Horses, Himmler, and horseless carriages....

The times they are a changin' and morality changes with the times.

There's a movement now to abolish horse-drawn carriages in New York, ostensibly because of cruelty to horses:

NEW YORK (AP) - The horse-drawn carriages that clip clop around Central Park could be banned under City Council legislation to be introduced at the urging of animal advocates who say the horses are treated inhumanely.
OK, stop right there. New York has plenty of animal cruelty laws which would cover any inhumane treatment of horses.

However, there is a mindset which believes that if existing laws are being broken, the solution is to pass more laws. I'm not sure how this works, but I think it has something to do with lazy policing coupled with the belief that laws act on their own.

Councilman Tony Avella, who plans to introduce the bill next Wednesday, said the horses that have entertained tourists and New Yorkers for decades are exposed to cruel conditions and are at risk of injury or death as they weave through city traffic.
Again, if there are cruel conditions, why isn't someone enforcing the laws against animal cruelty? Why is it necessary to ban horses?
In September, a horse died after it was spooked by street musicians with drums and bolted down Central Park South. It was the second such incident in less than two years.

"This situation is only getting worse - the animals are not being treated properly, and enough is enough," Avella said. "Horses are incompatible with traffic - especially midtown traffic."

The horse in question (the death of which seems to be driving the current proposal) was definitely spooked, no question about that. Here's the NYT account:
According to witnesses, a man walked past the horses while beating a small drum, which caused a brown horse that was hitched to a carriage to bolt onto the sidewalk, darting between two poles that were about two feet apart. The horse made it through but the carriage did not, and as the horse struggled to move forward, it collapsed and died, witnesses said.

"It fell into a panic and then fell on the ground, kicking," said Roger Watkins, who was walking by and tried to help. "He kept shaking and then went into shock and collapsed."

At the same time, a second horse ran into the street and leaped onto the hood of a passing Mercedes-Benz, witnesses said. That horse survived, and the passengers in the car, which was badly damaged, said they were not injured.

Ordinarily, horses have long tolerated ordinary street noises, so I'm wondering whether the decibels were particularly loud, and whether noise ordinances were violated. I'd have probably been spooked too, but not as badly as the horse, and I find myself wondering whether something might have been wrong with the horse, or its driver. It is not normal for a horse to be spooked to death by noises. I notice the horse was fairly new to the carriage trade and I'm wondering whether it was a high-strung retired race horse or something.

But because a horse was involved in a fatal accident, is the solution to ban horses?

This website (run by activists, naturally) seems to think it is. Does this mean that horse-drawn carriages in the country should be banned too? What's the theory? How about dogs? Plenty of dogs get killed by cars; millions, in fact, are spooked by urban stresses, run into the street, and are killed. Should dogs therefore be banned?

The article continues, quoting statements which seem to imply that there's more going on than concerns over accidents involving horses.

On Saturday, the Queens Democrat was to announce his legislation with the coalition and a number of animal rights activists, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and television star Jo Anne Worley.

"The industry is inherently inhumane, and we feel that way because it denies a horse its most basic instincts," said Elizabeth Forel, president of the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages.

In September, an audit by the city's comptroller found that the horses work in an area without enough water spigots, shade or drains for their waste - and without enough oversight by authorities.

Again, if horses are not being cared for properly, there are laws in place to deal with that.

I'm wondering about the statement that the carriage industry "denies a horse its most basic instincts." What instincts might be included?

Reproduction, perhaps?

Did you know that there's a "horse overpopulation" problem? I didn't, but a number of animal "rights" groups say there is.

I'd love to get to the bottom of what is meant by the term "overpopulation."

While some of the activist sites say there is horse overpopulation, here's a horse advocacy site which claims there isn't:

The annual number of horses slaughtered in the US dropped from over 300,000 in the 1990s to less than 50,000 in 2003, with no special infrastructure needed to absorb the thousands of "unwanted" horses that were not slaughtered. Horses are being kept longer, sold to others, humanely euthanized, or donated to retirement and rescue facilities. The "surplus horse population" is a myth.
How is overpopulation to be determined? There are said to be 6,900,000 horses in the United States. Presumably, this figure refers to owned, not wild, horses. (More on that distinction here.)

But to stay with the domesticated variety, there were 24 million horses in 1900, when the United States had a population of 76,212,168. Today, the United States has 303,560,147 people.

Which means, simply, that while the human population has nearly quadrupled since 1900, the horse population is less than a third of what it was.

Again, what is overpopulation? Might it mean the point at which the "supply" exceeds the "demand"? Obviously, there was a lot more demand for horses in 1900 than there is now. But who gets to decide what constitutes overpopulation?

Is there a human overpopulation problem? Many claim that there is, but what does this word mean? Starvation? Children sitting unadopted in adoption agencies? Convicts sitting on death row? Unemployment? A lack of available land?

Are horses starving because of a lack of food (or mismanagement of food resources) the way some humans are? I haven't read about an excess of starving horses, although I'm sure that some horses occasionally starve as a result of human neglect, but that's not overpopulation.

What I think is going on is philosophical, and closely related to the relentless campaign against dog breeding. Animal rights groups which are philosophically opposed to all human ownership or use of animals consequently see the breeding of any animals as evil, because breeding means more owned animals, and in an ideal world there should be none.

Whether the animals be horses, dogs, cats, or even fish, the bottom line is that there are no responsible breeders, and therefore all breeding should be stopped.

A billboard campaign in New York has accused breeders of being responsible for the fact that dogs are killed in shelters, and they've also produced a video which analogizes breeding a pet to breeding a daughter.

Very funny. Like a famous anti-fishing film I saw which showed a fisherman getting hooked and dragged into the water to be drowned and eaten by fish. Or this clever brochure for kids:

Children will read: "Imagine that a man dangles a piece of candy in front of you. ... As you grab the candy, a huge metal hook stabs through your hand and you're ripped off the ground. You fight to get away, but it doesn't do any good... That would be an awful trick to play on someone, wouldn't it?"
But why is there no film showing what "responsible" parents should do, which is clearly to take the daughter to the doctor for an ovarectomy?

Please bear in mind that I don't that animals and humans are moral equivalents. But many people do, and they are winning these debates because people with common sense don't challenge them.

Is hooking and drowning a little girl the same as fishing?

Since the philosophical premise of both the anti-breeding and horse eradication campaigns is based on human-animal moral equivalency, I have a few questions.

The same organization which attacks breeders and animal ownership itself has a documented history of killing animals -- for which they doubtless blame "the breeders." Now, breeders are creating (at least arguably creating) animal lives, while they are destroying animal lives. If animals are the moral equivalent of people, why is the former considered evil, while the latter is considered good?

I can't think of a clearer example of this moral equivalency argument than the famous statement (from another campaign) that "the leather sofa and handbag are the moral equivalent of the lampshades made from the skins of people killed in the death camps."

Are they? I don't think so, but if I did, what would that make me if I engaged in the killing of animals myself? A Himmler? Not normal Himmler, though, but a hypocritical Himmler, a Himmler who philosophically opposed what he was doing.

But wait! I'd only be a hypocritical Himmler if I held to a different standard. If OTOH, I thought it was just as permissible to destroy "excess" or "overpopulated" humans as it was to destroy overpopulated animals, no one could accuse me of hypocrisy, could they? The same, fair standard applied to all creatures, right?

Which means there's no reason not to make a video showing parents doing the right thing and having their daughter sterilized.

And their son too, by God! Think of the decrease in crime that would result if every boy had his nuts done at the right age. (No seriously. I'm not Bill Bennett on the radio, and I can get away with telling the truth. Mandatory castration of male humans would cut the crime rate by as much as 95%.)

Also, if animals are the moral equivalent of humans, what are the moral implications of the pit bull eradication campaign? If it's "ethical" to wipe out an evil breed, then why isn't it ethical to wipe out an evil variety of human?

Once you start the moral equivalency argument, why not? This is why I don't like the human/animal moral equivalency argument, because like many other moral equivalency arguments, they're a slippery slope, a rhetorical trap for the unwary.

Just to be clear, I do not think that PETA is the moral equivalent of the Nazi SS. The problem is that by their own logic, they are.

And if I fell into this trap, I might find myself saying something like "There are no responsible death camp operators," even though I don't think that animal euthanasia (or KFC) is the moral equivalent of Auschwitz. Nor would I blame "Jew breeders" for the fate of "unwanted Jews."

I don't think two wrongs ever make a right, so much as I understand the frustrations of angry breeders and people in the animal business, I don't think it's right to say that PETA is the moral equivalent of the SS. Animals are not like people.

However, animals are animals. And if killing animals is not immoral, if KFC kills animals and PETA kills animals, then it is not an abuse of the moral equivalency argument to claim that PETA is the moral equivalent of KFC. While it is true that the former kills animals to stop overpopulation (or exterminate a "vicious breed"), and these purposes are said to be good, the latter kills animals to feed humans, purposes which are also said to be good. But these rationalizations do not change the morality of the killing.

Back to the moral equivalency of overpopulation, and the contention that horses are overpopulated even though there are two-thirds fewer now than in 1900. If horses are to be prohibited in cities, because urban stresses are deemed too much for them, why should other animals be forced to live in cities? And what about humans? As I said, I'd be spooked by someone beating a drum in my ear, and I think Coco would be too. And personally, I find all these cars driving around to be very distracting and annoying. But is it really fair to force animals and humans to live in uninhabitable, stressful places? Rather than forcing the horses out, wouldn't it be better to remove the stress factors? Doesn't this particular problem stem from the fact that there is a serious car overpopulation problem?

In an earlier post comparing car overpopulation to dog overpopulation, I examined this in greater detail:

....if we apply the AB1634 model, the sponsors would have to first declare that there was a severe "car overpopulation crisis" (there is), that it causes "traffic" (it does), and that many cars end up being abandoned by their owners (they do), that they therefore often have to be impounded at taxpayers' expense (how true!). And that tragically, many of these impounded vehicles are "unwanted" and never find new owners, and have to be destroyed!

The sponsors of the "Healthy Car Initiative" could simply require that all existing cars would have to be rendered incapable of highway travel, and that no new cars could be manufactured except for rare, certified collectors cars, along with specially built cars to be used at NASCAR events. Any such cars could not be sold or licensed in the future unless they were "neutered" in such a manner as to prevent their ever being used on the highways. True, there'd still be plenty of cars in private hands, but there'd be fewer and fewer over time.

Let's turn to cars as a public health issue. By any standard, the public health would benefit far more by getting rid of cars than by getting rid of dogs. Cars killed 4225 Californians just last year, while dogs killed only 30 Californians in the entire period of 1979-1995. Considering that California has around 24 million cars, and 8-10 million dogs, it becomes clear that cars are a far, far, more significant public health issue than dogs -- and by an enormous ratio.

So what are we waiting for?

While it's not an argument I expect to see from the AR people (because obviously, cars are not animals), I don't see why they couldn't team up with the Global Warming people and at least address some root causes of animal stress as well as human stress.

How many animals are killed by cars each year? Glad you asked. Here are the stats from the Wiki entry on a gruesome subject we callously refer to by the euphemism of "roadkill":

* 41 million squirrels
* 26 million cats
* 22 million rats
* 19 million opossums
* 15 million raccoons
* 6 million dogs
* 350,000 deer
Why horses and farm animals aren't included, I don't know. But when they're factored in, along with the tens of thousands of dead humans, it amazes me that these death machines continue to be allowed to exist.

Getting rid of horse-drawn carriages is only a very modest start.

DISCLOSURE: I think it's fair to point out that I was once a PETA supporter. But once I learned that they advocated exterminating the dogs I so love, I found myself overcome with a sense of seemingly ineradicable guilt, shame, and even self hatred over my role. I hope that my objectivity has not been unduly affected, but it is possible that it has been, so I thought it fair to point this out.

posted by Eric on 12.10.07 at 10:58 AM


You get a dog overpopulation problem by rounding up all the stray dogs and putting them in one place. If you did that with chipmunks, you'd have a chipmunk overpopulation problem.

It used to be that the dog catcher was called not for stray dogs, but for problem stray dogs, a tiny fraction of them. The other strays did their stuff and got adopted, or not.

Now a stray dog is an emergency.

Vicki Hearne on rounded up animals

Ron Hardin   ·  December 10, 2007 3:52 PM


Vicki Hearne was wonderful. Her death was a loss to the sane world.

From "Vicki Hearne on Animal Rights"

People who claim to speak for animal rights are increasingly devoted to the idea that the very keeping of a dog or a horse or a gerbil or a lion is in and of itself an offense. The more loudly they speak, the less likely they are to be in a rights relation to any given animal, because they are spending so much time in airplanes or transmitting fax announcements of the latest Sylvester Stallone anti-fur rally. In a 1988 Harper's forum, for example, Ingrid Newkirk, the national director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, urged that domestic pets be spayed and neutered and ultimately phased out. She prefers, it appears, wolves--and wolves someplace else--to Airedales and, by a logic whose interior structure is both emotionally and intellectually forever closed to Drummer, claims thereby to be speaking for "animal rights."
She is wrong. I am the only one who can own up to my Airedale's inalienable rights. Whether or not I do it perfectly at any given moment is no more refutation of this point than whether I am perfectly my husband's mate at any given moment refutes the fact of marriage. Only people who know Drummer, and whom he can know, are capable of this relationship. PETA and the Humane Society and the ASPCA and the Congress and NOW--as institutions--do have the power to affect my ability to grant rights to Drummer but are otherwise incapable of creating conditions or laws or rights that would increase his happiness. Only Drummer's owner has the power to obey him--to obey who he is and what he is capable of--deeply enough to grant him his rights and open up the possibility of happiness.
I feel pretty much the same way about Coco:

Eric Scheie   ·  December 10, 2007 4:20 PM

I trust you have read Bandit, which is more or less about the great Pit Bull hysteria in general, and is worthy of a hundred essays.

Ron Hardin   ·  December 10, 2007 4:58 PM

I like sf so I already read the one about fishing for humans. BTW, the narrator's kid was thrown back by the alien for being undersized.

Bleepless   ·  December 10, 2007 7:19 PM

Actually, from what I've seen, PETA are exactly like the SS. They hate most other human beings.

Trimegistus   ·  December 12, 2007 9:52 AM

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