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Animal rights activist wants horse-drawn carriage drivers to rein it in during heatwave

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NEW YORK — New York City has been in the grips of a heat wave and an animal rights activist says we also have to think about the horses in this searing heat.

Edita Birnkrant, campaign director of the organization "Friends of Animals," set out to confront carriage drivers in Central Park. She says she has been catching drivers in violation of the heat suspension rule.

She's been shooting videos of the drivers and posting them online. The videos have gotten tens of thousands of views.

"I have documented over and over again several times just this week carriage drivers starting entirely new rides with full knowledge the heat suspension has gone into effect," said Birnkrant.

On the city's website, it states: "Whenever the air temperature reaches a high of 90°F or a low of 18°F, riding and carriage horses shall not be worked."

"All horses are subject to inspection by employees or agents of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the American Society of People against Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)’s Humane Law Enforcement Unit, Department of Sanitation, New York City Police Department, or any other appropriate City agencies. Horse owners who do not comply with applicable laws and the above conditions may be closed, issued a Notice of Violation, ordered to cease working the horse and/or have their animals confiscated."

The Health Department sends out the alerts by text message, but it's not clear how much enforcement there is in telling the drivers to rein it in on hot summer days.

When the temperature dips back below 90 degrees, the city sends out another text alert, telling drivers they can work again.

Drivers also have a 30 minute grace period to finish up a ride or stop to let the horse cool down before taking them back to the stables, but Birnkrant says it's not enough.

"The horses should not have been let our of that stables at all during this heatwave it's an outrage."

In the time our PIX11 crew was at Central Park this afternoon, we didn't see any horse carriages during the heat suspension.

We went to their stables on the west side and the drivers showed us their horses, resting under fans. One driver, Gerald Ledvetter, told us it's in their best interest to abide by the rules.

"We have to go back to this job everyday. When the alerts come out, the police patrols go around telling us to stop," said Ledvetter.

"Of course we want to take care of our horses right. When the text comes out, we could be in the middle of a ride. We get the horse back to the stable as soon as we can," added driver Ahmet Bilici.

The drivers say they feel the activists are just trying to keep them from earning a living and tell PIX11 they feel the activists should leave the enforcement to city officials.

But Birnkrant sees it differently.

"Everyday I see the misery these horses endure burning in the sun with no shade in this epic heatwave."