Last week, Actor Liam Neeson weighed in on the debate over new New York City mayor Bill de Blasio's decision to ban horse-drawn carriages in New York City, claiming simply that, "Tourists love them." In an interview with the New York Post's Andrea Peyser, Neeson decried the ban:
"It's criminal!'' cried Liam. "This is an iconic, historic part of New York."
"The horses are incredibly well-treated. They're regulated up the wazoo. They get five weeks' holiday every year.'' (How many people get that much down time?) "Tourists love them."
He also repeated a pernicious bit of emerging conventional wisdom:
"Someone is going to take the horses in? To adopt the horses? Are they crazy? I don't think so! They'll go to the glue factory.'' Or they'll wind up abandoned.
Few other than Neeson, who reportedly "counts carriage drivers as some of his closest friends," would argue the NYC carriage horse industry was "regulated up the wazoo"; critics frequently pointed out the number incidents and accidents involving other vehicles that have left carriage horses injured or dead, and how little reporting of these incidents were even required by law. But Neeson is only the latest to claim that, when the ban is implemented, all those horses would suffer the ultimate fate because of those meddling big city liberals.
Who launched this idea? On Oct. 29, the New York Daily News first speculated that "the push to ‘rescue' the horses could lead to their slaughter," though it was based primarily on one academic's indirect observation that "We do not have enough rescue space in this country for the horses we have now." At a press conference that day, then-mayor Michael Bloomberg took the Daily News story and ran with it. "I assume all the horses will go to slaughter," he said. "And if they don't, they'll go to other places where horses that would have been taken up will go to slaughter, so that's just obviously what's going to happen."
Bloomberg fueled the story, and it's been picked up continuously since, with many news outlets -- from TIME to Metro to, most recently, The Daily Beast -- claiming that the horses may go to slaughter after the ban.
The truth: It's impossible to believe that any of the NYC carriage horses will not be adopted. Yes, the horses will have to find new homes outside the city, but no, they will not "go to the glue factory" (a practice that actually doesn't happen very often now, thanks to the rise of synthetic glues).
Allie Feldman, Executive Director of NYClass, an animal advocacy non-profit that led the campaign for a ban on horse carriages, said that several organizations, including The Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA and her own, are dedicated to providing homes for the retired horses.
"We get calls from compassionate people all the time offering to adopt a carriage horse, and we're maintaining a long list of prospective homes that are ready and waiting for when the horses are taken off the streets," Feldman, whose organization has pledged to fund "retirement homes" for the animals along with the ASPCA. She called Neeson's claim that the horses will be slaughtered a "fear-mongering scare tactic" meant to defend the carriage industry.
In a recent blog post, Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of HSUS, offered Cleveland Armory Black Beauty Ranch in Texas as a sanctuary for some of the horses. And Matt Bershadker, CEO of ASPCA, did the same in a statement: "We would gladly get involved -- including tapping into our network of rescue partners and resources -- to help with the transition."
Kathy Stevens, the Director of Catskill Animal Sanctuary, reinforced Feldman's points, criticizing the Daily News coverage on the The Huffington Post. Still baffled, she calls the theory that the animals will go to slaughter "ludicrous."
"People will line up to help these animals," she says. Draft horses, the large breed that carriage drivers prefer because they are strong and known for their calm demeanors, are particularly easy to place -- along with miniature horses, draft horses are coveted as domestic animals, Stevens said.