September 6, 2007
Audit Faults City on Care of Carriage Horses
By GLENN COLLINS
The New York City comptroller, auditing for the first time the way the city polices the carriage horse industry, said yesterday that the city had abandoned many of its responsibilities and permitted some carriage owners to maintain their horses in substandard conditions.
Monitoring by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Department of Consumer Affairs at the Central Park South carriage stands is inadequate, the audit found, and lax veterinary care in the field and infrequent inspections have created health hazards.
In addition, horses are not provided with enough water, risk overheating on hot asphalt and are forced to stand in their own waste because of inadequate drainage, the report said. And though licensing is an important tool for tracking horses, the audit found that the paperwork for 57 carriage horses described different animals from year to year, though the license numbers did not change.
“The agencies entrusted with oversight here have dropped the ball,” said the comptroller, William C. Thompson Jr.
Overall, the agencies comply with city regulations and work to exert control over licensing, but their enforcement efforts are peppered with failures in execution and oversight, the report said.
The most serious flaw, the comptroller said, was the failure to create a five-member oversight board mandated by city law in the early 1980s. The board would oversee the 221 licensed horses, 293 drivers and 68 licensed carriages that provide horse-drawn rides to the public.
“We have been complaining about these issues for a long time, and we haven’t gotten much of a response,” said Elizabeth Forel, president of the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages, an advocacy group based in Manhattan.
She added, “I think the whole industry has been neglected by the two agencies, by the mayor’s office and by the City Council.”
The 18-page audit found “no coordination between the department of health and the Department of Consumer Affairs,” said John Graham, the deputy comptroller who led the investigation.
The health department reviews and approves certificates of health stating that horses are able to work, while consumer affairs oversees the licensing of horses, drivers, carriages and stables.
Although carriages informally gather in several areas on Central Park South, no formal hack stands have been legally designated.
The horse-drawn carriage has long been one of New York’s last links to its slower-paced, romantic past. But without designated water spigots, shade or proper drainage, the horses end up in a most uncharming setting: standing in filthy water and their own waste, the report says.
“Central Park South is a spectacular thoroughfare, but it was never set up for horses,” Mr. Graham said.
Mr. Thompson, the comptroller, said that the city “should consider creating an actual concession within Central Park to house both carriage and pleasure horses.” This would, he said, “keep the horses away from city traffic and allow their health and welfare to be more easily monitored.”
Last year a horse named Spotty was put down after bolting in Midtown Manhattan and running into a car, critically injuring the carriage driver. And in September 2006, Juliet, a 17-year veteran of the horse-drawn-carriage trade, collapsed before a crowd of onlookers and died later in her Hell’s Kitchen stable.
One owner defended the care of the horses, saying most stables showed admirable concern for their animals. “The horses for the most part are very well taken care of,” said David Sansoucie, director of operations at Chateau Stables Inc. in Manhattan. “But one rogue stable can ruin it for the whole industry.”
Mr. Sansoucie has seven carriages at Central Park South and more than 16 horses that pull them. “Our own standards are very high,” he said. “Our horses have a better health care plan than most people.”
The audit was an outgrowth of previous reports on the city’s animal control agency. The report found that in 6 of 143 cases, licenses were improperly issued by the Consumer Affairs Department without receiving health certificates from the health department.
Beyond this, the audit found that when they were compared with the previous year, 57 of 135 certificates of health “exhibited differences of information,” Mr. Graham said.
Although the horses had the same license numbers, their descriptions varied from year to year “in age, color, breed, name and, in one instance, gender,” Mr. Graham said.
He added, “The high incidence of misidentifications was troubling to us.”
Ms. Forel said the finding was evidence of “switching horses — or that is just very bad record-keeping.” The Horse & Carriage Association of New York, which represents owners, did not return repeated calls for comment yesterday.
During the time of the audit, which covered July 2005 to March 2007, no veterinarian from the health department ever examined the condition of horses in the field as required, the report said. And though Consumer Affairs Department inspectors are required to inspect every carriage three times a year, they only did so twice a year during the time of the audit, according to the report.
In a statement yesterday, the health department said that the city “is acting on the audit’s recommendations,” adding that inspections would be increased and that it would establish an advisory board in the fall.
Earlier, the department said that the report “understates the extent of our existing inspectional program” and that veterinary inspections of the stables are performed.
Some monitoring of the horses is done by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, at its own expense. The society has no formal agreement with the city to do so.
The audit did not evaluate the work of the society, which said in a statement that it was “glad the city recognizes the need for improvements with respect to the carriage horses.”
Without a formal agreement, the health department and Consumer Affairs Department “have no control over the A.S.P.C.A.’s voluntary monitoring activities,” Mr. Thompson said. “Everything is being done on an ad hoc basis, and that doesn’t work. Let’s establish a formal contract with formal guidelines.”
The report by a team of three auditors set out a list of recommended improvements for the agencies to consider, but did not set any penalties because the comptroller does not have the power to do so.
“We can take agencies to task publicly for what they don’t do,” Mr. Thompson said.
On Central Park South yesterday, some drivers said they were being unfairly stigmatized.
“If I treated Mario badly I wouldn’t make any money,” said Ozzy Teke, a driver in a hack line near Columbus Circle. He was referring to his 7-year-old Belgian draft horse.
Mr. Teke said he waters the horse four times during a nine-hour work shift, at two troughs, near Avenue of the Americas and Fifth Avenue.
“Look at him, he’s happy,” he said.
A Committee of the Coalition For New York City Animals, Inc.
The Coalition for
NYC Animals, Inc.
P.O. Box 20247
Park West Station
New York, NY 10025