Avella responds to actor’s support for horse carriages

By Kelsey Durham

As the war over horse-drawn carriages continues to divide New York City, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) is standing firm on his position to ban the industry despite comments made by movie star Liam Neeson this week backing the carriages.

The Oscar-nominated actor visited Clinton Park Stables on Manhattan’s West 52nd Street last weekend, inviting all 51 City Council members and Mayor Bill de Blasio to join him, to pledge his support for keeping the carriage industry open.

De Blasio did not attend, but 10 Council members joined Neeson as he toured the stables in hopes of showing them that the living conditions are not harmful to the animals.

Neeson said he wanted to demonstrate to city officials that the horses are well-cared-for and help them see that the industry is part of the city’s history. Avella, whose fight to eliminate horse-drawn carriages dates back to his time in the Council, said later in the week that despite the actor’s efforts to push for keeping the industry alive, he still thinks the practice is outdated and that banning carriages is the best thing for the horses.

“I am sure that Mr. Neeson’s heart is in the right place, but we simply cannot ignore the conditions in which these horses are forced to operate,” Avella said. “While it was appropriate to allow horse-drawn carriages as tourist attractions at the turn of the century, it is no longer appropriate given the excessive congestion surrounding Central Park.”

Avella has introduced legislation in the Senate that would ban horse carriages in New York City and also calls for all horses currently working in the industry to be humanely relocated. He cites several reasons behind his belief that the industry is dangerous for the animals, such as operating so close to busy city streets and being forced to work during hot summer temperatures as well as cold weather in the winter months.

Union leaders and other proponents of the industry say city agencies closely monitor the working and living conditions the horses are subject to, including regulations that prohibit work in certain temperatures or in inclement weather, in order to prevent any harm, but Avella said he is skeptical that the head agencies are performing their duties properly.

“I have stated time and time again, how many more accidents, injuries and deaths is it going to take before we end this inhumane industry?” Avella said. “Although I understand Mr. Neeson’s desire to preserve a historic practice, the cons simply outweigh the pros in this case.”

Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at kdurham@cnglocal.com.

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