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Most readers of The Chief won't recall the talking horse "Mr. Ed,” the undisputed star of the early 1960s television sitcom named after him. The show's introductory tune, probably composed by a behavioral psychologist, notes that unlike people, who "yakkity yak a streak and waste your time of day,” Mr. Ed will "never speak unless he has something to say.”
Mr. Ed would be the perfect adjudicator of the re-heated dispute between the approximately 300 horse-carriage drivers of the Transport Workers Union Local 100 and animal rights activists. The issue is whether the quaint rides through Central Park, which predate the Civil War, should be replaced by mechanical pedicabs and electric buggies.
The electric carriages would go no more than 3 miles per hour.
My default position is usually to side with unions on any issue. Sometimes this requires me to put on a show of passion in order to convince others and myself of my own sincerity.
Out of deference to the "big picture,” we must sometimes deflect the bounds of conscience in order to submit to the demands of loyalty, right or wrong. Principles occasionally must be abrogated or induced into a state of hibernation until the danger of their being tested has passed.
But default positions must sometimes be overruled. When it's a matter of the abuse of animals, one must rise above the bond of solidarity.
Both the TWU and animal rights advocates claim unique insight into the psyche of horses.
I wish Mr. Ed could tell us exactly how it feels to be a horse. As a visitor to the Department of Motor Vehicles, I can relate to standing motionless for hours, but horses are forced to do so every day, for long hours and fairly extreme weather, as they pull families of corpulent human cargo who are fantasizing they are upper-class cosmopolitan Victorian-era tourists on the Grand Tour.
Alas, we can't take over the sensibilities of a horse like a computer technician can take control over a cursor from a remote location. But we can use our imagination, common sense and scientific knowledge to empathize with what these horses are enduring.
We know enough to superimpose a valid frame of reference.
Some animal rights activists are fanatical virtue-signalers who insist they can audit the consciousness of bamboo shoots. Other people who actually call themselves conservationists, slaughter animals for sport, and say they're "harvesting" them for the sake of the planet.
For them, creatures were put on earth as props for human indulgence.
The licensed NYC carriage drivers are hard-working, honorably employed New Yorkers, despite their being vehemently opposed to the abolition of the horse-drawn carriage industry. They are not sadists, despite some individuals who have been filmed flogging horses until their collapse. They are not abusers and exploiters by nature or by trade.
But their work must be "re-invented.” Minus the horses, even though they have regular appointments for dental care and hoof trimming and allegedly luxuriate in clean stalls and have five-week vacations.
Drivers must not be thrown out of work or suffer any loss of income. They should be guaranteed steady wages above their present norm and enjoy a generous benefits package and job security protections. Other than the end of the horses' tours of duty, all other details of the solution should be negotiated.
An end-run around the TWU, which lists dozens of labor unions that agree with them, would be futile and backfire on the city and so it should. Their position is backed by a large coalition of other labor unions.
Former Mayor Bill de Blasio had early on pushed aggressively for the abolition of the carriage-driven horses, but relented when large contributions were made to the political campaign of his opponent, former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in 2013. He then refused to build new housing for the horses, and showed his true colors by brushing off all pleas to make the horses more comfortable.
It's been widely speculated that the real estate industry wants to grab the valuable land where the stables are now.
The TWU's pro-horse "Big Heart Platform" makes some valid points and suggestions. It claims that the horses' tasks, given their size, weight and conditioning, is "analogous to a human being pushing a shopping cart.” They note that tens of thousands of horses are slaughtered every year, because of lack of food, shelter, care and usefulness.
They emphasize that their industry is regulated and overseen by five city agencies, and they desire "better oversight" (including a full-time veterinarian making inspections), "more, and more through, physical exams,” hiring, training and testing of drivers and the "building of an equestrian facility in Central Park, without taking land used by the public for recreation.”
They want to take their horses off the car-crowded streets all together. The TWU points out the many advantages that their horses already have over those used by the NYPD.
They want to have shady areas at carriage stands and new safety hitching posts and support the re-activation of the Rental Horse Advisory Board, which they complain has been dormant
(asleep at the reins?) for five years.
The Rental Horse Licensing and Protection Law includes many provisions to ease doubts about the lives and times of a carriage horse: mandated furloughs, restricted hours in continuous operation, limited years of availability for duty, climate control in stalls, days off during extreme temperatures, emergency protocols, etc.
New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets (NYCLASS), says that the drivers are lying about the treatment of the horses. They describe the conditions as a "hellhole.”
The drivers are doing all they can to find rational reasons to justify the continued existence of their present jobs, but they must literally move with the times. Horse-drawn carriages have been forbidden in Chicago, Palm Beach, Salt Lake City, Biloxi and other places, and there has been no discernible harm.
Seventy-one percent of polled New Yorkers want the horse-carriage industry re-tooled without horses; 90 percent felt the "issue of animal welfare and right" is important. A large majority are convinced that the horses have been victims of maltreatment. It is not deliberate, but it's inherent.
The TWU blasts the poll as the propaganda of extremists. Their spokesman declined a media request to visit the horse named Ryder at the farm where he was recuperating from a near-death experience in which the horse, who had a neurological impairment and was at least double the maximum permitted age of employment, was mercilessly whipped by the driver, whose behavior was highly atypical.
If a bill proposed by City Council Member Robert Holden passes, the horse-drawn carriage industry will be replaced no later than June 1, 2024. Current drivers would get priority to operate the new electric vehicles. According to the legislation, they would receive prevailing wages set by the city comptroller.
We've gotten used to a world without telephone booths and record players and have shed many actually destructive cumbersome or odious manifestations of the past to which we had been sentimentally tied.
Spare the horses. Save the drivers. Let's do it!
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