Baltimore should phase out a-rab ponies, Beilenson says

April 12, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore's a-rab ponies probably should no longer be hauling fruit and vegetable carts through the streets of a major northeastern city at the end of the 20th century, the health commissioner warned yesterday.

At a crowded City Council hearing on animal rights, Dr. Peter Beilenson acknowledged that the Bureau of Animal Control failed to promptly investigate the neglect of five ponies that were zTC found starving to death in an unlicensed East Baltimore stable this winter.

But he also said the time has come to take a closer look at the a-rabbing tradition.

"I think you have to balance business and humane issues when you're dealing with these a-rab horses," he said. "I think it makes sense to gradually phase out the a-rab horses. The bottom line is, we did drop the ball a bit. As we all know, horses may not be best kept in cities like Baltimore."

Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, a 2nd District Democrat, called for the hearing on the bureau's operations after the deaths of two ponies and near starvation of three others in January. In the following weeks, he said, his office was inundated with complaints about the handling of other animal neglect and abuse cases.

City residents and animal rights activists recounted horror stories of abused pets and lax investigations by the bureau at yesterday afternoon's hearing.

Dr. Beilenson, who oversees the bureau, blamed many of the problems on understaffing and state budget cuts. The agency has shrunk from 42 employees in 1989 to fewer than 30, he said, while the number of complaints in a city with more than 200,000 dogs and cats alone continues unabated.

"I know that animal control is understaffed and does not have enough money. But the problem is, when a complaint comes in, it is not handled properly," countered Sylvia Block, an animal rights activist and head of Citizens for Animals, a watchdog organization.

She cited a series of problems she had documented since the summer of 1992. One example: dogs and cats that were kept at the city animal shelter in overnight holding cages without water bowls.

She also had warned the Bureau of Animal Control about the neglected ponies at the stable in the 800 block of N. Castle St. -- weeks before they perished.

The crowd fell silent as Pam Rutherford, president of the Maryland Horse Rescue Center in Woodstock, described the condition of the ponies discovered in the freezing stable in January. They were tied in a tiny stall, unable to lie down or reach the bales of hay a few yards away. They had severe foot wounds because the vendor used roofing nails to shoe them.

A mule and another horse that were among 44 rescued from a rotting, dilapidated stable on Retreat Street in March also had bad foot problems, said Kathleen Schwartz, head of Mount Airy's Days End Farm, which took them in.

Ms. Rutherford said her group has offered to assist the city with inspections of the five stables for a-rab ponies. The rescue center also will train animal control agents on proper veterinary care for horses, she said.

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