One year after the euthanization of a New York City Central Park carriage horse sparked calls for an investigation from animal lovers, experts have determined that the animal suffered from a common genetic disease, but activists aren't convinced that it was the only thing that led to the 10-year-old horse's untimely death.
Aysha died last February, hours after it was caught on video repeatedly collapsing over a 15-minute period. The footage led to crowds gathering outside of the Clinton Park Stables, calling for independent investigations into the working conditions for the city's carriage horses. The results of the investigation revealed that the draft horse had a disorder called Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (PSSM).
One of the symptoms of the genetic mutation, which was possibly captured on video, is muscle tremors. Episodes of muscle stiffness and pain after exercise are caused by an abnormal accumulation of glycogen, the form of sugar stored in muscle, according to experts.
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Documents of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene dated March 2019 and October 2019 showed that Aysha was in good health prior to its death. Also included in documents released by the Transport Workers Union are statements from veterinarians Dennis Farrell and Camilo Sierra who respectively examined the horse prior to and following its death.
Farrell and Sierra appeared to confirm that laboratory results led them to believe that PSSM was the cause of the horse's uncontrolled movements.
"We want to share these medical records because the carriage folks have always been transparent and open about our horses’ lives and our work together," Christina Hansen, a spokesperson for the carriage horse drivers, said in a news release.
While there is no cure for PSSM, symptoms in most affected horses can be managed successfully through diet and exercise. However, some cases are extremely difficult to manage, according to the UC Davis Center for Equine Health. It's unclear if Aysha was one of those cases but activists with NYCLASS (New Yorkers for Clean, Livable, and Safe Streets) are calling for the City Council to step up oversight on the carriage horse industry.
"Aysha, like so many other carriage horses – ultimately died of a deeply-rooted industry-wide neglect that is enabled by NYC’s Department of Health. It allows the substandard treatment of these horses to persist," NYCLASS Executive Director Edita Birnkrant said in a statement. She and other activists are expected to gather at Central Park on Monday to ask elected officials to take action.
Birnkrant has said carriage horses are overworked, under cared for, and put in dangerous situations every day with no accountability when things like this happen.
Carriage workers on the other hand argue that the horses "are being properly cared for."
"On the one-year anniversary of Aysha’s tragic death, and with less than four months before the city primary elections, we are dismayed that her passing is being exploited and misrepresented by extremist special interests for political gain," Hansen said.