by Elizabeth Forel
Gotham Gazette | November 23, 2021
The election is finally over, and Eric Adams will be New York City’s next mayor, winning handily with 66% of the vote before the counting of absentee ballots. Sadly, the excellent animal issues platform put forth by the Republican/Independent candidate, Curtis Sliwa, might well be forgotten.
For the most part, the media ignored it – including at the two televised debates, with only one animal issue question, “will you ban horse-drawn carriages?” but no discussion. It was easier to mock Sliwa and his wife for the many cats they have rescued than to ask thoughtful questions about his ideas.
It is hoped that Mayor Adams will consider these progressive proposals and act on them – because both the animal shelter and horse-carriage issues have gone on for far too long without a solution and with our elected representatives turning a blind eye.
Adams has said he is “open to further discussion about prohibiting the operation of horse-drawn carriages.” His support for animal issues actually goes back many years and includes pets in housing, support of the Foie Gras ban, opposition to geese slaughter, and his trademark plant-based diet.
Through the Bureau of Veterinary and Pest Control Services, animal issues are still under the domain of the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), whose mission is to protect and promote the health of New Yorkers – people, not animals. And with a name like that, it’s no surprise.
The idea for a Department of Animal Welfare goes back to 1997 when the Shelter Reform Action Committee, of which I was co-chair, worked on a ballot initiative to create a separate Department of Animal Affairs, with its own Commissioner. It failed, largely due to then-Mayor Giuliani’s opposition. But what was true then, 24 years ago, is just as true today. Animals need their own representatives without this built-in conflict of interest.
The issues that need to be addressed include the animal shelter system, whose problems have been exposed in the media many times over the years and in an audit by the City Comptroller released September 15, 2020. But as Nathan Winograd says in his blog, NYC Audit Shows Continued Animal Neglect, some issues have never been properly addressed, such as the killing of thousands of healthy, adoptable animals each year; unsanitary conditions; inadequate adoption efforts; and poor leadership.
But instead of a complete overhaul with public input, DOHMH awarded Animal Care and Control (ACC), the quasi-governmental shelter system, with a 34-year contract worth over $1 billion after a badly-publicized hearing that drew the ire of activists saying it would limit competition and innovation — and of at least one City Council member, Robert Holden. How and why did that happen? Almost two years later, more Council members — Holden, Alicka Ampry-Samuels, Inez Barron, and Speaker Corey Johnson — spoke out demanding an investigation into the ACC after a New York Post expose.
Sliwa’s signature issue was to make the city’s animal shelter system No Kill – something other cities have done successfully. Not an easy feat but despite their claims, the ACC has failed to institute the proven policies and programs necessary to become truly No Kill, which means not killing healthy and treatable animals; accessible spay/neuter services; public/humane education and increased, responsible adoptions.
The other ongoing issue that continues to plague this city is the horse-drawn carriage business and the desire by many to shut it down for public safety and humane reasons. The Committee for Responsible and Compassionate Tourism has explored this issue, including a fact-finding trip to Guadalajara, Mexico, the first city to transition to electric horseless carriages.
They’ve suggested phasing out horse carriages and replacing them with electric carriages, which will preserve jobs and provide more income for drivers since they will not be limited by weather restrictions that apply to the horses. Horses would be placed in responsible and caring homes. Since 2017, a growing number of cities around the globe are using electric horseless carriages with great success, with the town of Alcudia in Majorca being the latest, with the association of horse-carriage drivers actually proposing this idea to the administration.
It is not a matter of whether the drivers love or treat their horses well. It is, instead, about the environment in which these horses are forced to work – the heavy traffic, congestion, cramped stalls, lack of turn-out to pasture – but mostly a horse’s nervous and sensitive nature, which can cause them to spook and bolt, and at 1,500 to 2,000 pounds cause serious injury or death to themselves or innocent passersby.
New York City is the largest city in the country, of course, and it is irresponsible and a threat to public safety to continue to allow horse carriages to operate here.
Something must give on these difficult and challenging issues. There are solutions and it is hoped that Mayor Adams, a vegan who has acted positively on other animal issues, will answer this call. Animals have no voice of their own, and it is up to those who care to speak for them.
The way New York City eventually handles these issues in the new administration will be a mark of our collective character and capacity for decency, ethics, morality, and empathy. I truly hope we succeed.
Elizabeth Forel is co-founder, Committee for Responsible & Compassionate Tourism. On Twitter @CompassionNYC.