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Animal Rights Activist Natasha Brenner Dies at 98

May 26, 2020 by 5 comments


The News

Natasha Brenner, a suburbanite who moved into New York City at the age of 87 and became a beloved fixture in the animal rights movement, has died at 98.

Animal rights activist Natasha Brenner moved from the suburbs of Long Island into NYC at the age of 87

In 2008, Natasha, then 87, and her husband Noah, who died in 2014, moved into the City from Long Island and dedicated the last years of their lives to fighting for the rights of animals. When she turned 97, Natasha gave an interview about her fascinating life, which started before the Great Depression and ended during the historic COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout her late 80s and 90s, Natasha worked on several grass roots animal rights campaigns in the streets and online, but the one closest to her heart was the effort to ban horse-drawn carriages. She would always say the thing she wanted to see most before she died was for the horses to be taken out of harm’s way and given a humane retirement. She was therefore elated when, in 2012, Mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio made a campaign pledge to ban horse-drawn carriages. She was crestfallen when he didn’t fulfill his promise. However, she died knowing that the horses, who were taken out of NYC due to the corona virus pandemic, might not return for a very long time, if ever.

Natasha Brenner participates in a protest in NYC during which participants were asking Mayor Bill de Blasio to fulfill his promise to ban horse-drawn carriages

Natasha was an extravagant woman – but not with herself. Instead of buying things, Natasha gave her money to charity. In fact, the spreadsheet with the list of charities she supported was breathtaking. But Natasha was generous with her time too. When they were mobile, Natasha and Noah participated in protests around NYC all the time. Because of their age, their mere presence captured peoples’ attention; they knew they were a secret weapon. After the protests, Natasha and Noah insisted on taking the subway home instead of a taxi. Their friends used to hover over them as they entered the subway station because we were terrified that they would tumble down the steps — canes and walkers flying through the air. Their bodies were fragile, but they prioritized helping others over their own safety.

Animal rights activist Natasha Brenner speaks to a reporter during a horse-drawn carriage protest at Gracie Mansion, the residence of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio

In 2018, the animal rights group Mercy For Animals produced a video about Natasha’s life.

As she aged through her 90s, Natasha stopped participating in the street protests, but she stayed active online. She also maintained a robust social life because her many younger friends loved her and enjoyed her company. She was sharp, funny and caring until the end. Following are two of the many testimonials published on social media:

For the past seven or eight years, Natasha’s friends hosted an annual birthday dinner for her. They thought that the tradition would continue until she turned 100, given her good physical and mental health. Unfortunately, Natasha fell and broke her shoulder a few weeks ago, and that was the beginning of the end.  She died in the comfort of her own home on the Lower East Side of Manhattan on May 25th, 2020.


Will Dr. Fauci Call for Closure of U.S. Wet Markets?

April 7, 2020 by 7 comments


The News

During an interview on Fox News on April 4,  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said that wet markets in “certain countries” should be shut down. While he did not specify the countries, he was referring to China, which is where COVID-19 is believed to have jumped from animal to human, and to other Asian countries that have similar wet markets that sell and slaughter live animals. Dr. Fauci made no mention of wet markets in the United States:

“I think they should shut down those things right away. It boggles my mind how, when we have so many diseases that emanate out of that unusual human/animal interface ,that we don’t just shut it down. There are certain countries in which this is very commonplace. I would like to see the rest of the world really lean with a lot of pressure on those countries that have that because what we’re going through right now is a direct result of that.”

A wet market in NYC where customers, including children and the elderly, handle live animals

“Why would Dr. Fauci call on world leaders to pressure countries in Asia to shut down their wet markets without calling for the closure of live animal markets in his own country?” said Jill Carnegie, co-organizer of Slaughter Free NYC, an advocacy group working to shut down NYC’s 80+ wet markets and slaughterhouses. “Do we need to wait for an outbreak of a novel strain of bird flu or swine flu before shutting down these breeding grounds of infectious disease?”

Wet markets in NYC sell at least 10 species of live animals and slaughter them on site for their customers.

Following Dr. Fauci’s remarks, several mainstream media news outlets, including CNN, ran substantive stories in which they aired footage of Asian wet markets, but they did not not address the widespread prevalence of wet markets in the United States. Through videos, letters, petitions and social media, animal advocacy groups are working to inform both the mainstream media and Dr. Fauci of the presence of wet markets in the United States, including three in Bensonhurst, the Brooklyn neighborhood where he was raised.

On April 7th, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a nonprofit health organization of 12,000 physicians, sent a letter to the U.S. Surgeon General urging him to shut down live markets in the United States:

“There must not be another pandemic. To ‘prevent the introduction, transmission, and spread of communicable diseases’ in the United States, the Surgeon General must promulgate regulations that prohibit the sale, transfer, donation, other commercial or public offering, or transportation, in interstate or intrastate commerce, of live birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians to retail facilities that hold live animals intended for human consumption.”

Dr. Neal Barnard, PCRM’s President, announced the news on a live webcast with TV journalist Jane Velez-Mitchell.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is also calling for the closure of wet markets. In a letter to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, PETA President Ingrid Newkirk wrote, “On behalf of PETA and our more than 6.5 million members and supporters worldwide, we respectfully ask that you call for the immediate and permanent closure of these markets, in which dangerous viruses and other pathogens flourish.

In several American cities, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, animal advocacy groups have been, through lobbying, litigation and protest, sounding alarm bells about the wet markets for the past several years — long before the COVID-19 outbreak. In New York City, a lawsuit filed by neighbors of one annual wet market reached New York State’s highest court. The lawyer for the plaintiffs argued that the Court should mandate that the NYPD and Dept. of Health enforce the 15 City and State laws that are violated by this wet market. The Court of Appeals judges ruled that municipalities have discretion over which of its own laws to enforce.

While the wet markets in the United States do not sell bats and pangolins, the animals believed to have transmitted COVID-19 to humans, they do intensively confine thousands of animals, some of whom are visibly ill, in pens and cages where customers shop. In one Brooklyn wet market, where animals are used in an annual religious sacrifice, customers handle the animals themselves — purchasing live chickens and swinging them around their heads before bringing them to a ritual slaughterer. According to a toxicologist who conducted an investigation on behalf of area residents, the wet market activities “pose a significant public health hazard.”

Dozens of public health and animal rights advocates occupy the New York City Dept. of Health to demand that the Deputy Commissioner of Disease Control, Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, shut down a wet market that violates seven City health codes


Inside NYC’s Wet Markets – A “Ticking Time Bomb”

March 30, 2020 by 16 comments


The News

New York City has over 80 wet markets – businesses that sell live animals to the public and slaughter them onsite.  New York’s live animal markets are located in all five boroughs.

Since 2016, public health and animal rights advocates have been sounding alarm bells about the City’s wet markets, pleading with health officials and lawmakers to shut them down in order to prevent the transmission and spread of infectious disease. COVID-19 is believed to have been transmitted from animal to human in a wet market in Wuhan, China.

Sheep and chickens are among the approximately 10 different species of live animals sold at NYC’s wet markets

NYC’s wet markets sell approximately ten animal species, including goats, sheep, chickens, guinea hens, rabbits, pigeons, Muscovy ducks, and quail.  The animals are confined in small cages or pens where they can sicken each other and the people who work and shop there. Animal feces, body parts, feathers and blood are tracked in and out by customers and pedestrians who then carry the refuse on to the subways and into their homes, offices and communities.

Wet markets, or live animal markets, are storefront slaughterhouses that sell live animals to public and slaughter them on site

“New York City’s wet markets are a ticking time bomb,” said Jill Carnegie, a co-organizer with Slaughter Free NYC, an organization advocating to shut down wet markets and other slaughterhouses in NYC. “If avian flu or another infectious disease is transmitted to just one human, it could spread very rapidly in New York City and beyond, as we have seen with COVID-19.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the advocates’ sense of urgency. Slaughter Free NYC is now asking Mayor Bill de Blasio, Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot and Deputy Commissioner of Disease Control Dr. Demetre Daskalakis to prohibit the slaughter of live animals in the five boroughs of New York. In February, the organization launched a petition with its demand.

In a letter to NY Governor Andrew Cuomo and the NY State Department of Agriculture & Markets, Bonnie S. Klapper, a New York City-based attorney working on several cases involving animal agriculture, wrote that City and State health authorities are turning a blind eye to the well-documented health code violations

Click letter to view in full

The NYC Department of Health claims that it has no regulatory authority over these markets and defers to NY State Department of Agriculture & Markets, but state health officials have told me that these wet markets are never inspected unless they receive numerous complaints,” Klapper told TheirTurn. “That said, no amount of oversight can prevent disease transmission in storefront slaughterhouses where sick animals are coming into contact with humans.”

PCRM Petition to the Surgeon General to outlaw live markets in the United State

On March 25th, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sent a letter to the Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) encouraging him to call for the permanent closure of [wet] markets:  “Deadly outbreaks of mad cow disease, avian flu, swine flu, SARS, HIV, hoof-and-mouth disease and others have stemmed from capturing or farming animals for food. Live animal markets are perfect breeding grounds for diseases, which can jump from various others species to humans . . . If we’re to prevent future pandemics, we must heed the warning of top coronavirus researchers like Dr. Danielle Anderson, scientific director of the Duke-NUS Medical School, and cut them off at the source.”

In partnership with The Save Movement, an organization that stages vigils at slaughterhouses around the word, Slaughter Free NYC conducts vigils and educational outreach at New York City’s wet markets.


Violent Carriage Horse Death Sparks Outrage in NYC

March 20, 2020 by 1 comment


The News

Distressing video footage of a carriage horse repeatedly collapsing on the street and being dragged into a trailer triggered a massive vigil at the site of the tragic incident and a protest at the midtown stable where she later died. The horse, Aisha, was 12 years old and had been pulling a carriage in New York City for one year when she died on February 26th.

At the request of NYCLASS, an animal rights group that advocates on behalf the horses, the NYPD Animal Cruelty Squad launched an investigation into Aisha’s death.

“To the carriage operators, these horses are commodities,” said Edita Birnkrant, the Executive Director of NYCLASS. “By forcing Aisha into the trailer in order to get her out of public view, the drivers prioritized optics ahead of the welfare of the horse, who should have been kept where she was until a veterinarian arrived to examine her. The carriage operators did not follow the protocol on moving a downed horse. The trauma they caused by treating her with such brutality may have contributed to her death.”

Aisha, a horse who pulled carriages in NYC, repeatedly collapsed and was loaded into a trailer. She was euthanized at a midtown stable later that day.

Footage of Aisha collapsing and a carriage driver blowing smoke into her face to force her into the trailer went viral on social media. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has been widely criticized over his failure to fulfill his campaign promise to ban horse-drawn carriages, said that he was “disgusted” by the City’s horse-drawn carriage trade.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson called for an investigation:

Aisha’s death is the third carriage horse fatality on record in 2020. According to the New York City Department of Health (DOH), the other two horses died of colic.

In addition to the horses who died, one horse collapsed on the street after being electrocuted and crashing into a pole, and another horse was emaciated was documented on several occasions pulling a carriage. In spite of NYCLASS’ pleas, the DOH allowed the horse to continue working.

NYCLASS documented an emaciated horse being forced to pull a carriage in New York City

During the vigil for Aishi, NYC-based musicians Kiirstin Marilyn and Kirk Miller performed Sia’s I’m in Here as dozens of animal rights activists placed flowers on the ground where she collapsed.

The animal rights community in New York has been advocating for a ban on New York’s horse-drawn carriage trade since 2006, when a horse named Spotty spooked on Ninth Ave and crashed into a car, killing the horse and sending the carriage driver to the hospital with serious injuries.

Spotty died after spooking and crashing into a car, sending 3 people to the hospital.

In 2012, Bill de Blasio pledged to quickly ban the industry if he was elected Mayor, but his failure to act quickly after his victory gave the carriage operators, media, the Teamsters Union and actor Liam Neeson, an industry spokesperson, several months to build public support for the industry. NYCLASS, however, isn’t giving up. After the series of tragic incidents in 2020, the organization renewed its demand for horse-drawn carriages to be banned in New York City.

“This industry is out of control and must be shut down,” said Birnkrant. “We have been documenting the carriage operators breaking the law for months — from picking up passengers in Times Square to overloading the carriages.”


Amid COVID-19 Outbreak, Activists Rally at City Hall to Shut Down the 85 Live Animal Markets and Slaughterhouses in NYC

March 18, 2020 by 9 comments


The News

As New York City began to shut down due to the spread of COVID-19, approximately twenty public health and animal rights activists staged a rally at City Hall to demand that city and state health authorities shut down the 85 live animal markets and slaughterhouses in NYC. COVID-19, also known as the corona virus, is believed to have jumped to humans from animals being sold in a live animal market in Wuhan, China.

“Live markets, which are storefront slaughterhouses open to the public, are a petri dish of infectious diseases that jeopardize the health of all New Yorkers,” said Jill Carnegie, an organizer with Slaughter Free NYC.

Amid COVID-19 outbreak, public health and animal rights activists are asking New York City and State health officials, including NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot and Assistant Commission Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, to shut down the 85 live animal markets and slaughterhouses in NYC

After the corona virus outbreak was traced back to a “wet market” in Wuhan which sold wild and domesticated animals for meat, the Chinese government is reported to have shuttered live animal markets across the country.

“The pandemic didn’t happen to us; we brought it upon ourselves because we didn’t learn our lesson from bird flu, swine flu, mad cow, SARS and the many other infectious diseases that jumped to humans from the animals who we eat,” said Maureen Medina, an organizer with Slaughter Free NYC. “Mother Nature has sent us so many warnings, and we’ve put bandaids on all of them instead of taking the most obvious measure to prevent them, which is to switch to a plant-base diet.”

An estimated 85 live animal markets in NYC sell cows, chickens, goats, sheep, guinea pigs, rabbits and others animals who they slaughter on site

Slaughter Free NYC and The Save Movement have been staging vigils and conducting educational outreach at live markets in NYC. Organizers hope that the COVID-19 pandemic will be a wake-up call for elected officials and for the New York City Department of Health and NY State Ag & Markets who have, until now, ignored their pleas to shutter the city’s live markets.  Slaughter Free NYC has launched a petition.

Slaughter Free NYC Petition to Shut Down Live Animal Markets and Slaughterhouses in heavily populated five boroughs of New York