to pitch rides to tourists on a cold night, it was actually Harry who was doing a better job of it.
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It was then Tara suddenly piped in, "Mom, why don't we take a ride?  It's my treat for your birthday!"
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With my daughter making generous offer and Harry beseeching still more attention and treats, how could I say no?  I was clearly outnumbered!
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My daughter and I jumped in the carriage and Ali offered us a thick, red blanket to bundle over our legs. 
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Meanwhile, Harry seemingly happy that he made a "sale," quickly and enthusiastically disembarked the sidewalk and began a leisurely walk towards Sixth Ave and the entrance to Central Park. Cars wizzing by or even double parked appeared to have no effect on Harry who was obviously more than proficient in what he was doing. Quipped his young driver, "I only have to watch the traffic. Otherwise, Harry could do this job all by himself!"
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Entering the quiet and peace of Central Park, we learned Harry is 15-years-old, has been a carriage horse for ten of those years and though not owned by Ali, is clearly adored by him.
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"I work with Harry every night. We generally come out at 6 and stay till around midnight. He's a very good horse. I came to this country (from Turkey) because I grew up riding and loving horses. This was opportunity to work with them.  If you like horses, they like you."
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Though I have been to Central Park tens of thousands of times, I had never seen or experienced the park like this -- from the back of a carriage with the confident, soothing clip clop of a horse's hooves guiding the way. There was something very magical and peaceful about it -- especially on a chilly, star filled night.  
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Midway through the ride, Ali kindly offered to take us to a particularly picturesque area in order to take photos with the city skyline in the background. Harry, apparently knowing this to be also part of the routine, stopped in the perfect place for such and patiently waited.
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Finally, heading back toward the exit of Central Park, some people walking by waved to us, smiled and said, "Beautiful!"  We waved and smiled back.
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At the completion of the ride, Tara and I still had some carrots left and Harry was only to happy to receive them as "payment" for a job well done. Ali, again being a perfect gentleman offered to take more photos, being careful to frame and not jiggle the camera. I am imagining that most carriage drivers become excellent photographers over the years, learning to work with many different cameras as the horses become very accustomed to and seem to enjoy actually posing for pictures.  (Such hams!)
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Finally walking away from our newly found friends with smiles on our faces, both, my daughter and I could understand why a carriage horse ride in Central Park is on the "must do" list of so many millions of tourists over the years.  
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Especially compared to the hustle and bustle of the rest of the city, there is just something so magical, peaceful and yes, iconic and "romantic" about a horse and buggy ride through Central Park.  It is indeed something most New Yorkers should take the time to partake in and enjoy as there is nothing quite like it.
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To quote from an old Simon and Garfunkle song, "And the animals will love it if you do."
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Certainly, the horses do.
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But, it is now the next day and evening. 
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Tara has returned to upstate New York and her life and husband there.
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I am back down to earth again and thinking even more to myself than even a few days ago, that it is absolutely vital to fight for and support the carriage horses of New York City and the people who so cherish and build their lives around them because it is simply the right thing to do.
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To ever lose our beautiful and treasured carriage horses would be to lose a very vibrant part of New York City itself.  -- We could never, ever be the same. 
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Harry told me that in no uncertain nuzzles last night.  -- PCA
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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Standing Up for the Right of Carriage Horses to Co-exist, Partnership with People and Share Our City


"Enslaved?"
The bill to ban carriage horses in NYC is to be introduced in the city council this Monday, December 8th.  
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Though my daughter and I had other plans, (its my birthday) we feel it necessary to stand up for the horses and the people who care for them. There will be a rally for horses and drivers at the steps of City Hall on Monday starting at 12:45 PM. It is important for all who embrace the principles of connection and working partnership with animals to attend and support this positive event to save livelihoods and ultimately, horses lives.
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For me, this personally marks the first time in life of going against "my people," so to speak. But, as previously stated, one cannot support what some have turned the Animal Rights movement into in recent years, particularly and notably on this issue.
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Instead of being a cause to protect the lives and rights of animals to co-exist in our world, parts of the AR movement have seemingly morphed into something else -- something some might argue is the actual opposite of these goals. -- A cause for arguing for "humane death" of animals in order to "prevent their (perceived) suffering."
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The argument that animals are "better off dead" than to be clip clopping through a park or to be in any way, "owned" or worked with by humans is an argument for extinction and flies in the face of most animals' needs to have purpose, place, duty, routine and connection in life.
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While the latter is particularly true of animals domesticated by humans over thousands of years (especially dogs and horses), it is also true of wild animals as anyone whose observed the intricacies of the social orders of virtually all herd, pack, pride, flock or colony animals, from wild geese and ducks to feral cats and dogs.
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Not only do such, "better off dead" arguments raise question regarding the (presumably, depressive) psychological conditions of those crusading for killing (or in the case of PETA, actually conducting "humane euthanasia" on healthy animals they feel "better off dead"), but they also appear to reflect a dim view of the very animals the proponents supposedly speak for. 
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Unless laying on a couch all day or standing around in a pasture with nothing to do, the animals' lives are apparently not worth living. Rather, (according to AR extremists), animals like horses, dogs and cats seem to present or contribute no real value to the planet and any "use" or enjoyment by humans is "abuse" or "coincidental." (Actual words.)
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I do not share such warped, dismissive and depressive view.
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The carriage horses of Central Park have virtually all of the things necessary for a happy and fulfilling life (for domestic horses, that is) and more. They have purpose, place, partnership, routine, duty and connection to life and people. Moreover, they are protected from predators, receive veterinary care, nutritious food, shelter and much in the way of human attention and even love. Indeed, the horses even have guaranteed retirement when past the age of pulling carriages in NYC as represented by (but not limited to), Blue Star Equiculture https://www.facebook.com/equiculture.
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While difficult to take an adversarial position against some former and respected colleagues in Animal Rights, in the end one must stand up for the animals' right to co-exist with us and yes, in some cases, even partner and work with us when that work is to their ultimate benefit and longevity, as well as our own.   -- PCA
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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Kill the Bill, Not the Horses!


"I am not yours to take away and send to an unknown fate. My friends and I are perfectly content where we are."
 
As NYCLASS and other anti-carriage horse zealots crusade to "get rid of" the beloved horses of Central Park and promise that there are "waiting homes" for the horses who already have homes, media reports some of the harsh realities for sanctuaries already overburdened and struggling to keep their rescues and horses alive:


Major media is also reporting on the latest fiasco of our mayor pushing for a bill to shut down an entire industry, throw hundreds of middle class workers out of jobs and send the horses to an unknown fate:
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This is the one issue where both, human and animal welfare are on the same side of the coin and simultaneously under attack.
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A ban on the carriage horses of NYC would destroy the livelihoods of 300 hard working citizens from drivers to stable hands to blacksmiths, to farriers, to groomers to suppliers of oats, hay and even carrots. At the same time it would cast 220 horses who already have homes, security, care and love to the "horses needing home or rescue" pool -- a pool already unable to cope with and save 3,000 horses a week being trucked to Mexican and Canadian slaughterhouses.
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To add insult to injury, deBlasio tells horse carriage drivers they can have "new jobs" driving green cabs in and around the outer boroughs.
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Since when do politicians get to dictate to law abiding citizens what jobs they can or cannot do based upon personal prejudices and payback to those who helped put them in office?
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Isn't America supposed to be the land of the free?  A country where people choose their professions and lines of legitimate work as opposed to having them dictated and ordered by government officials? This move by deBlasio to destroy jobs and dictate what disenfranchised workers should do sets new and dangerous precedent. 
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Additionally, while Animal Control facilities may be legally able to seize animals that are actually being abused or neglected by owners, how does NYCLASS get away with claiming they have "waiting homes" for 220 owned horses for whom there is no consistent evidence of abuse or neglect?  Who gave NYCLASS or Bill deBlasio (who apparently has never owned a pet) powers of animal control, seizure and humane law enforcement? Reality is, that even IF there were 220 "waiting homes" for carriage horses, that would simply mean 220 other horses going to slaughter for not having those same homes to go to. -- Call it a macabre game of "musical stables."
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One anti-carriage horse proponent has continuously written of carriage horses "disappearing" once they are retired, hinting at nefarious doings on the part of the owners. However, the reality is that those who give, sell, retire or adopt animals out are under no legal requirement to share the names of new owners with others -- especially those opposed to animal ownership in general.
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Carriage horses are currently identified by engraved numbers on their hooves. In all the years of scrutiny on carriage horses, only one horse has apparently been found at auction after new owners could not apparently afford. Microchipping of carriage horses might help to add additional safety net to this unlikely but unacceptable scenario.  Currently, many of the carriage horses retire to Blue Star Equiculture https://www.facebook.com/equiculture.
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It is more than obvious that the mayor is suffering some delusions of grandeur and is clearly overstepping his bounds and abusing his power -- all apparently to pay back the rich real estate interests and radical animal rights zealots ("Any animal is better off dead than working with or for humans") that helped defeat his opponents and put him in office.
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New Yorkers who care about limiting the power of government to overstep bounds by destroying, changing and dictating livelihoods as well as robbing animals of responsible homes now depend upon our City Council to do the right thing and oppose Bill deBlasio's latest folly.  The Daily News posted a list yesterday of all the city council members (and their phone numbers) who are so far "undecided" on the issue. (Enlarge the font to see clearer.)  
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We all need to call our city council members with one simple message:  "Kill the bill, not the horses."
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It would indeed be sad and lamentable to one day see our beautiful, majestic and human-loving carriage horses replaced with ugly "vintage cars," trucks and tour busses.
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New York City already has too much of the latter. -- PCA
                                                               



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Monday, December 1, 2014

The Mayor's Ill-Thought Proposal to Ban Carriage Horses in NYC


A young girl gives carrot to carriage horse last week after ride in Central Park.
 
Breaking news in NYC today is that Mayor deBlasio is pushing to introduce a bill in the City Council next week that would effectively ban carriage horses by 2016.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/02/nyregion/mayor-de-blasio-unveiling-bill-to-ban-horse-drawn-carriages.html?_r=0
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It is hard to imagine any thinking, caring City Councilperson supporting such destructive and ill-thought legislation.
Legislation that would literally put hundreds of people out of work from carriage drivers, to stable hands, to groomers, to grain and hay suppliers, to farriers to even the Mexican lady selling bunches of carrots to carriage drivers each day. Legislation that would rob 220 beautiful, loved and highly proficient carriage horses of their homes and jobs and place them in the "horses needing rescue" pool -- a pool that is already overburdened and unable to find placement for the 140,000 horses sent to slaughter each year.
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It is more than obvious that this so-called, "Animal Rights" measure is not about horses or animal protection at all, but rather land grab of the lucrative real estate the horse stables currently sit on. Land that in just a few years can be transformed into multi-million dollar condos for rich celebrities and oil moguls from the Middle East.
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Why else would a mayor who cares nothing of animals and would not even allow pets in the house he is currently renting out, become so invested (literally) in so-called, "Animal Welfare" legislation?  Could it be the millions of dollars spent to defeat Quinn last year and donated to deBlasio's campaign, most of which was from rich real estate interests?
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One has got to be hopelessly naive to believe for a moment that this proposed legislation is about any kind of "horse welfare" as it will ultimately be the horses who suffer most as their fate is literally cast to the wind and left to chance. (At least humans can apply for Unemployment benefits and food stamps.-- Horses can't.)  Reality is that the city cannot legally "seize" animals unless there is concrete evidence of abuse and neglect --which is non-existent in the case of the carriage horses who, on the contrary, are extremely well cared for.  
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Even more significantly, thousands of horses will ultimately be trucked to Mexican and Canadian slaughterhouses for not having easy Central Park jobs to come to in the future. Though some like to believe that horses without jobs have limitless "bucolic fields" to romp and roam, the realities are quite different. Where are those "bucolic fields" for the 3,000 horses currently going to slaughter every week in this country? Horses are expensive animals to care for and maintain properly.
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In essence, the proposed legislation is extremely destructive to horses, humans, the city (in terms of 19 million tourist dollars a year) and perhaps most of all to Animal Rights as a legitimate and credible cause.
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Certainly, Animal Rights has lost a great deal of credibility to this New Yorker who for more than 30 years was one of the cause's most avid supporters.
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It's indeed tragic and unpardonable that as a species, we would show so little gratitude and appreciation to the very animals who helped to build this city as to crusade for their banishment and ultimate destruction.  
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Cancel my subscription to "Animal Rights" as this was the issue so many chose to hang their hat on.
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I do not wish to banish any animals from my city, my park or my life.  -- PCA
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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Wild Versus Domesticated Animals -- Who Has it Better or Worse?


Recent migratory goose arrivals at Jackie Onassis Reservoir in Central Park. Tired, hungry and seeking a little assistance in way of food treat from sympathetic human.
Swimming in "V" formation similar to the way they fly in migration, this family establishing some territorial claim.
 
Some interesting, clinical facts about Canada geese as reported in Wikipidia:
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For example, the typical flying height during migrations is 3,000 feet. But geese have reportedly flown as high as 29,000 feet.
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Also reported is that just prior to and during migrations, geese release high levels of thyroid hormones and the stress hormone, corticosterone.
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There is little question that the challenges of lengthy migrations often covering thousands of miles in all kinds of conditions greatly tax the billions of birds and other animals that undergo them every year. Many of the animals don't make it.
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This might raise questions concerning the actual suffering of animals in nature and the wild.
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Do wild animals in fact, suffer more and greater than the billions of animals domesticated by humans and particularly in the case of "food" animals typically exploited and slaughtered?
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That is actually a very compelling and complicated question. Particularly as "domesticated animals" covers everything from cherished and spoiled companion pets to working animals (such as carriage horses or service dogs) to billions of animals confined and constricted on "factory farms" or puppy mills and millions of other beings subjected to painful experimentation in laboratories.
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Despite all the cruelties inflicted upon domesticated animals by humans, one man makes the case that animals in the wild actually suffer more than even the billions raised and slaughtered through intensive factory farming practices. 
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In, "The Importance of Wild Animal Suffering," author, Brian Tomasik encourages animal activists "to promote concern about wild animal suffering to encourage research on the issue to ensure that our descendants use advanced technologies in ways that alleviate wild animal suffering than inadvertently multiplying it." 
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Mr.Tomasik describes in lengthy and well documented detail,  the myriad of ways wild animals suffer in nature and usually die gruesome deaths.
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While no one could dispute that life for most wild animals is challenging, difficult and almost always results in painful death, it seems impossible to actually make a judgment on whether wild animals experience greater suffering in nature than times of actual pleasure or that they suffer more than billions of domestic animals.  
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In personal and limited observations of both, feral cats and some stray dogs on New York City streets as well as wildlife in Central Park, there is little question that daily life for "free" (unowned) animals is a struggle for food, safety and shelter from the elements. But I have also witnessed countless moments of relative ease, relaxation and seeming pleasure.
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Several years ago, I trapped, neutered and released three feral cats to the yards and alley's in back of my building.
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The cats have thrived in their environment, formed strong attachments to each other (and to me) and from all appearances, are very acclimated and "happy" with their lives -- nearly as much as the 5 cats living in my home. One needs to consider of course, the fact the cats are neutered,  thereby eliminating the stresses of estrus, fighting for mating privileges or having to raise young.  Neutering in fact, aids to lengthen their lives. (I also provide the three cats with food once a day which reduces the struggles to otherwise find sustenance.)  But noting the way nature provides the cats with thick, dense coats for winter and observing the joyful body language of purrs and rubbing up against each other, I am forced to conclude that for the most part, these cats are happy despite the otherwise challenges of nature and the outdoors.
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True, one cannot perhaps compare the lives of animals living "wild" in an urban environment to those living wild in the jungles of South America or the plains of Africa. And in the case of neutered feral cats, humans (in this case) have otherwise "intervened" which is what, in many ways, Mr. Tomasik is advocating for and with which I generally agree to certain level.
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What about wildlife living in city parks?
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City parks are created, rather than natural environments as there are few natural predators and hunting is barred.
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Nevertheless, the wild ducks and geese one observes maintain a state of almost constant vigilance. As "prey" animals, they need to be aware of their environment all the time as anything from a hawk, to snapping turtle, to dog to cruel human can represent life ending threat.
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That said, the animals certainly find time for relative ease, relaxation and even what sometimes appears fun and games. Resident ducks and geese often and willingly socialize with people. On nice days, they can often be seen basking in the sun, preening and seemingly enjoying the rays. And then there are the social relationships with each other; particularly pair bondings. Though ducks (unlike geese) do not typically mate for life, their devotion and responsibility to each other while a pair, are strong, purposeful and fulfilling.
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Geese of course are perhaps the most bonded to their mates as such relationships are lifelong. Should one of the pair die, the surviving goose will typically grieve for many weeks or months. There is perhaps nothing more eerie than observing and hearing the plaintive sounds of a widowed goose calling or mourning for his/her lost mate.   
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But, both during courtship and the raising of young, there are many times of seeming joy, pleasure and yes, even love and devotion among the ducks and geese -- or, what one might term, happiness.
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Notwithstanding the facts and documentations cited in Mr. Tomasik's well researched, but clinical piece, I believe it to be a bit one sided, focusing almost exclusively on the sufferings of animals in the wild and nearly not at all on the animals' pleasures, adaptations and particular roles in herd, flock, colony or pack. (i.e. social relationships.)
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I personally believe that (like humans) animals in the wild experience both pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, times of relative ease and times of tremendous stress and/or adversity.
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The same is likely true for most domesticated animals with the probable exceptions of those purposely confined, deprived and exploited on factory farms, puppy mills and vivisection labs. Though generally fed and sheltered from wild animal predation, the latter animals have been so manipulated, restricted and abused, it is hard to imagine them experiencing much, if any pleasure or happiness beyond what a human prisoner might experience in jail or a concentration camp.  Yet, as The Diary of Anne Frank pointed out, even in the worst circumstances, many humans (and animals) are resilient and able to find and experience moments of joy and/or fulfilling attachment.
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In short, it is really hard to say with clear certainty, which animals have it better or worse -- domesticated or wild animals.
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Wild animals generally have to face many more life threatening challenges than do most domesticated animals. For that reason, they don't usually live as long as their domesticated counterparts (again with notable exception of factory farmed animals, most of whom are slaughtered upon reaching maturity).  On the other hand, wild animals generally have more freedom of movement and choice than do domesticated animals.
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"Six of one, half a dozen of the other" as the saying goes.
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I personally believe that as we learn more about animals and create and improve laws to help ensure their protection and welfare, that generally speaking, domesticated animals have it better than their wild counterparts. The lack of fear and anxiety over habitat, food sources, hunting pressures or protection from predators or hostile climate conditions certainly appears to make their lives far easier than most animals in the wild. Add to those things, the general legal requirements for basic veterinary care of domestic animals and unlike wild animals, a treatable illness or injury is not likely to be fatal for them.
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For these reasons and more, I included the enlightening piece from Brian Tomisik today as it raises interesting and fascinating question, as well as it reminds us, that life for animals in the wild is not a Disney wonderland as some might want to believe. I personally agree that in terms of "animal activism," more emphasis needs to directed towards protection and aid to animals in the wild. -- Especially in light of so many species on the brink of extinction due to habitat destruction, climate changes and over-hunting.
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Certainly, watching how "spent" and exhausted most migratory geese are when arriving at the Jackie Onassis Reservoir these days after flying well over a thousand miles, I would never claim life for animals in the wild is any kind of cake walk.
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But, nor does it appear some unending test of endurance of suffering.
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Nature gives and nature takes.
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That is true for both, wild and domesticated animals (though in the latter case, it is more humans that are "giving and taking.")
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But, in the end, domesticated animals might just have it a wee bit better as Tomisik claims.
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What can after all be better, than nuzzling up to some human and having muzzle or tummy rubbed? 
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Horses, dogs and cats apparently answered that question for themselves eons ago. -- PCA
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