The sad lives of carriage horses

I love New York, but one of the things I don’t like about the city that never sleeps is the carriage horse industry.

Many cities, including the one I live in (Seattle) and one I visited this spring (Savannah), offer horse-and-carriage rides. Approximately 1000-2000 horses are used across the country. These hansom cabs, might evoke an old-world feeling but they’re anything but romantic. Carriages belong in the history books.

sad horse

Horses in the carriage industry are often castoffs from the harness racing industry or from Amish communities and come to the city with pre-existing health problems. They develop further health issues from walking on pavement all day and breathing exhaust from trucks, cars and buses. They work all day in freezing cold and scorching heat and they’re stored in warehouses at night.

They’re never sent out to pasture, and have no government protection. Carriage owners are legally allowed to work their horses 9 hours a day, seven days a week–whether horses like it or not.

don't take a ride

The average working life of a carriage horse is only four years. In fact, about a third, or approximately 70, of the New York City carriage horses are eliminated from the Department of Health horse registry every year. When they’re spent, they’re usually auctioned off for slaughter or rendering plants for dog food companies or zoos.

stuck in traffic

The horses suffer and people are endangered too. Horses get spooked easily and can run into traffic. In New York there have been more than 18 accidents involving horses in the past two years. It’s a largely unregulated industry.

It’s a half-hour ride for patrons, but it’s a lifetime of misery for the horses.

Toronto, Paris, London, Las Vegas, Beijing and many other cities have already banned carriage horses. A fun horseless carriage idea is brewing that could replace horses in New York and still be fun and romantic.

In Savannah, I opted to take a pedicab ride. The man peddling told me he enjoys the job and that it’s paying for his college.

pedicabs instead

What to do?

  • Never patronize carriage rides, and tell your family and friends why they shouldn’t. From newlyweds to tourists, it’s the people paying for the rides that keep this industry in business.
  • If your city allows carriages on city streets, urge your legislators to propose legislation that will ban it.

Update (Jan 2, 2014) – New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has vowed to ban horse-drawn carriages in the city and retire the horses to sanctuaries. Money to help the horses is probably still needed and horses in other cities still need help. This promise is great news, and a good way to keep momentum going for the horses.

Resources:

March to close all slaughterhouses

This past Saturday, several cities around the world marched to close all slaughterhouses: Paris, Toulouse, London, Istanbul, Houston, San Diego, Zagreb, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Perth, Florence, and Toronto. My mom joined in the Toronto march.

vegan women

Compassionate protesters (my 61-year-old mom is on the right — her first demo!)

The Toronto march started at a city park, wove through the streets and ended at one of Toronto’s slaughterhouses (it’s not called Hogtown for nothing). I imagine emotions ran high at the site of the building where 6000 pigs die each weekday.

The march was organized with four tenets:

  • Because oppression, living conditions and slaughter cause immense suffering to animals
  • Because meat production is destroying our planet and our health
  • Because eating animal products is not necessary
  • Because sentient beings should not intentionally be mistreated or killed

The food industry is the largest contributor of animal exploitation, abuse and death but most people condone it through their dollars and their diets. The abuse goes on behind closed doors–literally. We’re not supposed to see it.

MTCAS demo

The marchers show what the meat industry tries to hide

Animals raised for food have a nightmarish existence. Confined, castrated, de-horned, debeaked, injected with hormones and antibiotics, and finally shipped to a house of horrors, where they see, hear, and smell other animals dying all around them before they too are killed.

The animal rights movement is part of a greater social justice movement. People need to speak up for injustices, and that’s exactly what they did on June 15th, all around the world. They marched to raise awareness and be a voice for the voiceless.

Robert Caine and my mom

Speaker Robert Caine and my mom met after the march

When we stop viewing animals as commodities and start seeing them as individuals with the right to live free from exploitation, it’s a no-brainer.

memorial

A memorial to slaughtered animals marked the entrance to the slaughterhouse

The best part about this cause is that the solution is right in front of us. It’s healthy and delicious and easy to do: adopt a plant-based diet.

vegan friends

The people in the march were a cross-section of society. They came from all classes, ages, genders, political leanings and beliefs. Animal abuse is something everyone can do something about.

a little protester

Compassion starts at a young age–don’t suppress it!

Each year, 60 billion land animals and 1,000 billion water animals are killed for humans. It’s staggering to think about. It’s cruel and unnecessary. By changing to a vegan diet you can save about 100 animals a year. This makes a difference. It adds up. Animals matter.

new friends

The message is simple and powerful: Go vegan!

I hope Seattle has a march next year so I can join too and speak up for those who can’t.

Is there such a thing as humane slaughter?

Humane (adj.) – Marked by compassion, sympathy, or consideration for humans or animals.

Slaughter (verb) – To kill animals for food (butcher); To kill in a bloody or violent manner;  To kill in large numbers.

The words humane slaughter seem oxymoronic to me. One can either be compassionate and considerate, or one can kill animals violently and in large numbers.

painting of pigs

I recently read an article in OnEarth.org about Russ Kremer, a man they call the Pope of Pork. He’s being held in such high regard for the wonderful ways he treats his pigs–before he kills them. I realize that there are people who treat animals much worse than he does, but I have a few problems with his approach:

As a boy Kremer worked on his dad’s farm and helped nurse pigs back to health. There’s no victory in saving an animal only to send it to slaughter later. The only gain is financial.

As an adult, Kremer operated his own factory farm, where pigs were warehoused in dark, confined buildings. They were sick, pumped full of antibiotics, and lived above their own waste run-off.  Kremer eventually sold all the pigs he owned, but not until after he got injured by a boar and contracted a nasty virus. The virus was the same antibiotic-resistant version that his pigs had. It wasn’t the pigs’ welfare or the meat-eating population that got Kremer to quit. It was his own brush with death and his own sense of self-preservation.

He didn’t quit farming though. He started raising free-range, organic pigs. The new model nets him $50 more per pig. Again, money is at the root of his choices, not the humane treatment of animals.

I dislike the “new” way of farming because it lulls people into thinking they’re doing the right thing. The “new” method is really just going back to the old, pre-factory farm way. That makes it marginally better than a factory farm, but it still involves extensive use of land, feed, and water. Free-range pigs still produce the same amount of waste that their crated cousins expel. They all still get slaughtered. And when they become sausage, their flesh will clog your arteries just the same.

Neither free range or factory farm is an option from a pig’s point of view. It’s like moving from a prison cell to a mansion. The mansion sounds better but if you’re going to be executed in a few months, what difference do your living conditions make? I bet your biggest concern would be avoiding death.

Throughout the article, Kremer’s pigs are compared to dogs. They’re described as “piglets the size of obese beagles,” and “puppy-like.” But if you talked about how your dog was “bred for well-marbled, tasty meat” people would have you committed! And if indeed you did slaughter your dogs, you’d be arrested. Kremer seems well-meaning, but he’s a businessman. He’s marketing faux-compassion–and it sells. There’s a complete disconnect between the way he “lovingly” raises his animals and the fact that he kills them for money. It’s not euthanasia. He’s not alleviating the suffering of a dying animal, he’s killing healthy animals in the prime of their lives.

Kremer’s business model assumes animals are property, that they don’t have the right to live, and that they are meant for our consumption. No slaughter is good slaughter. Animals deserve to live their own lives; they are not ours to profit from or consume. We don’t need meat to be healthy. Pigs don’t need to die in vain. The only humane choice is to be vegan.

Becoming vegetarian

I’m a vegan now, but I wasn’t always.

At age three I had an epiphany and made the connection between what I was eating and where it came from. But being young, I was easily fooled. Call it “chicken” and I wouldn’t eat it; call it “meat” and I would.

For me, meat was a frozen patty in a box in the freezer. I hadn’t really thought about the connection until I was ten. That’s when I moved from Toronto, a large metropolis where it’s easy to be removed from the origins of food, to a tiny, farming town in Germany.

Jean and AlineI was already shunning fish. Especially if I’d bite in and see a chunk of scaly skin. I started passing fish sticks under the table to my dog. But when I saw the local butcher kill a pig in the driveway of a neighbor’s house, my meat-eating days ended. I was in the back seat of the family car and we were driving away. To this day, I can picture the scene in slow motion. The blood, the cruel smiles on the kids’ faces as they participated in the event. Ugh. It was a nightmare. I’ve always loved animals and I didn’t want to be part of that.

Fortunately, my family was practically vegetarian. My mother has never liked meat and didn’t object to my change in eating habits. I still ate eggs and cheese and drank milk, but I was becoming a conscientious consumer. I started to learn about food and what we need to be healthy.

The next year, I moved back to Canada. I packed PB&J for lunch and blended in with the other kids. I didn’t make a big deal about my choices and neither did they.

Not everyone thought me being a vegetarian was a good idea. When I was 15, a boyfriend begged me to eat a burger. That’s the only time I’ve fallen for peer pressure. I ate the burger but told him I wouldn’t do that again. He relented. A few months later though, just to be polite, I had a chicken casserole at his mom’s house. I realized that I couldn’t keep “being nice” so I explained to her that I didn’t eat meat and I didn’t lapse again.

My grandmother’s husband said I’d be dead by twenty if I stuck with a vegetarian diet. I called him on my twentieth birthday to remind him that not only was I very much alive, but I’d grown nine inches and gained about 40 pounds since I was ten (gained in a good way–I was tall and slim and healthy). He forgot his warnings though, so I didn’t have the pleasure of gloating.

Being a vegetarian suited me fine. I’d met a couple of vegans when I in college but thought they were a bit extreme. I mean, what was wrong with dairy and eggs? Luckily, in my mid twenties, a friend handed me a copy of John Robbins, Diet for a New America. It’s a book that changed my life. It was absolutely eye-opening. It led me on my path to veganism.

But that’s a post for another day.