Sunday, January 11, 2015

Motives and Philosophies Behind Push to Ban Carriage Horses in New York City


Gino, a carriage horse of Central Park. But is Gino a poster animal for "abuse and suffering" or for human engagement, partnership and bond?
 
Recently, on the NYCLASS (New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets) Facebook page there were posted, several proud photos of members picketing City Councilman, Vincent Ignizio's district office with signs saying among other things, "Ignizio Hates Animals." (This because the councilman has refused to support the group's quest for a ban of NYC carriage horses.) The activists are standing in front of dead horse prop (from Hollywood), that from a distance, appears real.
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Not only are such tactics distortive and mean-spirited, but they also appear delusional.  It is difficult to imagine any legislator moved to supportive position for protestors aims on the basis of intimidation and character smear.
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But such of course have been the tactics of anti-horse carriage protestors for some time now. And not just against legislators, but carriage drivers, passengers and anyone else supporting keeping the horses in New York City.
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One wonders how and why we got to this point?
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With all the real issues of animal abuse and killing, why were the carriage horses clip clopping through Central Park chosen as primary focus for animal activism and at least two million dollars spent (particularly for political influence)?
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While there have been allegations of "land grab" of the property horse stables sit on that likely have validity (Its hard to imagine a wealthy real estate mogul pumping more than a million dollars into something because he feels "sad" seeing horses lined up at Central Park South), particular focus of this blog is not on shady politics, but rather, the motivations and philosophies of the animal activists.
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Why were carriage horses chosen as target as opposed to, for example, the killing of thousands of cats and dogs in city shelters every year (Animal Care and Control) or the killing of wildlife in New York City? (Canada geese, wild turkeys, swans and other animals.)
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There is, first of all, the perception of carriage horses as a "soft target" because they are highly visible and in an easily accessible location for protests, stalking and photographs.   There is also the fact that the industry is comparably small, employing less than 400 people. And there is the argument that taking a horse carriage ride through Central Park is "not a necessity."
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Moreover, in these days of cell phones, video cameras and social media, it is comparatively easy to photograph, edit and photoshop videos and photos to make a case for alleged horse "abuse." (For example, a photo taken at night and posted on NYCLASS showed what appeared to be a "sad and dispirited" horse with head down under dark, ominous lighting. Closer view shows the horse eating out of his food bucket. Other examples are videos shot inside horse stables under very low light and with dark, sinister, accompanying  music.)  One doesn't need to be Steven Spielberg these days to shoot compelling videos designed to manipulate human emotions. One just needs a little creativity and a computer.
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Then there is the aspect of repeatedly using and blowing up, the few and far between photos of past horse carriage accidents to "build the case" for taking down the entire tradition. 
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But, while all of these go to tactics, they still don't go to actual motives and philosophy.
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"Animals are not ours to use, eat or wear." is mantra of many in the modern Animal Rights movement.
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Such sounds plausible and reasonable when one considers the abuse and killing (usually, brutally) of billions of animals for meat, fur and other products.
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But, the mantra becomes far more complicated when the issue becomes, not animal killing, but rather, animal "use" such as working and social partnerships with animals. Taken to its farthest extreme, such philosophy challenges the entire concept of even keeping animals as "pets" as the animals have "no choice" in such and are "used" for human companionship with supposedly little or no benefit to the animals. (The animals are thus, "enslaved.")
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Prominent leaders in Animal Rights such as Ingrid Newkirk of PETA and Rutgers Law Professor, Gary Francione have argued that the keeping of dogs, cats and other animals as companions should be "phased out" as they are mere creations of "human manipulation."  It is in fact, stated goal that all domesticated animals should eventually become extinct through attrition as all are manipulative creations of humans.  (So is corn for that matter, but that is another issue.)  Evidently, this philosophy also applies and extends to all domesticated horses.
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Unfortunately, what such philosophy fails to take into account are animals' choices and willingness to actually engage with humans, presumably for benefit to them.
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Thus, when the caveman threw a bone to a wolf, thousands of years ago, the wolf chose to engage with humans in a sort of "partnership" and thus laid the groundwork for the eventual development, over centuries, of the modern dog.
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(But, according to Newkirk and Francione, who made the mistake so many thousands of years ago?  The wolf or the human?)
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Today, there are thousands of videos posted on YouTube showing unique connection, bond and partnership between animals and humans -- many of them actually involving wild animals.
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But, perhaps the most unique and closest bond of all between humans and animals has been our special relationship with horses as this recent video showing a two-year-old child walking her horse demonstrates: http://themetapicture.com/little-girl-takes-her-horse/?fb_action_ids=644357659024500&fb_action_types=og.comments
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Horses help to build civilizations, provide access and transport to nearly ever corner of the globe and have even been our partners in wars.
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True and tragically, the horse has not always benefited in such relationships and too often has become victim to and of them.
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But, that is not to devalue, diminish and banish the relationship itself anymore than those who abuse or neglect cats and dogs reflect the true value of the human/companion animal bond.
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Such is rather, akin to arguing that those parents who abuse or neglect children provide reason and "proof" for why humans should not reproduce.
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In recent decades, the movement for animal rights has, in some ways shifted and morphed from being one of "pro-life" for animals to one of being simply, "anti-suffering."
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But, here is where the waters become very murky.
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While life and death are easily definable, suffering is not. This is especially true for victims who cannot articulate in words, their actual pain or suffering.
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Unfortunately too, humans have infinite capacity for rationalization.
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Thus, chickens may be crammed four to a cage the size of a newspaper and as long as they continue to produce eggs, their owners argue they are "not suffering."  (Never mind that egg production is a biological process having little to do with the animal's emotional state of happiness or lack therein.  Many an unhappy woman has given birth to a child.)
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One problem with suffering is that (especially pertaining to animals) it is largely subjective and hard to prove.
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Another problem is that there is not a human or animal on the planet that hasn't at some point, suffered.  Suffering is part of life, both domestic and in the wild and both, for humans and animals.  
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Were we to effectively argue against all and any animal suffering, it seems we would have to argue for the eventual extinction of all animals, both wild and domestic. -- "The unborn and/or dead and extinct can't suffer."
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But is that a place the Animal Rights movement really wants to go? -- Arguing for extinction and animals' rights to be dead?
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Domestic animal suffering may be largely subjective and difficult to prove, but it has its obvious signposts and indicators:  Emaciation, untreated wounds, illnesses, scars and injuries. Neurotic, obsessive behavior and/or depression such as exhibited by pacing, excessive grooming, fear, extreme timidity and nervousness or unprovoked aggression.
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None of the above indicators are however observed or evident in the carriage horses of Central Park.
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On the contrary, the (mostly rescued from slaughter) carriage horses of Central Park exude vibrant health, weight and care and more to the point of actual contentment, all appear to exhibit engagement, alertness, profound sociability and willing connection to and with people.
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The Central Park carriage horses are hardly poster animals for the AR claims of "abuse and suffering."
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But, they are poster (and highly visible) animals for the existence of animal "use" and partnership with humans.
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And it is really this that is at the heart of the motivations behind the current animal activists crusade to banish carriage horses from our midst. 
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The activists don't seek animal engagement, but rather and only, "enjoying animals from a distance" (actual quotes from prominant leaders in AR, including the two aforementioned). 
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It is not a matter of the carriage horses actually being starved, beaten, abused and killed.  It is that they are employed and enjoyed at all by humans.
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Thus, members of NYCLASS can picket city councilpersons' offices with signs claiming the legislators "hate animals" simply because they support engagement with animals in mutually reciprocal relationships.  
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But, such is very dangerous road to tread down for if ultimately successful, it will call into question and challenges all of our current relationships with domestic animals, including the value, right and wonder of keeping and caring for a companion cat or dog or for that matter, a goldfish.  -- PCA
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2 comments:

Charlotte Allmann said...

I appreciate your attempt to explain this phenomenon. You did a wonderful job, at least the best that I have heard, yet. Whenever I see the NYCLASS postings and protests I am overcome with sadness and bitterness, it's like it rubs off, is contagious. In any other context, I would feel sorry for such people and reach out to them, but these people are beyond reach, I am convinced of that. Their separation from animals has cut them off from the rest of the world, left them empty of real empathy and loving relationships, their beliefs and attitudes just confound me. Thank you for this effort, you are a better woman than I am to at least try to explain it.

PCA said...

Thank you so much, Charlotte for taking the time to share your thoughts with supportive words.

Yes, this whole idea of attacking any and all "use" of animals opens up a real Pandora's box that ultimately challenges and dismissis animals choosing to work with humans and even love them. At its worst extreme, this even carries over to human relationships and connection with pets. This is not just about carriage horses.