23 May

Carriage Horse Awakening: Do People With Animals Have Rights?

by Jon Katz
Rocky's New Home
Rocky’s New Home

People all over the world are beginning to see that the New York Carriage Horse controversy is much bigger than a struggle over the horses. It speaks to the future and fate of animals, to our ancient and historic connection tot them, to our individual liberty, to the fate of Mother Earth and the natural world. It speaks to justice and injustice.

Alexander Hamilton wrote that the first duty of society is justice and he wrote that the great danger of government is too much power over individual lives and choices.

The assault on the carriage trade in New York is unjust, and speaks very clearly to issues of liberty and the abuse of political power. The injustice is as clear as the view from the Empire State Building on a good Spring day. The horses also raise a question of perspective. There are some things worse even than horses breathing city fumes or getting hot, and that is when anyone – politicians or wealthy individuals with too much power – endanger the public liberty.

Hamilton wrote that power over a man’s subsistence is power over his will. John Adams wrote that the only true maxim of a free government would be to trust no man living with the power to take liberty away or endanger individual freedom. We have the right to choose our way of life, even in the Corporate Nation.

The New York Carriage Horses have sparked a new social movement of their own, an awakening, if you will,  among animal lovers everywhere. They have called upon us to reclaim the idea of animal rights and animal welfare, to redefine and have a great conversation about both. To work to keep animals in our world rather than take them out of it.

In our label-mad society, I need to say that I am not a member of the “left” or the “right,” I believe these labels speak to the shrinking of the American mind and the death of thought. One of the remarkable things about the new social movement springing up from the carriage horse madness is that it draws all kinds of people from across the political spectrum. Real conservatives are wary of big government and love liberty, true progressives tend to like government more but also find freedom precious. The horses have called us together to save them.

There is a lot of talk about the rights of animals, but not much about the rights of the people who own them, take responsibility for them, care for them and draw subsistence from them. If hundreds of people take to the streets in protest every time a horse falls and gets up, what will it take for people to take to the streets when powerful men and woman – some in government, some in the private sector – conspire to seize private property, destroy the subsistence of hundreds of people. To invade the lives of private citizens without cause and take away their rights and way of life.

The people in the carriage trade – the owners and the drivers – have worked hard and honestly, as did their fathers and mothers and grandfathers. With very few exceptions, they have broken no laws, violated no regulations, committed no crimes. Yet the mayor of our biggest city and a millionaire real estate developer and an army of ideologues have joined forces to ban their business, take away their animals, force them into work they do not wish or seek.

John Adams would find the scenario all too familiar.

I think I know what the founding fathers would say about it, they did take to the streets to preserve liberty and their way of life and to curb the power of invasive and oppressive government. Their shadows hover over this struggle, the horses remind us of them. Liberty is a  great unifier. The threat of someone arbitrarily losing it has brought so many different elements in New York City together for the first time – all three newspapers, the Teamsters and the Chamber of Commerce, ordinary citizens and businesspeople. All the arguments and accusations can be confusing, but one thing seems clear to everybody: people’s rights are being trampled upon.

And I know how I feel about it. I do not care for any animal rights group or the mayor of New York to tell me where I should purchase or acquire my dog, or how long he must live, or whether or not he can work, or when it is too hot or cold for him to be outside, or where he must go if I decide I can no longer keep him. I do not want any animal rights group banning my honest and legal work or choosing another line of work for me to do without my agreement. That is not being humane, that is being inhuman. It is anything but progressive.

Those of us who love and live with animals have been asleep as the rights of animals have been steadily curtailed and the rights of the people who own them simply discarded. The horses have spoken to many of us, we are not asleep any longer.

What are the rights of people who love animals and wish to live and work with them?

– People have the right to own and work with animals.

– With the exception of demonstrable cruelty and abuse, people have the right to make their own decisions about the care and welfare of the animals they own.

– People have the right to earn their subsistence from animals. It not only benefits people, but work saves the lives of countless animals. No one has the right to prohibit animals from the work with people that they have done since the dawn of recorded time.

– People have the right to end the lives of their animals in a humane way if it is necessary to end the suffering of animals or to preserve their own welfare and security. Animals have the right to die and people have the right to make their own decisions about ending the lives of their animals.

– People have the right to choose animals in whatever way is best for them, it is a private decision, not the business of government.

– No one has the right to seize animals from people if they are healthy and cared for as defined by law. No one has the right to tell people who have animals and live and work with them how to live exist with them, absent evidence of egregious abuse or cruelty as defined only by the law. No one has the right to arrogantly and arbitrarily define abuse, cruelty, or animal welfare.

– No one has the right to dictate where animals must live, or under what circumstances, excepting cruelty and abuse, as defined by the law.

– People who own and work with animals or raise them for food or other products in a legal way have the right to live free of harassment and invasion from private interests or government. People have the right to earn a living in partnership with animals, the country would not exist if that had not been a time-honored and respected partnership. They are more important than ever.

Animals are not the piteous wards of people, neither are they entitled to more rights than the people who own and care for them have. That is a value system out of balance, one that is running amok and threatens basic ideas about freedom and liberty.

The truth is animals and people both need rights, the more rights people have, the better animals will do, the more animals there will be, the more humane their lives.

In taking away their subsistence, the animal rights organizations and the mayor of New York are seeking power over the will of the carriage trade. Our very democracy is structured to protect individuals from abuse of governmental power. Everyone has a stake in the outcome of the carriage horse controversy, whether they love or have animals or not.

In refusing to meet with the carriage trade owners or even visit their stables and insisting that they  be banned without due process, consultation or legal cause,  the mayor and his supporters in the animal rights movement are  trampling on individual liberty and free will. Wealthy private citizens do not have the right to destroy the lives of ordinary individuals out of personal and private whim or opinion. That is the very opposite of democratic rule.

People with animals have rights too, the horses are calling us to remember what is precious to us, for animals and for people.

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