Monday, February 8, 2016

"Night" Geese Adapting to their Circumstances


An easy winter as the geese swim lazily along the open water at sunset.
Just waking up and on the move.
"Hello! You got anything for me?"
Romantic pair.
Off into the fading sun.
 
We have been richly blessed this winter with many Canada geese and other water birds at the Central Park Reservoir -- at least twice the number we had last year at this time.
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While difficult to give a precise number (because the geese fly in and out, causing it to vary), most evenings the number is around 200.
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It's also hard to know the exact reason for the increased number of geese, but I suspect a mild winter (so far) and totally open water at the Reservoir has served as attractant.
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It's quite probable that many migratory geese who might have otherwise flown further south for winter elected to stay in NYC due to favorable conditions. (Though generally creatures of habit, Canada geese are also opportunists. If they don't have to fly, they don't.) Because they are large birds, flying requires high energy output for geese -- especially that associated with long migrations.
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Another change noted this winter is the behavior of the geese.
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They are far more active and vocal than they were last winter.
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I suspect that is due to the extremely harsh and inhibiting conditions last winter (Constant snow, ice and sub-freezing temperatures.) The geese (and ducks) were mostly "hunkered down" last winter in order to conserve heat and energy. They were extremely quiet and barely moved except when I came to feed them.
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Contrast that to this winter when the geese are observed typically swimming casually upon the water and engaging in lively "conversation" among the different family groups. Some nights, the geese organize themselves into flocks of a few geese up to 25 and fly out in search of grass. Other nights they seem content to just "chill" on the water.
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Finding food has not been a particularly challenging problem for them this winter.
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As for why the geese are most active and flying out at night to find food, I suspect has to do with goose harassment methods (i.e. Geese Police) still utilized in Central Park during the daytime hours. 
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Put simply, geese are prohibited from any day time grazing on park lawns.
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Though normally geese eat during the day and roost at night, they are obviously birds who can adapt behavior and habit to fit the circumstances.
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And that appears to be precisely what the geese have done this and other winters.
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But, if the water birds have had it unusually easy during this "El Nino," winter (not withstanding the one blizzard), that might soon change as snow is predicted for the middle of this week and temperatures predicted to plunge to the teens by the weekend.
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My "spoiled" geese and ducks might have to deal with some ice once again. -- but, hopefully not for too long. -- PCA
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Friday, February 5, 2016

Keep Going Left or Right and You Eventually Go Over a Cliff


A reason for the gate....
 
Keep going left or right and you eventually go over a cliff.
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Recent blogs have focused on what could be perceived to be a far left (or "fringe") direction of Animal Rights.
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But, the "progressive" campaign to ban (or even limit) carriage horses in New York City recently went down in flames as passion without substance and sense of realism usually doom most human pursuits or causes.  
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But it is not just Animal Rights that sometimes become victim of its own runaway passions and stridency.
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Sometimes it is political parties and even the country.
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One is struck for example, by the scramble to far right direction of the Republican party and the leading candidates' claims of being the most "conservative" in the race. It's as though the term, moderate has suddenly become a dirty word in American politics. Those candidates who might represent centrist or "establishment" positions find themselves at the bottom of the heap, far behind others promising to "build walls" or "carpet bomb" the Middle East.
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But, if the fiery and sometimes bombastic speeches of Republican Presidential hopefuls are not enough to raise alarm bells in the casual observer, the rhetoric from the other side is every bit as concerning.
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Recently, former Secretary of State and Democratic candidate for President, Hillary Clinton was criticized by her political rival, Bernie Sanders for "not being progressive enough" and for even previously admitting she was a "moderate."  (Horrors!)
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I recall days when moderation and centrist positions were considered practical and necessary. But, now these are terms that politicians run from and apologize for.
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But, where does that leave the centrist voter?
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Will we be forced in November to choose between one candidate who wants to build walls or launch new wars in the Middle East and one whose only foreign policy appears to be, "I was opposed to the Iraq war?" (I was also opposed to the Iraq war. But that doesn't qualify me for President of the United States and Commander in Chief.)
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All of this is bringing back bitter memories of the 2000 election and what happened to Democratic and slightly left leaning, Presidential candidate, Al Gore.
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But he wasn't "progressive" and liberal enough.
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Those driven by "passion" voted for third party (Green) candidate, Ralph Nader.
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And in one of the closest, most contentious elections ever, George W. Bush was elevated to the Presidency (via the Supreme Court and electoral votes) despite having lost the popular vote.
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Two years later, we got the Iraq war -- something we are still paying for.
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One hears now about all the "passions" felt for Bernie Sanders.
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But for me, it is sense of deja vu. -- Not only of the 2000 election debacle, but also the failed Presidency of progressive and idealistic, nice guy, Jimmy Carter.
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Keep going left or right and you eventually go over a cliff.  -- PCA
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"Crying Horse" Not Productive for Horses or Other Animals


Carriage horse and driver with new reason to celebrate.
 
It was the bill, not the horses, that needed to be euthanized and "put out of its misery" and thankfully, that happened yesterday.
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Mayor Bill deBlasio's self-described, "compromise" bill to limit carriage horses in New York City and slowly kill the industry was itself killed in the City Council -- one day before it was set to be voted on. 
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Personally speaking, I am pleased with this development for reasons described in previous blog posts. Put simply, it helps restore faith in fairness and government not crumbling to the whims of political pay back and quid pro quo.
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But even more than these, it is relief to know that the horses -- at least for now and the immediate future -- are secure and safe.
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On the flip side, this development represents a significant defeat for the overall cause of Animal Rights.
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But as noted in recent blogs, this was a poor battle to pick in what is otherwise a noble and  necessary pursuit.
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Justice normally occurs from the bottom up, not the top down. (The Civil Rights movement did not after all, begin with protests about lack of African American representation at the Oscars or non-inclusion at country clubs.)
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Focus in any social movement or justice cause should always be on the most egregious and far reaching of abuses perpetrated on either animal or human. When one considers the countless ways billions of animals (both domestic and wild) are exploited, mistreated and killed (or slaughtered) for human desires or convenience, horses pulling carriages through Central Park wasn't even on the radar (as was intimated by prominent Animal Rights leader, Peter Singer).
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That some people chose to make carriage horses the issue of intense "Animal Rights" focus, energy and resources is sadly to the detriment of the overall cause and acts to trivialize and marginalize it.
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It was more than apparent at last month's City Council hearing on the proposed horse carriage bill that most Council members couldn't understand the intense focus on the issue and this makes them far less likely to take AR measures of the future seriously.   
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So, it is a day of both, relief and concern.
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Relief for the horses still welcomed in our city and safe for the time being.
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Concern for the cause whose mission it is to speak for the rights of the animals, but instead (in this case), "cried horse."   -- PCA
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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Carriage Horse Issue a Black Eye to Animal Rights


Carriage horse clip clopping through Central Park.
 
There are few coincidences in politics. 
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It certainly appears no "coincidence" that the City Council is voting on a proposed and huge, 32% pay increase on the same day (this Friday) that it's set to vote on the mayor's "Trojan" horse carriage bill.
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The mayor appears to know that the council would not pass such half-baked, political pay-back lunacy any other way.
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Such stinks to high heaven of political bribe and impropriety as the city's leading newspapers appear to recognize:
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Nor does it seem coincidence (or "sadness") that high profile, real estate developer, Steve Nislick pumped more than a million dollars and formed an anti-horse carriage group (NYCLASS) to defeat Christine Quinn in 2013 and essentially buy the mayorship for deBlasio. -- All this, under the claim and banner of "Animal Rights." (The name, "Nislick" had not been associated with prior Animal Rights campaigns aside from carriage horses. Moreover, the man eats meat -- something most AR activists eschew.)
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Such recently prompted long time Animal Rights guru and author of Animal Liberation, Peter Singer to seriously question and criticize the carriage horse campaign as unworthy of all the attention and resources it was getting in light of real abuses occurring to billions of animals annually -- particularly those animals raised, exploited and slaughtered for meat.  
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The truth is, that the carriage horse issue has done a great deal of damage to the Animal Rights Movement overall, compelling many people otherwise sympathetic to the plights of animals routinely slaughtered, poached, "culled," forced to fight or killed in shelters, to question if a horse and buggy actually constitutes egregious "animal cruelty and abuse?"
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Some go so far as to now accuse the AR movement of "wanting to remove animals from our world" and even "take away" people's rights to have and keep pets.
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Sadly, just as there are extremists in any otherwise, justified social justice movement (or political parties for that matter) there are also extremists in AR. -- those who eschew and condemn any "use," working partnership or interactions with animals apart from admiring them in the wild or photographing them.
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Such rigid, inflexible attitude gives a black eye to the entire Animal Rights movement and gives the impression that we would rather see all domestic animals "euthanized" and/or extinct than serving as companions to people or for that matter, pulling a buggy in Central Park.
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Nothing could be further from the truth.
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Those familiar with this blog from its inception, know that I personally devoted nearly one third of my life to rescuing death row cats and dogs from the city pound (and streets) to ultimately place in loving and responsible human homes.
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Millions of other AR advocates have devoted their lives to rescuing all kinds of animals and promoting greater understanding and efforts to protect wildlife, endangered species, marine mammals and farm animals.  
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The main goal of such AR efforts is to safely and respectfully keep animals in our world.
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But how does one defend an Animal Rights organization (such as PETA) that kills more than 90% of the cats and dogs in its "shelters" and proclaims that animals should "only be enjoyed from a distance?" (Shouldn't the basic "right" of all species be the right to continue living? Nature, after all, provides all species with means of self-protection and survival.)
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Moreover, how can we seriously argue that, "animals should be free to pursue their own interests" (as some AR theorists and representatives do) while walking a dog on a leash or keeping a cat in a NYC apartment?
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Were domestic animals suddenly freed to "pursue their own interests," results would be disastrous (not to mention, illegal). It's hard to imagine any advocate for children arguing that they should be "free" (i.e abandoned) to their own devices. Dogs, cats, horses and other domestic animals are mentally similar to a five-year-old child and are dependent upon humans for their care and welfare.  
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If we argue that all animals should be "free" to pursue their own interests, then we are thus arguing for the eventual elimination of all domestic, human-dependent animals while at the same time, playing right into the hands of those accusing AR of wanting to "remove animals from our world."
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The reality is that these issues are tremendously nuanced and are not given to easy platitudes and one-size-fits-all solutions.
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Add to that, the complex, individual and sometimes contrary needs of thousands of species of animals who cannot express in human words their actual wants and needs and the task of defining Animal Rights becomes that more daunting.
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We cannot, for example, simply project and extrapolate our own desires and needs on to animals. Trying to survive on an ice field in sub-zero temperatures is not something most humans would deem desirable. But such is ideal for a polar bear.  
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Likewise, pulling people around in a carriage is not something most humans would want to do (though pedicab operators willingly bike people around). But, for a 1200 lb draft horse, the task doesn't appear "cruel" so much as simple role or purpose in life.
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As has been personally observe in other group animals like ducks and geese, all have specific place and purpose (i.e. job) in their flocks or gaggles. Dogs (who like horses) have been domesticated over thousands of years to work in partnership with humans appear to enjoy and benefit as a species to that role in life. (Life for most domestic, human "owned" dogs is far easier and longer than Dingo dogs in the wild.)
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So, where do we begin to actually define Animal Rights in a way that respects and acknowledges many animal species' positive relationship to and with humans?
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I believe we first must respect the lives of animals and presume that, regardless of the species, all animals want to hold on to those lives. (Exceptions being when an animal's "right to life" conflicts with human right to defend self, family and property from viable threat and when the act of euthanasia is conducted for purposes of mercy and ending un-relievable pain and suffering in an animal.) 
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Under the right to continue living definition, it is impossible to support the concept of breeding animals with the sole purpose and end goal of killing them for either clothing or meat. Even if raising the animals "humanely" the process of slaughter deprives them of the basic right to protect and defend themselves or attempt escape (all of which would be natural instinct).
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We then have to examine quality of life for those animals we interact with and hold "ownership" responsibility for.
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Current Animal Welfare laws cover the basics of providing food, water, veterinary care and suitable shelter for owned animals, but these are often extended further according to and depending upon the species and its individual and specific needs.
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For example, welfare for NYC carriage horses is covered under a set of more than 130 regulations and laws pertaining to how long horses can be worked, conditions and limitations of when and where they can be worked and mandatory requirements for furloughs and time off (just to name some).
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Animal welfare laws are in fact, works in progress. Like anything else in human society, they can and always should be open to improvement -- especially as we learn more about animals and their specific needs and enjoyments.
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For example, I always thought it would be beneficial if carriage horses were afforded some grass in Central Park to briefly graze on during slow periods in their work days. They don't necessarily "need" it, but it would be nice and one can be reasonably sure the horses would enjoy and welcome it.
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Some of course would argue such is "pie in the sky" fantasy considering that virtually all park space is used for human recreation. But, frankly it seems no more pie in the sky than the cruel and industry-destroying bill actually being pushed by the mayor. (It seems a small plot of grass set aside for a few carriage horses at a time would be far easier and cheaper to accomplish than a 25 million dollar stable that will likely never occur.)
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Unfortunately, the more ardent and extreme Animal Rights activists are not so interested in improving and expanding current animal welfare laws, but rather getting rid of them all together by "getting rid" of the need for them -- i.e. the animals themselves.
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And that opens the entire movement up to both, derision and suspicion.
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This is why I personally believe that the carriage horse issue has given Animal Rights (as a cause), a huge black eye and in the process, has also set Animal Welfare back.
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It is not known for sure, but is certainly suspected that the City Council will pass (as a "Quid pro quo") the carriage horse bill in order to gain favor from the mayor for passage of the 32% pay raise bill being voted on the same day.
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Some in Animal Rights will perceive and call that a "victory."
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But, if so, it is a victory in battle while losing the war for true rights of animals -- the primary one, being the right to continue living and breathing. -- PCA
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Monday, February 1, 2016

One Big Snow to Keep the Geese and Ducks on Wings and Toes


Geese flying out of Reservoir most evenings to seek open grass and food.
Night of the blizzard.
Skiers along the Reservoir.
Aftermath
The snow more than two feet deep.
Hungry geese and ducks navigating the snow.
"Whoops!  What is this?"
This goose had a hard time getting out of the hole, but she finally used her wings and made it safely out. 
Most of the snow and ice melted a week later.
I wasn't particularly worried for the geese and ducks last week when a near-record blizzard hit New York City dumping 27.8 inches of snow.
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I knew the birds could adapt to temporary sub-freezing temperatures and brutal storm. This was especially true considering the extremely mild winter New York City has been enjoying so far.
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Up until the blizzard, we had virtually no snow in NYC and none of the Jackie Onassis Reservoir had iced over.
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But, much would depend upon the weather conditions following the actual storm.
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Fortunately for the birds and other wildlife, temperatures quickly warmed to the 40's and a week later, most of the snow has melted.
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The geese and many of the mallards have returned to their normal routines of usually flying out of the Reservoir in the evenings to seek open grass fields for food.
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Such is very different from the past two winters when bitter temperatures over many weeks prevented accumulated snows from melting on the ground or iced over watercourses even temporarily thawing.
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Thousands of water birds in the North East perished due to starvation during the last two winters, but so far, I am not personally aware of any dying in Central Park. That is great relief as it was not pleasant last year to note the number of frozen ducks, geese, a gull and a coot who perished on the then-99% iced over Reservoir.
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This year, the Reservoir only partially iced over for one day (this past week), causing some confusion to presumably young geese. One goose slipped through the ice and for a few moments, couldn't figure how to get out. But finally, she used her wings and managed to fly out of the hole she had fallen through and rejoined her flock.
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"Damn, what was THAT?" I could hear her thinking.
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One could say our water birds have had a piece of cake this winter and might be just a wee bit spoiled.
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Perhaps it was good that we had at least one big snow storm -- just to keep them on their wings and toes. -- PCA
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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Animal Rights Guru, Peter Singer: Carriage Horses "Isn't a Big Issue"


Carriage driver sharing quiet moment with his horse. Picture of "abuse?"

Noteworthy is all the clamor about carriage horses is the statement from Animal Rights pioneer and bioethicist, Peter Singer, that "this isn't a big issue." 

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Singer, who wrote the 1975 landmark book, Animal Liberation, has long been regarded as one of the most respected and quoted leaders in animal rights.
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Though continuing in the interview to say he favors abolition of the carriage horse trade (likely for political reasons), Singer adds that compared to the larger issues of factory farming and slaughter, it pales.
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Such represents basic dismissal of the carriage horse issue as one, either the mayor of New York City or Animal Rights activists should be spending time on or devoting significant resources to.  
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Unfortunately, "significant resources" have been highly channeled towards destruction of the carriage horse industry in New York City from the more than a million dollars pumped into the effort by Real Estate developer and NYCLASS founder, Steve Nislick,  to endless protests and demeaning Facebook pages to the nearly obsessive focus of our seemingly "bought" Mayor deBlasio.
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And though advised by Singer to promote "Meatless Mondays" and replace animal products at official functions or school lunches with healthy non-animal alternatives, deBlasio nevertheless continues pushing his "compromise" carriage horse bill on the City Council:
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In this latest memo, the mayor's officials attempt to address some of the questions raised by Council Members in last Friday's hearing. But, instead, they merely serve to pile on more questions.
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For example, the memo states:
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"Starting June 1,2016, horse traffic will be limited during rush hours with total ban on city streets between 7 to 10AM and 4:30 to 7PM weekdays."
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Considering that day horses generally go from the stables in midtown Manhattan to Central Park during the specific hours "banned," what does this exactly mean?  That drivers take horses out at dawn or close to noon, thereby losing mornings all together?
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And what about relief for the day time horses?
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Usually the night horses are brought on board in CP to relieve day horses between the hours specifically "banned" in the proposal.  (4:30 to 7 PM)
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So does this mean the day horses simply work day and night?  
Drivers can replace each other, but there seems no way for the horses to rotate and relieve each other without traveling to or from the midtown stables.
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More questions:
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The mayor appears set in the idea (or should we say, fantasy?) of the 85th Transverse location serving as the new "stable" for the horses in 2018 (this despite the fact of not securing permission for a stable to be built).
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The memo doesn't say how the horses are expected to get from the 85th Street Transverse location to 59th Street -- a distance of more than a mile and a half.
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Pedestrian paths are out of the question. The Bridal Path is not suitable for carriages. And the Park Drives are already congested with bikes, runners and sometime vehicle traffic.
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Finally, the issue of pedicabs, which according to the latest memo are restricted (starting June 1) to north of 85th Street in Central Park.
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Runners and cyclists aren't known for taking pedicab rides. Nor is it likely marathoners and cyclists will welcome pedicabs into their space.
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Despite how the mayor attempts to "put lipstick on a pig," it is still a pig. (No offence to our porcine friends.)
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And yes, the bill is still a ludicrous and misguided attempt to cripple and ultimately destroy two industries for no good reason.
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If Animal Rights guru, Peter Singer is surprised and disenchanted with this ill-thought campaign (especially in light of all the real and egregious abuses and slaughter heaped on millions of domestic farm animals everyday) it is nothing compared to most New Yorkers or those who have actually studied the issue.
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I think of the many engaging, confident and beautiful carriage horses I have observed and interacted with over the years and wonder of their futures now?
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Either doomed to some unknown and likely precarius fate or forced to work double shifts (without benefit of days off or furloughs) in Central Park because there is no rotation or relief for them.  (Also direct result of "reduction by 2/3rds" of existing and available carriage horses.)
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DeBlasio's "solution in search of a problem" is indeed shockingly short on solutions, but infinite in the problems it actually creates (including potential for real animal abuse).
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Singer must be gasping in his vegan espresso -- though he is much too polite to say.  -- PCA
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