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NYT on Why We Shouldn’t Own Horses

(The NYT inadvertently presents a great argument for not allowing people to own horses.)

Earlier in the week, the New York Times ran a story about how badly the carriage horse are treated, by their owners. If that’s not a good argument to prevent people from owning horses that they will force to lug tourists around for a buck, I don’t know what would be . . .

This morning, an Opinion called "Once Around the Park" sounds like it was written by a politician. It’s as if the author had a team of people brainstorming how to present a message that pleases everyone, yet doesn’t really do anything.

The problem, make no mistake, is that the horse-drawn carriages exist in Manhattan in 2007. It’s ludicrous to expect a 19th century mode of transportation wouldn’t cause problems when plopped into the middle of one of the busiest cities on the planet.

Let’s deconstruct:

  • Rather than seriously considering the issue, the Opinion begins with "Animal rights activists have long warned that the horses that haul hansom cabs around Central Park had a bad deal." It’s animal welfare activists that have been doing that. Animal rights activists might be as well, but the bad deal part of the argument is secondary to: we shouldn’t be using them at all. Then again, the NYT has been getting this wrong for quite some time.
  • The carriage owners are neglecting their horses and "the city needs to do a better job policing the business." Let me ask you something: If you cannot trust the owners of animals to treat them properly, particularly when there’s money involved, and you must create policing systems, don’t you think perhaps the horses shouldn’t be owned to begin with? Economically speaking, the policing costs money, and if there were no carriages, the city wouldn’t have to spend the extra money. It seems to me that getting rid of the carriages is a win-win for the horses and the city, at this point.
  • But wait. "Some will latch onto the comptroller’s findings as a reason to do away with the carriages altogether. Considering how popular they are with tourists and romantics, that seems drastic." Drastic? That’s an interesting choice of words. Getting rid of an archaic and wholly unnecessary use of animals that has resulted in their neglect, abuse and death is drastic? And what’s this piffle about romantics? I want to meet the people who–once they’ve thought about it for 60 seconds–still think it’s romantic. Herein lies one of the problems: people aren’t thinking enough about what they’re doing, what they’re eating, and to whom they’re giving their money. (This is the topic of my pamphlet, by the way.) But in my experience, when educated in a kind, diplomatic way, they begin to see what they do through a different lens. And their behavior begins to change. I promise you, the "tourists and romantics" are suffering from a profound state of blissful ignorance, and do not intend to harm horses. They’re just not thinking through what they’re doing.
  • "What’s needed is tighter regulation to ensure the horses get regular checkups, have clean stables and are treated humanely." That’s an insult. People like Elizabeth Forel of the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages have been trying to get at least that accomplished for several hundred years. And the horses are still thirsty, standing in their own waste, exhausted and forced to negotiate through crazy traffic. The genius idea of the editorial board of the NYT is not new. The Times even admits, "The health commissioner agreed to organize an oversight board called for some 25 years ago." I’ll hold my breath. If I were a horse, I’d say I’ve run out of goodwill. Humans simply haven’t done right by horses, despite the protests of people who keep reminding us of what we are doing to them. Why can’t we just give then a break and let them be?
  • But no. The Times thinks opening a stable in Central Park "deserves exploration."

In conclusion, the way the Times is going to solve the problem is to: have tighter regulations (which has never worked before and enforcement is nonexistent) and maybe relocate the horses. This way, the owners get to continue to make money off of them, and the city gets to continue to make money off of them, and people like me will continue to boycott the city–or at least the park–and continue to be embarrassed that the leadership of New York City refuses to step into the 21st century.

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  1. Mary (I did vote and sign the petition for the carriage horses) – up here in the Bugtussle, in Canada’s Great White North, it is man’s OTHER best friend, the ‘sled’ dogs who are being exploited, and this summer one of the local newspaper reporters (who has recently taken up sled dog racing and owns a team of dogs) did two favourable articles about dog mushers, specifically Yukon Quest mushers, who use their dogs for their lucrative sled dog tour businesses. Our territorial government is a major sponsor of the Yukon Quest and promotes sled dog tours as a tourist activity (dog tours are given both winter and summer). On the other hand, our territorial government has weak and outdated animal protection legislation, with no specific protection for sled dogs. If the legislation was modernized, the Yukon Quest would very likely be considered illegal as it would be considered illegal in many U.S. states.

    To give an example of how weak our legislation is, in the spring of 2006, a Dawson City area dog hoarder shot 74 dogs and was not charged for his crimes. The local humane society president, who was visiting the property to seize some of the dogs who were in the worst shape, encountered the man sitting on the pile of dead dogs. She was told “If I can’t have them, no one can.” [Ref. ]

    Mary, I am sending you with this post three recent newspaper articles to give you a taste of some of the media madness surrounding the Yukon Quest and dog mushing. This year, the Yukon Quest received, for the first time, a lot of negative attention (much of it coming from the SledDogWATCHDOG site). There was a poster campaign (perhaps something similar is being done for the horses?) by our organization in the City of Whitehorse – posters against the Quest and the exploitation of dogs who are used in this disgusting race. The posters were very prominent in the city during the two weeks of the Quest and during the 2007 Canada Winter Games, which hopefully embarrassed some of the supporters of the race. Not to be forgotten is the fact that three dogs were killed in the 2007 race, and a Quest spokesman, in his arrogance, stated that the dog culling methods of Quest participants was “not the organization’s business.” [Ref. ]

    This past week, a lobby group approached Whitehorse City Council about building a $350,000-$500,000 street sculpture honouring the RCMP (who historically used sled dogs) and the Yukon Quest (who have historically killed sled dogs]. The Quest organization had previously approached council about this on their own behalf, but, cowardly organization that it is, apparently decided to bring the RCMP on board for protection. Not that the RCMP has a squeaky-clean reputation about sled dogs – Inuit have complained to the Federal Goverment about the issue of mass shootings of their dogs by RCMP officers in the 1950’s and 1960’s. [Ref. ]

    Here are the three stories:

    ‘Summer Running at Carcross Canine Camp’
    Genesee Keevil, Yukon News
    August 1, 2007

    Michelle Phillips’ sled dogs know how to spend the summer. When they’re not splashing about in purple and blue plastic wading pools, they’re lounging under big green canvas umbrellas. The Carcross canine spa even features a workout routine. Once a day the huskies take adventurous tourists on 20-minute cart rides on the trails behind Frontierland. “Some people think running dogs is cruel,” said Phillips. “So it’s good for them to come on these rides and see how much the dogs love to work.”

    The huskies started barking as soon as Phillips pushed the three-person cart into place. Lunging on their chains, they jumped up excitedly while Phillips and her helper Luc Tweddell struggled to harness them. “People have lost touch with what a working animal is,” she said. The cart was bouncing — screaming and jumping the dogs could hardly wait to go. Phillips reached down, pulled her quick-release rope and said a soft, “OK.”

    It was quiet. The cart bumped along the gravel track with Phillips standing steering on the back. “The kids love it — it’s like a doggy rollercoaster,” she said. Phillips pointed out a bunch of ropes tied to trees along the route. It’s to tie off the team if she can’t hold them with just the brake. When the dogs are excited, it’s hard to stop them. “That’s my worst fear, to lose a bunch of tourists,” said Phillips. It hasn’t happened yet, she added with a laugh. After whipping around a sharp left turn in the bush, the dogs suddenly stopped.

    Tucked amongst the pines were four plastic wading pools, spaced out so each pair of dogs could have a splash. Trouble was, the lead dogs couldn’t wait. Twister and Elmira jumped into the third pool, leaving the wheel dogs panting in the back. Phillips coaxed them along and after rolling around in the water the leaders begrudgingly moved up a pool. The hotter the day, the more breaks the dogs need. And when it gets up past 23 degrees Celsius Phillips only offers half-mile runs. “You have to be careful with the heat,” she said. After every run, Phillips switches dogs, allowing the teams that have just run to cool-down in the sprinklers and under their umbrellas. There’s also a lot of wind in the area, she said.

    Some of the dogs stay at Frontierland overnight, but many are trucked home to Tagish in the evenings. “And they still get to run free when we get home,” said Phillips. Frontierland sees as many 900 people for lunch at least three times a week. And, on a busy day, Phillips and her crew take up to 40 people for dog sled tours on carts seating three and six. The runs keep the dogs in shape, said Phillips. “They’re happy, working and staying muscled up.”

    Because there are a number of turns and trails she can take, it’s also good leader training, she said. “You get to work their gees and haws — so they never get bored.” For the last few years, Phillips’ huskies have been joined by a bunch of Peter Ledwidge’s Dawson dogs, as well as 32 from Tweddell’s team. The Quebec musher has been working for Phillips for the past three years, and is planning to run the Yukon Quest this winter. The summer runs are perfect for puppy training, he said.

    “There are so many trails we can take and they get used to seeing people. So when we reach checkpoints (on the Quest) they’ll be used to seeing a crowd.” Tweddell has watched plenty of tourists change their tune about sled dogs in the course of an afternoon. “Some people look at the dogs and feel bad because they’re on such short chains,” he said. “But when we start to hook the dogs up to the cart and they go crazy and chew their harness because they want to go, (the tourists) begin to understand.

    “More than 95 per cent of the people who are not OK with (sled dog sports) are OK with it after they try it.” Phillips loves the summer program because it allows her to spend all her time with the dogs. “This way they’re not bored,” she said. “It’s something that allows me to work with my dogs year round, make money and have my child at work.” Phillips’ programs run seven-days a week from the beginning of May through the end of September.

    ‘Snow, sled dogs and Klondike skin’
    By Genesee Keevil, Yukon News
    August 31, 2007

    Kyla is mushing in her underwear. Gaby gardens topless. And Loire is biking in a thong and chaps. But Ed Vos insists his third Dawson Girls calendar is not about the sex. “I’m a sensual photographer, not a sexual one,” he said from his home in Dawson. “I’m trying to bring out the beauty in women.”

    The 65 Yukon females who fill the pages of the 2008 calendar are “just girls having fun,” he said. Laura is standing on the ice topless, holding a wolf skin against her chest. Kirsten is tucked behind an outcropping of rock, naked. And Tina is shoveling dirt in a rather risqué black lace top. The photo shoots are therapeutic, said Vos.

    Most of the women haven’t modeled before and are often nervous. “They are all amateur girls,” he said. “So I give them a crash course on modeling.” It’s easier with guys, he added. “You just give them a beer, have them strip down and you’re done within the hour. “With women the shoot is a lot more involved. It takes longer and there’s a lot more fussing around.”

    Vos shot his first Dawson Girls calendar in 2004. It was a fundraiser for Dawson musher Agata Franczak, to help her run the Yukon Quest. The calendar sold well. The next year, Vos did another to raise funds for the Fetal Alcohol Society of Yukon. He also shot a Dawson Boys calendar and a sled dogs calendar. The guys calendar sold best. Around this time, Vos’ fiancée was diagnosed with breast cancer. “I spent my last three years dedicated to her,” he said. “We’ve lost six Dawson women to cancer in the last few years.” Vos’ fiancée died just a few weeks before Franczak.

    The 2008 calendar is dedicated to Franczak, who is featured for February, running dogs topless. “I want to use this calendar to raise awareness about cancer,” said Vos. “Breast cancer is reaching epidemic proportions and women are hit the hardest.” A frightening percentage of the women in this calendar will at some point in their lives face cancer or some other disease, he added. Vos blames the state of the world. “We are poisoning the planet and basically ourselves,” he said. “We are such big consumers in North America and most of it ends up in the dump.

    “But we need to think about what we put in our bodies and the air and water.” After losing his fiancée, Vos wasn’t thinking calendars. “I wasn’t sure about it last winter with [his wife] sick,” he said. But after following Kyla Boivin on the Quest, he did a shoot with her. “And it was so good I decided to do another calendar,” he said.
    When Vos started shooting for his first calendar in 2004 with Franczak, it was going to be a series of topless tableaus. But then he had Franczak cover up “the important bits,” and both agreed it was better. “It leaves more to the imagination,” he said.

    Vos, who’s had a camera in his hands since he was 12, used to work in Banff as a ski photographer. “I specialized in winter sports and portraiture,” he said. Five years ago, after coming north to visit his brother, Vos decided to move to Dawson. “I fell in love with the Yukon and skijoring,” he said. “So I finished my Banff contract and moved here.” Shooting nudity wasn’t part of the plan. But during a camping trip on Kathleen Lake with his brother, the two guys ended up naked. Vos set up a tripod and took a bunch of shots. “And every time the shots came up in slideshows, people just howled,” he said.

    “Shooting women naked is much more respectful,” he added. Vos talks with his models, to find out their interests and hobbies. “And sometimes it’s just about getting them in beautiful places,” he said. When Vos shows the women the finished portraits, they sometimes start to cry, he said. “They say, ‘I can’t believe that’s me.’ “It’s the inner beauty that matters more than the outer beauty,” he added. “A woman gives you this radiant smile and that totally shows up on the film.” There are lots of characters in Dawson, said Vos, whose calendar features women 18 to 55. “And they’re always willing to have fun.” Vos is only printing 2,000 calendars, at $25 a pop.

    ‘Surgery hasn’t severed Turner’s Quest plans’
    By Genesee Keevil, Yukon News
    September 5, 2007

    For a handler, getting covered in dog poop is all in a day’s work. But Lies De Meulenaere never had it in the eye before. “Normally, I wouldn’t leave when we’re hooking up teams,” she said, bouncing along on the ATV behind ten of Turner’s Yukon Quest dogs. “But in the eye . . .”

    Meulenaere has been at Frank Turner’s dog yard since the start of the summer and only has a few weeks until she returns to Belgium. The foreign student is majoring in animal behaviour and chose Turner’s kennel for her internship. Sled dogs aren’t like domestic pets, she said, slamming on the brakes to wait while one of the dogs took a bathroom break.

    “Frank has 120 dogs and they are all so friendly — visitors are surprised to find this too.” It’s all about socializing and handling the puppies right from birth, said Turner enjoying homemade crepes on Tuesday morning. One of the whelping pens contained pups with eyes still squeezed shut. “I used to wait until their eyes were open to hold them,” he said. “But now I pick them up right away.”

    Turner did join his volunteers and employees on the early morning training run. He won’t be out with his team for at least another month. A week ago, the well-known musher had a hernia operation that’s left him out of commission. “They told me I had two choices,” said Turner. “Either I have the operation or I don’t,” he said. But there was a risk of intestinal damage if the hernia wasn’t dealt with. “Then I would die out there on the trail.” He opted to go under the knife. “It’s lucky they found it now, and not in November,” he added. In the hospital, it turned out that Turner’s anesthetist was a woman who owned one of his retired sled dogs. “I went in; she was talking to me about Trixie, then I don’t remember anything,” he said.

    Next thing Turner knew, he was dreaming about the Quest. “Then I woke up, and asked them when they planned on doing the operation.” It was already done. “It’s the first operation I’ve had since I had my tonsils out, when I was two or three,” he said. Turner isn’t too worried about missing the first month of training. It’s all about the team, he said. And Turner’s not just talking dogs. “When I have good people running my tours and I trust my team, then I can focus on the Quest,” he said.

    Turner’s tours change with the seasons. In summer, tourists and sled dogs wander to the Yukon River after enjoying a video and a presentation about mushing at minus 40. Now, with the leaves starting to change, things have slowed down at Muktuk Adventures. It’s the shoulder season, said Turner, who doesn’t design the tours primarily for humans. “I design my tours from the dogs to the people,” he said. “It’s dogs first, not the other way round.” With the huskies starting to run again, tourists are invited to enjoy the video and the presentations, then hop on the back of an ATV and go on a morning training run. “The tour is not supposed to be just recreational,” said Turner. “It focuses on the Yukon lifestyle and understanding the dogs — it gives them an appreciation of what the dogs do. “We just do what we do and the tourists get involved in it.”

    People sometimes react to all the dogs being on chains, said Muktuk volunteer Edward Statton, mentioning one woman who was “big into animal rights” She went around giving them water, he said. “But noticed they weren’t drinking.” The dogs are watered three times a day. After spending a night at the Muktuk bed and breakfast and talking with Turner, she changed her tune, said Statton. Turner welcomes criticism.

    “Animal rights activists have presented valid criticism over the years,” he said, citing whips. When Turner started mushing everyone used them. At the Rendezvous sprint races all the mushers cracked the whip to get the teams going, he said. “But whips don’t make dogs run faster. “You make them run faster by taking care of them.”

    Breakfast at Turner’s has an international feel. A volunteer from Brazil with feathers in her hair sits beside a family from Tanzania who were curious about sled dogs. Turner is at the head of the table, talking dogs, offering tips on driving up the Dempster Highway and discussing the secrets to a good dog team. “It’s about building trust,” he said. That’s what will get a musher and his team over mountains, through blinding snowstorms and frigid cold. “A team is like a jigsaw puzzle — all the pieces have to fit together.”

    Females bring focus to a team, while males, who are easily distracted by crows and squirrels, bring the brute strength. On a 14-dog Quest team, there are 87,178,291,200 different combinations of dogs that could be run, he said. “And I need to know the best combo.”

    Stories Copyright 2007 Yukon News – The ONLINE version of Yukon News is available by free subscription at

    Please visit these sled dog tour web sites and see if you can identify any examples of exploitation. One of the Yukon-based sled dog tour businesses apparently charges up to $10,000 for a sled dog tour. Meanwhile their dogs spend much of their time tied up to miserable plywood dog houses.

    September 8, 2007
  2. In response to last week's article revealing the audit of the horse-drawn carriage industry, I submitted a letter to the editor that was published in today's Sunday NY Times, in The City section. An animal rights perspective was sorely needed, as it was completely missing from the article, and in the 'Once Around the Park' opinion piece that followed. Here's my letter:
    It's Time to Retire Those Carriage Horses

    To the Editor:
    New York City's horse-drawn carrige industry shouldn't be seen as a permanent ficture just needing cleanup. It's time to end the business entirely. Too many horses have endured misery in the name of entertainment.
    The New York City comptroller's recent audit underscored the neglect and mistakes of a dysfunctional industry. May the audit awaken the mayor and City Council to the real heart of the matter: exploitation is not an appropriate tourist attraction.

    Edita Birnkrant
    Upper West Side
    The writer is the New York City Campaign Coordinator, Friends of Animals

    ***-They edited out my call for a boycott until a ban is in place, but the message is still strong.**

    September 9, 2007
  3. YEAH, Edita!

    September 9, 2007
  4. Ellie #

    Wonderful, Edita! I'm so glad they published it.

    September 9, 2007

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