A byproduct of the carriage industry is the killing of pigeons, who scavenge for food in the streets and are run over by the wheels of the carriages. Look at the ground on any given day, and you are likely to see the carnage.
On a recent day at the hack line, we glanced over and saw this sad sight--a freshly run over pigeon who bled to death on the street. We hope it was a mercifully quick passing. An activist who is a regular at our demos went over to the stricken pigeon and tenderly picked him up, unconcerned about the blood that dripped onto her gloves and scarf. She took him to a grassy area, near some shrubs, where another dead pigeon lay, perhaps having been pulled out of the street by a passerby. Seeing this, the carriage drivers taunted us, laughing and making crude remarks about trying to run over the pigeons.
Perhaps the drivers' behavior is a defense mechanism or a grief response--we don't know. What they appear to be trying to tell us, though, is that they have a callous disregard for non-human life forms--a disconnect from other sentient beings. It does not bode well for the horses. A robust body of evidence has shown there is a "toxic triad" of animal cruelty, child abuse, and domestic violence. In other words, violent people generally practiced first on animals. But back to the present moment and the hack line, where the sight of a carriage driver who ignores the suffering of doves raises real questions about how that driver treats his or her horses.
Finally, from a pragmatic standpoint, the sight of crushed and bloodied pigeons--sometimes decapitated--is a terrible image for tourists, including young children. If the enforcement agencies did their jobs and cited drivers for failing to cover their feed pails, some of these casualties might be avoided.
Pigeons are smart, loyal creatures. Some may know that pigeons served the United States in wartime (Cher Ami's brave dedication to the mission led to the rescue of 194 soldiers in Major Charles Whittlesey's "Lost Battalion.") But let us not make the mistake of equating another animal's intellectual capacity to his right to live or her ability to suffer. As the moral philosopher Jeremy Bentham said, "The question is not, 'Can they reason?' nor, 'Can they talk?' but rather, 'Can they suffer?'"