New York ASPCA Faces Conflict of Interest Allegations and Increased Scrutiny After Carriage Horse Death
By Steven Long, Editor, Horseback Magazine
Photo of Stephen Malone and his horse Clancy courtesy HCANY
the nation could come under scrutiny if allegations made by a New York City trade organization, and the husband of one of its own employees, are true. What’s more, the CEO of the organization is certain to face a swirl
of controversy if what the Horse and Carriage Association of New York claims is a seedy attempt to secure valuable Manhattan real estate under the guise of animal welfare.
“A massive story is here,” Stephen Malone, spokesman for the carriage trade group told Horseback Online.
The potential scandal began to emerge after a carriage horse named Charlie dropped dead on a New York street. The horse succumbed after several earlier incidents involving wrecks between horses and automobiles, run away carriages, and the continuing allegation that
the carriage drivers operate in stifling summer heat. Charlie died after working only 20 days as a carriage horse.
He had earlier been given a clean bill of health in a veterinary examination prior to going to work pulling a carriage in New York’s Central Park. The horses are confined to the park during the day and only hit Manhattan’s streets at night and when they are coming to and from work. At the time of his death, the ASPCA’s chief vet quickly made a statement to the press.
“We are very concerned that Charlie was forced to work in spite of painful maladies like stomach ulcers,” she said.
Shortly after the comment, Dr.
Pamela Corey modified her statement saying, “There was no evidence of cruelty or neglect,” Corey continued. “I was under a lot of pressure during the writing of that press release.”
Corey was immediately suspended by the ASPCA for not following the non-profit organization’s alleged standing order that the NYC carriage companies were to be cut no slack in communication with the media.
According to HCANY spokesman Malone, the pressure came not because of ASPCA’s commitment to animal welfare, but instead, came directly from the top because its director Ed Sayers is also Co-President of New Yorkers for Clean, Livable, and Safe Streets (NY Class), an activist group attempting to shut down the carriage companies. The group’s founder, Steve Nislick, is CEO of Edison Properties, a Newark based real estate firm that operates parking garages.
According to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, “Edison Properties, LLC operates as a real estate manager and developer. It owns and operates parking facilities in New York, New Jersey, and Maryland; mini storage stores in New York; and workspace and office buildings. The company was founded in 1956 and is based in Newark, New Jersey.”
Nislick’s business owns more than 40 parking facilities around New York, New Jersey, and Baltimore, according to the Edison Properties website which also promotes storage facilities and office space.
Malone charges that Sayers, the half million a year ASPCA CEO has a conflict of interest linking his name and that of ASPCA because the carriage organization claims Nislick and his company covet the valuable stable properties where NYC carriage horses are housed.
It is no stretch to see how a stable housing 1,500 pound draft horses could easily be converted to a parking garage or storage facility. Four such stables serve Manhattan. A fifth closed its doors last year.
“We’re dealing with a powerful real estate mogul and the ASPCA,” Malone charges.
Malone, a driver and owner/operator carries on in the tradition of his father who founded the carriage firm in 1964. By 1987, Stephen was driving with his dad. Their horses, primarily Percheron/Belgian/Standardbred mixes are six of 215 carriage horses registered in New York City to operators of 68 licensed carriages.
Malone’s horses are among 76 that board at Clinton Park Stables, about 10 blocks from their stand at Central Park South. The building has been a horse stable on and off since the 1920s. Malone operates his carriages during the day, and 90 percent of his rides are in the serene atmosphere of the park. The horses operate under strict guidelines set by the NYC carriage ordinance. The carriage horse association has released a video showing well maintained stalls to house the horses.
Virtually all of Malones’ business is “walk up,” visitors to the city who want to take a romantic carriage ride.
“We cannot operate when the temperature is over 89 degrees in summer and below 18 degrees in winter,” Malone told Horseback Online. “Last year we lost 17 days due to heat, and 25 days due to rain. And the ASPCA is the one who (according to law) takes the temperature.”
Race horses in Houston and throughout the south routinely run in temperatures approaching 100 degrees or even more making the NYC cut off point of 89 degrees look downright balmy.
“We’re not dealing with horse people,” Malone laughs.
He says allegations of animal cruelty because horses are working in excessive heat are far off the mark. In fact, Malone says ASPCA holds the thermometer and orders work to stop when the heat goes over 89 degrees.
Two years ago the carriage company owner says his horses were idle for more than 50 days due to excessive heat in compliance with the ordinance, and that doesn’t count days off due to rain and cold.
Veterinarians say a healthy horse is at his happiest when it is uncomfortably cold for humans.
In a November 10, 2011 statement distributed at a hastily called press conference, the Carriage Association blasted the organization that holds a life or death grip on their existence saying: “The ASPCA, as a private agency which has a stated goal of banning the carriage business in NYC, has police powers granted by the State, which are wielded to enforce local administrative code, city, and state laws as pertain to our industry, with no apparent oversight.”
The trade association continued, blasting ASPCA’s suspension of their head vet responsible for enforcement.
“In addition to this long-standing, blatant conflict of interest, the possible deliberate obfuscation of the facts suggested by Dr. Corey’s statement is extremely troubling to us,” the group said.
One horse person the carriage companies have been able to count on as an ally is Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose daughter Georgina is an avid equestrienne. He has consistently supported the carriages because they are a boon to New York’s tourism industry and are a symbol of the city, seen in countless films and travelogues.
“If anyone wants to destroy something that is part of New York’s heritage and that tourists love,” Bloomberg told the New York Post, “you should remind those people that. we pay municipal employees with money pumped in by visitors who delight in carriage rides.”
The horses that pull Gotham’s carriages are service animals with a job, but like other blue collar employees they are required to have time off. New York’s carriage horses are mandated to have five weeks vacation in the country each year.
The carriage trade’s most outspoken critics are animal welfare advocates and activists. Among complaints that the horses work in inhumane conditions is the persistent criticism that when a horse is retired from its carriage duty, it is often auctioned for slaughter. The ASPCA, like virtually all other animal welfare organizations is adamantly opposed to the killing of horses for food to service foreign markets. Horse meat is not eaten in the United States.
Nitlick and Sayers organization, NY Class, does not address the slaughter issue. Instead it is focused on getting carriages off New York’s streets. It would replace the elegant carriages with vintage electric cars, an idea which some call just plain silly, and a sop to environmentalists bent on reducing air pollution. They will present a prototype of the vehicle at a hotel bar happy hour Monday.
Corey has declined further statements regarding her relationship with the ASPCA. Her husband, Mike Larsson, a New York livestock inspector has not. Malone released a blistering letter written to The Horse, an equine health publication to Horseback Online in which he wrote:
“Dr Corey has been placed in the untenable position of being in charge of equine law enforcement – an objective non-political task, and yet, her communications on carriage horse issues are funneled through the ASPCA media department, who have the objective of painting the carriage horse industry in the worst manner. The ASPCA is campaigning to ban the industry as an “animal rights” campaign, yet is charged by New York State to carry out law enforcement over the industry they wish to destroy!
Dr. Corey freely admitted to signing off on the original press statement about the carriage horse Charlie’s death, which she now views as a personal mistake as the result of employer pressure. She later released, on her own authority as the Director of Equine Humane law Enforcement, a corrected media statement.”
Corey was then promptly suspended by her employer, ASPCA.
A statement by ASPCA immediately after Charlie’s death left little doubt that the organization plans to drive New York’s carriages from the city’s streets, including Central Park. Stacy Wolf, Vice President & Chief Legal Counsel of ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement said, “The life of a carriage horse on New York City streets is extremely difficult and life threatening and the ASPCA has long believed that carriage horses were never meant to live and work in today’s urban setting.”
The Monday NY Class event is a volunteer recruitment session dubbed “Raise a Glass for Charlie.”