“This incident further reinforces the need for an end to carriage horse operations in the city…”
A carriage horse driver with a checkered history was charged on Friday with animal cruelty after a police officer observed him working a horse that was visibly injured, according to court documents.
The officer, Brian Coll, was on patrol in Central Park shortly before midnight on Wednesday when he noticed a horse struggling to pull the weight of the carriage to which it was yoked.
He questioned the driver, Saverio Colarusso, and learned that the horse, Blondie, had been hurt for four days, according to court documents.
Despite the injury, Mr. Colarusso had worked Blondie for five hours that day, Officer Coll testified in the complaint.
He then summoned Sgt. Raymond Aviles, a mounted police officer with training in dealing with horses.
“The horse had an injury to the rear left leg,” Officer Coll testified, “causing it to have difficulty walking and substantial pain.”
Mr. Colarusso was arrested. If found guilty, he could face a fine of up to $1,000 and a year in jail.
It is not the first time Mr. Colarusso has gotten in trouble. In 2010, he was charged with drinking while on duty after being spotted drinking a beer while standing next to his carriage. Two other bottles of liquor were found inside the carriage.
He has also been fined for driving his horse through city streets at unauthorized times, failing to keep a daily log and not turning on the lamps on the side of his carriage after dark.
A lawyer representing Mr. Colarusso did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
About 200 horses work in Central Park, and animal rights advocates said that while Mr. Colarusso’s arrest might be unusual, many horses on New York City’s streets were suffering.
The case, they said, was more evidence that the newly elected mayor, Bill de Blasio, should make good on his campaign promise to ban horse carriages from the city’s streets and parks.
“This incident further reinforces the need for an end to carriage horse operations in the city,” said Bret Hopman, a spokesman for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “The A.S.P.C.A. believes that the use of carriage horses in 21st-century New York City is unnatural, unnecessary and an undeniable strain on the horses’ quality of life.”
The union that represents carriage drivers did not respond to calls and an email seeking comment.
Christina Hansen, a spokeswoman for the carriage industry, said it was “shocked and saddened to learn that one of our drivers was charged with animal cruelty.”
She said that if the driver were to be convicted, it would be the first time a carriage operator, owner or stable was found to have committed cruelty.
“I have spoken with the owner of Blondie, who says that he was unaware that Blondie had shown any signs of lameness or discomfort when being driven by Mr. Colarusso,” she said.
Ms. Hansen did not identify the owner by name, but she said: “He has suspended Mr. Colarusso pending the outcome of the investigation. We do not tolerate any mistreatment of the carriage horses in our business.”
If the police had not noticed Blondie’s condition, animal experts said, the injury could have proved fatal.
A subsequent examination by a police veterinarian found that Blondie had a condition called thrush — an infection of the hoof that if left untreated can lead to the horse becoming permanently lame, and subject to euthanasia.
Thursh can occur when a horse is not cared for properly and is kept in unclean conditions. After Mr. Colarusso’s arrest, an order of protection was issued directing him to stay away from Blondie.
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