By JOHN T. WARD
Mayor Pasquale Menna thinks having horses pull tourist carriages through downtown Red Bank during the Christmas holiday season is “inhumane.”
He said so at Wednesday night’s semimonthly council meeting, when he formally appointed an Animal Welfare Advisory Committee and asked that it look into ending the annual rides.
What does the owner of the horses think?
“Oh, not this idiocy again,” said Tania Lawson, owner of Dream Horse Carriage Rides in Jackson Township.
Noting that a resolution approving the dates of this year’s rides and an ordinance creating the committee were both on the agenda, Councilman Mike Whelan referred to Menna’s past comments about the horses, and suggested that the committee “look into the company we have been using and see if we want to continue.”
“I’ve shot my mouth off too many times on that,” Menna said, acknowledging that he is a “bleeding heart” when it comes to animals. “And I’ve been shot down by RiverCenter,” the downtown promotion agency that hires the carriages for the season, he said. “But I will continue to be an advocate,” he said.
“I think that having those old horses, and they are old, in an urban setting, on a Friday and Saturday night, with people honking their horns at them… is inhumane to those horses,” he said. “And I don’t care if the owner says he feeds them the best oats in the world, it’s still pretty rough on them.”
He said the carriages have been banned “in most urban centers, in most cities, because of these issues.”
Nonsense, said Lawson. Her animals are draft horses, bred to work, and most of them are Percherons, a breed developed to carry armor-wearing French soldiers into battle, she said.
“It is not bad treatment,” she said to redbankgreen Thursday. “It’s actually what the horses are bred to do.”
All of her animals are “big” and accustomed to humans and urban hubbub, she said, noting that one horse, Prince, who annually comes to Red Bank, spent years pulling carriages in Manhattan. “This is like a vacation for him,” she said.
The horses are well-treated, she said, and even become depressed and may stop eating if not put into harness to work, she said.
Lawson said the borough had looked into the issue about six years ago, finding no reason to halt the annual custom. She speculated that the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals “got to” Menna to stir up the issue anew.
But RiverCenter executive director Jim Scavone told the council that PETA and other animal rights groups “support the carriage rides in Red Bank.” He also offered police data showing no incidents involving the animals to committee. He could not be reached for comment Thursday morning.
The committee has existed since last summer, and last month weighed in on a debate over puppy mills. Wednesday’s was a final vote on an ordinance formally creating the committee, which Menna said had previously existed as an “ad hoc” group, “I guess to give it the imprimatur of legitimacy.”
Councilwoman Kathy Horgan is the liaison to the committee, whose members are Vyolet Savage, Nick Lembesis, Deborah Marks, Pam Befarah, Karen Fasano, Stephen Murphy and Suzanne Viscomi.