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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