A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

"My Fellow New Yorkers and Animal Lovers …"

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It was like one of those early Republican primary debates where all the candidates try to outdo each other in terms of how many assault weapons they have in the kitchen … except that this one was about Chihuahuas, not guns.

So it may have been a first in American political history: five candidates (of different political persuasions) running for Mayor of New York City and facing a new kind of audience of single-issue voters: animal lovers.

At a forum hosted by New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets, which seeks to shut down the cruel carriage horse industry, Bill Thompson purred that he had not one, but two rescued cats at home. Sal Albanese credited his mother-in-law’s Chihuahua as having helped her live longer.

Not to be outdone, John Catsimatidis said he’d once called the Fire Department to rescue his daughter’s escaped cockatiel, and that his wife had given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to their cat.

Bill de Blasio tried to trump his competitors by bragging that his two children are vegetarians (even though “I have a confession to make – I am not a vegetarian yet”).

And John Liu reminded the voters that he had backed a measure to require city pet stores to sell only animals from shelters or rescues.

“My opponent,” he said, with suitably ruffled feathers, “wanted to kill all the deer in Staten Island.”

Things got into a bit of a scuffle over the increasingly hot issue of whether New York’s ugly carriage horse industry should finally be outlawed. De Blasio drew cheers for being the only candidate to ban horse-drawn carriages altogether. Catsimatidis, trying not to upset the carriage-horse industry, said he was in favor of continuing to let the businesses operate, but only in Central Park, and to have older horses retire to a zoo. He didn’t quite back down when he was booed down, but shrugged it off with “Only a suggestion.”

Candidates who didn’t show for the forum were vivisected by those who did show. Catsimatidis noted that he had not favored the mass extermination of geese in Prospect Park in 2010 due to aircraft safety concerns. And then he took off after another absent candidate, Joe Lhota. “My opponent,” he said, with suitably ruffled feathers, “wanted to kill all the deer in Staten Island.”

And they all poured scorn on the absent Christine Quinn, who is notorious for her support of the carriage-horse trade. She is, all the same, committed to a no-kill New York City – at least for companion animals.

Then again, as you might expect, no one in the forum wanted to get into the topics of factory farms, vivisection laboratories or anything much outside the world of pets and the carriage horses. For most people, when it comes to “loving animals”, that’s still generally where it starts and ends.

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