By Elizabeth Forel, President Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages
What happened to Tickles?
Tickles, described as a sorrel colored draft horse, first became known to the public when the NY Daily News reported on Feb. 23 that he had been euthanized in his stall "after an accident left him with a fractured leg." According to the newspaper, it had happened a few weeks prior. Seemingly trying to get in front of and control the issue before it got out of hand, the News reported that the Department of Health vet consultant Dennis Farrell, the vet of record, called it a "freak accident."
Maybe. And maybe not.
But activists were rightfully concerned.
In New York City, we have an information vacuum where it is extremely difficult to learn about these horses that we hold so dear. Most street laws are not enforced while the carriage drivers enjoy mostly laissez faire working conditions. The authorities look the other way. Try to report a carriage driver working his horse lame; or the numerous, illegal and dangerous U-turns on Central Park South or a driver refusing to return to the stable during a snow storm and you will be enmeshed in a Kafka-esque world.
On March 4, the Daily News reported that Martha Stewart asked the Administration to look into this death: Said Ms. Stewart:
"The investigation needs to be independent, using a veterinarian who isn't paid by the horse carriage industry. We need to know the truth about how Tickles was treated and if he received the proper care before and after his injury."
Using the Freedom of Information Law, I requested information from the Department of Health (DoH) about Tickles. The information received-although it was supposed to be "everything"-raised more questions than it provided answers.
Tickles was estimated to be 18 years old with a nominal birth date of 1/1/97. It is nominal because horses like Tickles are not "important" enough to have papers with an exact birth date. It is only an estimate.
According to the available records, Tickles came into the New York City carriage trade when he was about 12 years old.
This "beloved" horse was owned by Finbar Flood, who called him Barney - ID #3431 - and then sold him to Dina Tornabene on 2/21/11 for $600. The horse's name was changed to Tickles and his new engraved hoof number became #3680.
Tickles worked out of Clinton Park Stables on West 52nd Street and, like the other horses, could legally work nine hours a day, seven days a week as a Central Park Entertainment Horse - sometimes very busy to the point of exhaustion and sometimes bored out of his mind. Tickles spent many hours in his stall, eating, resting and not much else. There was no pasture for him to graze in or socialize with other horses. He had returned from "furlough" just a few days before his death, but because of the way the law is written, it is not known what the horses do during this period. Were his shoes removed from both the front and back hooves? Was he able to graze on tasty grasses and perhaps socialize with another horse buddy. Or was he made to pull a carriage or otherwise work?