DaVinci, Little Blue, and Tucker may get a Christmas vacation after all.
The city on Wednesday sought a preliminary injunction in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court to immediately forfeit the three horses, which work for the Philadelphia Carriage Co.; to prevent the company from operating; and to require the sale or transfer of all the company's remaining horses to a licensed stable or humane care-taking facility within 21 days.
The Philadelphia Carriage Co. is one of just two such companies left in the city and the subject of grave concerns by animal-rights activists who say the horses are kept in inhumane conditions and are too old or sick to tow tourists around city streets.
City Councilman Mark Squilla said the parties were in conversation Wednesday and would appear in court Thursday morning.
"I'm very concerned about the upkeep and care of the horses," he said. "Hopefully, all parties can reach an agreement so the horses can have a safe place to call home."
Barry Penn, lawyer for the Carriage Co., did not immediately respond to messages left at his office and mobile phone Wednesday afternoon.
The city first issued a notice of intent to cease operations against the stable in August, after finding numerous building violations there. After the company appealed to the Licenses & Inspections Board of Review, the city prevailed at a November hearing. But, it noted in the motion for injunction, "A cease operations by itself, however, would not be sufficient to protect the welfare of the horses."
At the hearing, veterinarian Kate Hepworth-Warren testified that, for example, DaVinci was coughing when she arrived for a visit and suffered equine asthma, probably from poor ventilation. But the Wednesday motion noted that three horses that had been flagged by Animal Control and Care Team, tasked with responding to violations for the city, as unable to work — including DaVinci — were nonetheless spotted on the job in late November.
It continued: "Those conditions are such that horses are routinely found lying in their own feces and urine — when they can lie down at all." It also alleged that the horses "are subject to uncontrolled infestation of vermin; are made to pull carriages even while lame; are chronically underfed yet still forced into labor."
Owner Han Hee Yoo denied that the conditions were inhumane and said the horses were under regular veterinary care. She said the inspectors often arrived first thing in the morning, right before cleaning time.
Her lawyer, Penn, argued that it had become increasingly difficult to do business at the stable, on the 500 block of North 13th Street. He said the Philadelphia Carriage Co. is a victim of gentrification, noting that the vacant lot that once provided exercise space for the horses is now occupied by condos.
"It's become a residential neighborhood. Forty years ago, this was classified industrial … and in the last five or 10 years, it's completely changed," he said.
Still, animal lovers don't see it that way and have been urging the city to take action for months.
Susan Wagner, president of a New York-based sanctuary called Equine Advocates, said she recently rescued a New York City carriage horse from a "kill pen" at a Pennsylvania auction house. She contacted the Inquirer after a previous article.
"If the photo of the horse in your article is any indication of the condition of most of the horses there," she wrote, "then I have to say that, in my opinion, their lives are definitely in danger."