I'm leaving for New York City this morning, I was invited yesterday to join the actor and animal rights advocate Liam Neeson in his quest to save the carriage horses of New York City. He has invited the Mayor, the City Council President, the members of the city council – the people who are seeking to ban the horses – to the Clinton Park Stables Sunday afternoon. The stables, on the West Side of Manhattan, are more than a century old. Maria is coming, she will get to see the museum shows she missed on our last trip and help me out with all the camera stuff I'll be hauling around. I am grateful to her, every minute of every day.
Neeson, who is a close friend of the Clinton Park Stable owner, has been fighting to keep the horses in New York, he hopes to show the mayor and city officials that the horses are well cared for and content and that banning them is irrational, the result of misinformation, hysteria and ignorance.
It's an odd kind of trip for me, I'm not entirely sure why I was invited, and it doesn't matter. I'm not like Liam Neeson, but like him, I have stepped out of my normal life to join the struggle to keep these animals in New York City, and to keep them alive. It is not my idea of animal rights to ban animals from our world and sent them off to very likely slaughter.
I feel it is my obligation to the horses, who are safe and well cared for in their New York jobs and stables, and to the very idea of having animals remain in the lives of people, rather than banished so that we can bow to more development, cars, trucks and busses. If these horses are sent away from our greatest city under the demonstrably false notion that work is abuse for them, or that they are being treated poorly, or that they are no longer compatible with urban life, this will be an awful setback to the notion that people and animals can live and work together in this world. I believe I am an animal rights activist, I wonder how the term got hijacked by people who don't see to know what it really means, and I am going to New York to fight for the right of these horses to live and survive in our world.
I feel honor bound to defend the working animals of the world – I have lived with many of them for years – from the truly awful idea that work for working animals is abuse, and that their only acceptable roles in our world are to be pets, where they must vanish to farms and preserves, where their only work is to eat and eliminate. If you live with Red or horses or my donkeys or any kind of working animal, you know what a horribly misguided idea that is. I am bringing along my Carriage Horse Fact Sheet in case any City Council Member wants to see it. As of Saturday, the mayor had not accepted Neeson's invitation, nor has the City Council President, a leader in the move to ban the horses. About eight city council members have accepted, more might come.
If the mayor doesn't show up, I don't think it will look good for him, the least he can do as he tries to ban the horses and put 300 people out of work is come and look them in the eye and talk to them. Righteous talk is easy, looking hard-working and honest people in the eye with bad news is much harder. I want to be there, I need to be there, I am glad I was invited.
I had a lot of exposure to celebrities when I was a reporter and also a producer for CBS News, I am not in awe of them, I do not envy them their lives. They had no privacy even before the Internet, they have to work so hard to maintain themselves, their bodies and their public persona. It is a brutal way to live.
Liam Neeson seems like a celebrity who has retained his humanity, he often goes to see his carriage driver friends as they wait in Central Park, many of them are from Ireland, as he is. He visits the stables often, he loves horses and has been around them his whole life, unlike the mayor, who has never even had a dog or a cat. (The City Council President goes to great pains to point out that she has a rescue cat, so she knows it is "cruel" to make horses pull carriages.) Neeson is calling attention to the fact that the stables are open and transparent, the owners have nothing to hide, anyone is welcome to come and see them. I did, and the only thing the horses need saving from are their rescuers.
It is curious that none of the people seeking to put the carriage trade out of business have ever come to the stables to see the horses they are trying to banish and none of them are willing to meet with or talk to the carriage owners or riders.
So it is an odd journey for me, an unusual one. Someone asked me if I ever imagined that I would be asked to leave Bedlam Farm to journey to New York city to meet a famous actor in a carriage horse stable and take photos and plead with the politicians of New York to spare the horses. I will, if asked, explain that work is not cruel for working animals, there is no evidence of chronic abuse of the horses, they are safe in New York and well cared for. I will ask them not to send the horses out into the world of equine slaughter, where 155,000 horses a year are sent to die in Canada and Mexico, often under the most brutal conditions.
The survival of these beautiful horses depends on their finding ways to work with humans, not on their being deprived of the little work they have. Animals that do not work in partnership with humans do not last long in this world, this safe and profitable work is life and death for them, and one of the few ways human beings can stay in touch with the animal world, be near animals, see them and appreciate them. That cannot happen if all the horses are sent away. I will also ask them to think of the many people who live in and visit New York – especially children – who see the magic and romance and history in these animals. They deserve better than to be forced into eco-friendly vintage electric cars. Magic is as important in our lives as new condos, the horses carry it with them.
And yes, I'm eager to get a photo of Liam Neeson and some horses, and thank him. So off to New York on this strange quest, i will come back on Monday, I imagine I will have some stories to tell.