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Animal Rights Activist Natasha Brenner Dies at 98

May 26, 2020 by Leave a Comment


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.


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Violent Carriage Horse Death Sparks Outrage in NYC

March 20, 2020 by Leave a Comment


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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.”


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Anti-Rodeo Activists Protest at Home of Madison Square Garden President Andrew Lustgarten

December 17, 2019 by Leave a Comment


The News

Animal rights activists in New York have staged four protests at the Manhattan home of Madison Square Garden president Andrew Lustgarten, demanding that he cancel a rodeo scheduled for June 2020. The ongoing protests are being organized by Animal Cruelty Exposure Fund (ACEF) and NYCLASS, animal rights organizations based in New York.

During the protest, Janet Enoch, Investigator of Showing Animals Kindness & Respect (SHARK), an organization that has been exposing rodeo cruelty for three decades, told bystanders why the rodeo is cruel: “Rodeos shock the animals to make them buck and appear wild. Rodeo contestants rake horses and bulls with spurs causing internal hemorrhaging. Rodeos use the buck strap which causes abdominal pain. In an effort to get the buck strap off, horses sometimes crash into walls often causing injury or death.  Animals should not be tortured for human entertainment.”

Agitated by the ongoing protests, Mr. Lustgarten’s neighbors are lashing out at the participants. On the evening of December 8th, a woman wearing pajamas exited a nearby apartment building and angrily confronted protesters before attempting to enter Mr. Lustgarten’s building to complain to his security team.

An angry neighbor attempts to enter Andrew Lustgarten’s building to complain about the protest.

For the past several years, ACEF has staged protests at the annual Professional Bull Riders’ event at Madison Square Garden, but the organization decided to move the protests to Mr. Lustgarten’s residence when it learned that MSG would also be hosting the rodeo.

“Calf roping,  steer wrestling, and other rodeo events are acts of extreme violence masquerading as entertainment,” said Nora Constance Marino, the President of ACEF. “Rodeos are nothing more than horrific acts of violence towards defenseless terrified animals, many of whom are mere babies torn from their mothers.”

As part of its ongoing effort to compel MSG to cancel the rodeo, ACEF launched a petition with Change.org.

Both ACEF and NYCLASS have vowed to continue protesting Mr. Lustgarten until he cancels the rodeo.

 


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Forced Separation of Panda Mother and Nursing Cub Triggered Emotional and Physical Trauma

September 12, 2019 by Leave a Comment


The News

In 2017, the Smithsonian National Zoo forcibly separated a giant panda from her 18 month old cub so it could artificially inseminate her again. Since then, both mother and cub, who live in adjacent enclosures but cannot see each other, have displayed signs of anxiety, stress, and physical and emotional trauma. At four years old, the cub is now too old to be reunited with his mother, but advocates who fought for over two years to reunite them want the public to know about the needless suffering that these animals endured after the premature separation.

Background

On August 22, 2015, giant panda Mei Xiang gave birth to Bei Bei at the Smithsonian National Zoo after being artificially inseminated with sperm from the Zoo’s male panda. In spite of being held in captivity, mother and cub, Mei and Bei, appeared to be happy.

Giant panda Mei with her cub Bei before the Smithsonian National Zoo forcibly separated them in 2017

On February 28, 2017, the Zoo separated Mei and Bei while Bei and moved them into different enclosures. The Zoo executed the forced separation so that it could artificially inseminate Mei again.

“Smithsonian National Zoo officials have been motivated solely by the production of money-making panda cubs. If the welfare of the pandas was their priority, then they would have allowed Mei to raise her baby without interference,” said Michelle Schmitt-DeBonis, an advocate who has been speaking out on behalf of the pandas since their separation. “Zookeepers around the world are well aware of the anguish experienced by forcibly separated mothers and cubs, but they turn a blind eye to it in order to stay focused on the prize – a baby. It’s a real life version of the Handmaid’s Tale.”

Mei and Bei were separated when Bei was 1.5 years old. In the wild, a giant panda mother would typically separate from her cub when the cub is between two and 2.5 years old because pandas are solitary animals. Because Bei is now four years old, he would no longer be living with his mother in the wild. However, given their premature separation, the stressors of captivity, and Mei and Bei’s ongoing efforts to communicate, Schmitt-DeBonis and other advocates believe they should be given the opportunity to at least see each other, even if only through a window.

Bei Bei searches for his mother, Mei Xiang, at the Smithsonian National Zoo after a forced separation.

Since the forced separation, the Zoo has subjected Mei to three rounds of artificial insemination, in spite of how sick the procedures made her. Video footage shows Mei struggling to walk and crying out in pain while locked indoors for weeks at a time. On September 11, 2019, the Zoo announced that the most recent attempt to impregnate her failed. The story was covered in the Washington Post. On September 5, Psychology Today published an essay by veterinarian Dr. Kati Loeffler about the dark side of the captive panda breeding industry. 

Mei has shown signs of sickness and great discomfort each time the zoo has artificially inseminated her.

“I’m frustrated that the Smithsonian National Zoo has brainwashed the public into believing that they are giving the pandas a good life when, in fact, they have subjected them to years of misery,” said Schmitt-DeBonis. “But, more importantly, I am heartbroken that everything the advocates tried to do to reduce the suffering of Mei and Bei failed, including the petition asking the Zoo to reunite them after their premature separation. The egregious mistreatment of mother and cub adds salt to the wounds of animals who should never have been bred for captivity in the first place.”

Your Turn

Please ask Dr. Steve Monfort, the Director of the Smithsonian National Zoo, to allow Mei and Bei to see each other through a window before Bei is sent to China on November 19th, 2019:  monforts@si.edu, (202) 633-4442


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Activists Protest Upcoming Rodeo at Madison Square Garden

August 15, 2019 by Leave a Comment


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Dozens of animal rights activists staged a protest at Madison Square Garden (MSG) to demand that the company cancel a rodeo scheduled for June, 2020. The rush hour protest, organized by the advocacy groups Animal Cruelty Exposure Fund (ACEF), NYCLASS and Lion, attracted the attention of thousands of commuters and tourists entering and exiting Penn Station, a railway station located in the same building complex as MSG.  TheirTurn spoke to protesters and pedestrians who stopped to learn more.

“New York City hasn’t hosted a rodeo in 30 years” said Nora Constance Marino, the President of ACEF. “How can Madison Square Garden President Andrew Lustgarten allow this iconic venue in one of the world’s most progressive cities to be used for a barbaric event where animals are tortured?  NYC has 16 animal protection bills pending right now. MSG is going in the wrong direction, and vast majority of New Yorkers don’t want this animal abuse in our city.”

Edita Birnkrant, Executive Director of NYCLASS, protests Madison Square Garden over its decision to host a rodeo in 2020.

In an interview on NY1 News, MSG defended its decision to host the rodeo, stating, “Rural Media Group and the Cowboy Channel are leaders in the care and well-being of animal performers and we look forward to hosting them next year.”

Madison Square Garden issued a statement to NY1 News defending its decision to host the rodeo

In response, Marino said, “It is remarkable that MSG claims that a rodeo cares about the well-being of animals. Simply observing footage of one completely refutes that notion.”

“Wrestling baby cows to the ground after lassoing their neck is not entertainment; it’s violence,” said Edita Birnkrant, the Executive Director of the animal rights group NYCLASS. “If Lustgarten doesn’t cancel the show, then we will escalate this campaign with the help of NYC’s dedicated army of animal protection advocates.”

The Animal Cruelty Exposure Fund and NYCLASS are demanding that the President of Madison Square Garden, Andrew Lustgarten, cancel the rodeo scheduled to take place in June, 2020

A Change.org petition has garnered over 5,700 signatures.

A 2017 law that banned the use of wild animals in shows does not apply to rodeos, which use calves, horses and other domesticated animals.

Animal rights activists say that tying up, roping, wrestling animals are acts of violence against baby and adult animals.


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