Wednesday, February 17, 2010

New breed of demonstrators

“Have a heart for horses.” On Valentine’s day in Philadelphia, animal advocates demonstrated against using horses to pull carriages as an archaic and cruel practice. It may charm some tourists, but it does minus-nothing for the animals who are involuntarily involved.

With temperatures in the low 30s and a little wind kicking up, that was bad enough – except that the residue of two major snowstorms was still piled on curbs and rutting the streets, making the driving – and footing -- difficult. Not nice weather for ducks, but even worse for horses.

The demonstrators’ approach in Philly was nearly as noteworthy as their cause. Unlike protesters whose M.O. calls for graphic signs and videos, chanting and calling out to those who challenge their position, these protesters held signs, gave out literature and heart-shaped candy. Period.

Their handouts described how horse-drawn carriages represent an exploitative industry, one forcing horses to work in dangerous, unhealthful and unnatural conditions. Social beings, horses are meant “to live with other animals and run free.” Further, horse-drawn carriages are a threat to public safety, and as proven time and again, accidents are inevitable.

No shouting, no verbal abuse. But lots of presence, with low-key talk and a petition urging city council to close down Philadelphia’s carriage trade. And that bite-sized red-wrapped candy, attached to a slip of paper with the name and contact info for a city councilman. Nice touch.

This demonstration was the work of Friends of Animals (, a group aiming to educate -- not alienate -- people. Lee Hall, FOA’s legal director, said, “We’re all about respecting animals, so we respect people too.” That was why the event was peaceful and low-key.

Across the street was the “hack line” – with horses, carriages and drivers, the latter hoping to persuade tourists the ride is somehow fun and romantic. One woman with an anti-carriage sign stood silently nearby. She explained why she didn’t say anything: “We respect free will.”

In many ways, this was a harder kind of demonstration tp pull off. It’s easier to yell and insult. Onlookers had to respect how these animal advocates went about it.

At the end of one ride, the driver gave carrots to passengers leaving the carriage. They fed them to the horse and went on their way, presumably without a second thought. Maybe they hurried home in time to give their pets dinner – because of course they think of themselves as “animal lovers.”

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