On January 13, 2015, the Baltimore City Health Department oversaw the seizure of 14 horses from the South Carlton Street stables. The horses are owned by Baltimore City residents and are used to pull carts of fresh fruits and vegetables through urban neighborhoods in Baltimore that are underserved by grocery stores. In many cases, this is the only access to fresh fruit and vegetables for these residents. These vendor cart ponies and horses have colloquially been known for over a century as “Arabbers.”
The Baltimore City Health Department contracted with Days End Farm Horse Rescue to remove and provide care, custody and control of the horses until the legal situation can be resolved.
When Days End Farm Horse Rescue issued its press release about the seizure and requested immediate donations, the digital and television media lit up and the story instantly began to “trend” on social media.
Why were the horses seized? Not only does The Equiery want to know, many of our readers would like to know as well.
Baltimore City Health Department spokesman Michael Schwartzberg would only repeat the official statement:
On Tuesday, January 13th, Animal Control Officers with the Baltimore City Health Department executed an administrative warrant and took custody of 14 horses from an Arabbers stable on South Carlton Street. Animal Control Officers had previously tried to gain access to the stables on multiple occasions during the previous week but were unsuccessful. Due to the poor living conditions found in the stables, Animal Control impounded the horses for their safety. The horses are currently in the care and custody of Days End Farm Horse Rescue. This remains an open investigation by Animal Control in cooperation with the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office. The Animal Control Program’s mission is to enforce all state and local laws and to investigate animal neglect and cruelty cases for the purpose of protecting the health and safety of Baltimore’s human and animal residents. Animal Enforcement Officers work around the clock to ensure the proper care, treatment, and control of animals. We support the tradition of Arabbing and our office has been working cooperatively with Arabbers to improve conditions for a number of years, only impounding animals when they were placed at risk due to a lack of proper care and an unfit environment. Many of the improvements in the care of the horses are a direct result of such intervention.
According to WHZ Channel 13, “The City Health Department cited poor living conditions,” and a city official left a n organize public notice with “little explanation, only saying the South Carlton Street stable isn’t zoned for that use.”
According to The City Paper, “Baltimore City Health Department public information officer Michael Schwartzberg issued the following statement: “On Tuesday, January 13th, Animal Control Officers with the Baltimore City Health Department executed an administrative warrant and took custody of 14 horses from an Arabber’s stable on South Carlton Street. Animal Control Officers had previously tried to gain access to the stables on multiple occasions during the previous week but were unsuccessful. Due to the poor living conditions found in the stables and a concern for the animals because of the extremely cold temperatures, Animal Control impounded the horses for their safety…This remains an open investigation by Animal Control in cooperation with the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office.”
What is the definition of “poor living conditions?” According to the general media, the horses were seized because of cobwebs in the barn, urine on the floor and because the barn was cold. Yes, readers, you read that correctly. Cobwebs, urine on the floor and a cold barn.
No official photographs of the horses have been provided.
Over the years, Baltimore City Animal Control, animal welfare advocates and the Maryland Horse Industry Board’s State Stable Inspector have worked closely with owners of these cart ponies to improve their living conditions. Indeed, in prior years, documentation certainly proved some dramatic and deleterious living conditions. With help from a variety of city agencies, and the embrace of city residents who want to keep the tradition alive of the city cart ponies, and keen oversight plus basic husbandry skills were improved and the Arabber ponies and horses have been able to thrive in recent years.
Since 1994, the Arabber Preservation Society has assisted with renovating the stables and ensuring that the owners of the horses are in compliance with Maryland’s minimum standards of care for equines.
This recent raid of the South Carlton Street Stable had a variety of people, from city residents to horsemen throughout the state, wondering if the real issues were racism (most of owners of the horses are African-American), classism, and the increasing gentrification of Baltimore City, and not cobwebs, cold and urine.
Others have speculated that this is a stunt by animal rights activists, those who will always be opposed to working horses, and will work to ban carriage and cart horses, be they in New York or Baltimore City.
Quoted in the articles appearing in the general media are spokespeople for a group called “CAPA For Maryland.” CAPA stands for the “Companion Animal Protection Act,” which is legislation promoted by a lobbying organization called the No Kill Advocacy Center. It should be noted that horses are not legally classified as companion animals but as livestock, so The Equiery is unclear as to why the general media would source responses from CAPA or NKAC on an equine seizure case, except that these spokespeople make themselves readily available, tending to reach out to the reporters so that the reporters don’t have to do much actual investigation for their “investigative journalism.”
Meanwhile, the Arabber Preservation Society and the variety of city residents have swung into action. Shortly after the seizure, a new Facebook page was launched, immediately garnering over 100 “likes,” as was hashtag #bmorearabbers.
A rally was held Monday, January 19, and organizers believe they had over 230 supporters attending. Photos posted of the rally indicate that the Baltimore City Mounted Unit was present, although it is not clear if they were present to show their support for the tradition of the Arabber cart ponies, or if they were providing crowd control.
Further complicating the issue, according to The City Paper, is that the owner of the South Carlton Street stables has been indicted in a dog fighting conspiracy in North Carolina. It should be noted that the owner of the facility does not himself own or have any responsibility for the horses stabled at the site. According to all sources, he is a landlord, not a stable manager. Nevertheless, it certainly compromises the perception about the owners of the horses in the general media.
The Equiery will continue to monitor this story. We regret that we do not have the resources to conduct in-depth investigative journalism, but we can monitor the case as it works its way through the legal system.
About the January seizure of 14 horses at the South Carlton Street stables, photos that I saw showed a dim, cramped barn draped with thickly coated cobwebs, cluttered with dusty tack and tools, and as drafty as a corn crib, and horses with not an extra ounce on them.
The pros and cons of the cart-pony tradition are not the point. It seems that these particular Arabbers need more education about animal care and facility management. Maybe they need help removing the respiratory hazards from their barn. After such training and assistance, maybe they can get their horses back.
As far as racism goes, the effects are definitely in play here. Some folks’ lives have been so hard and bleak – for generations – that “coddling” horses and pit bulls seems silly and weak. I mean, they’re just animals, right?