Letter to Virginia Beach City Council

December 11, 2006

Honorable Meyera Oberndorf
Virginia Beach Mayor
Virginia Beach City Council
2401 Courthouse Dr.
Virginia Beach, VA 23456

Re: Opposition to horse-drawn carriages in Virginia Beach

Dear Mayor Oberndorf and Councilors:

My name is Elizabeth Forel and I am the Director of the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages in New York City. On behalf of our Coalition, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to submit comments in support of not allowing horse-drawn carriages to operate in Virginia Beach. Our organization came into being after a tragic and gruesome accident in Manhattan on a wet and icy night in January, 2006, in which a young horse spooked from a loud noise, ran out of control and crashed into a car. The horse died; the driver was thrown and ended up in a coma and the two car passengers were hospitalized.

The public has responded very favorably to our campaign. People from over 40 countries and every state in the nation - including quite a few from Virginia - have eagerly signed our petition to outlaw this industry in NYC. Tourists from Virginia often like to remind us that Virginia is horse country and that they know how to treat horses. They hate to see the carriage horses on Central Park South . The time for horse drawn carriages as entertainment has passed. Actually it was never "entertainment" - and it went out with the 1800s.

The people who want to see an end to this exploitative industry are not "animal rights" activists per se. But they are people from every walk of life who have compassion for the horses and simply cannot stand to see these sad horses pulling overloaded carriages - stuck between the shafts of their carriages for a long shift; wearing blinders - not even able to scratch an itch. On Central Park South in NYC, the strong horse excrement odor hits you in the face - just as it will in Virginia Beach. If you do not see the horses, you will certainly smell them - since the Sanitation Department cannot keep up with the mess - regardless of the use of "diapers."

Horse urine and feces has permeated the streets by the park causing a very unpleasant odor. Are you prepared to spend all the extra money to pay for the proper enforcement - the monitoring of horse health issues; license issuing and monitoring; over site of stables; sanitation; enforcement of regulations; negotiating disputes? Is it fair to taxpayers that they have to absorb this extra municipal cost?

NYC has many rules and regulations that cover this industry - from the number of people allowed in a cab, to the areas in which the carriages are allowed to go and when; to temperature controls; to stable controls.

Many of the regulations are not strong enough - but they are all extremely difficult to enforce. This is an industry that is out of control. It is not unusual to see horses out in snowy, slippery weather; to see carriages overloaded or to see horses in areas in which they are not allowed. There are simply not enough enforcement agents or government employees to oversee this industry -- particularly when the purpose of the industry is to make as much money as possible on the backs of the horses and they will cut corners when no one is looking. Issues like ill fitting tack; overloading; or double shifting - if one can get away with it -- happens. It happens in New York City and in virtually every other city that allows this industry to operate. Who is going to enforce your industry properly? How will you react with your first accident in which people are injured; or with your first horse collapse and death?

Last summer in Crete, a very tragic accident involving a carriage horse and passengers occurred. At a seaside town on a boardwalk, similar to Virginia Beach, horse-drawn carriages operate. A horse got spooked from a loud noise, went wild - as horses often do because they are prey animals - and ran into the sea with the carriage still attached to his back. The passengers were saved - but the horse could not escape and drowned. Town officials closed down the operation. However, the drivers responded by going on strike and starving their horses - so the town relented and the industry returned. In Virginia Beach, noise from jets, ships, dogs and general hotel noise could spook a horse. A similar incident could happen in your community.

We have a new burgeoning industry in New York City - pedicabs - which is growing by leaps and bounds. These are small cabs that are driven like a bicycle. Tourists love them. The nice thing about them is that it involves choice - the drivers choose to do this - and no animal is exploited.

Virginia Beach is a beautiful place to visit. It is hard to comprehend why you would want to add carriage horses as a tourist attraction - why you are asking for problems. Tourists will not come to Virginia Beach to take a carriage ride - just as they do not come to NYC to do so. There are other compelling reasons to travel to both places. However, tourists may well boycott Virginia Beach and choose to go elsewhere.

Thank you for your consideration.

Elizabeth Forel

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