Backyard horses may soon be illegal in Philadelphia.
Right now, if you live in Philadelphia you are forbidden from keeping chickens or pigs or other farm animals.
But you can keep a horse tied to a chain link fence behind your house.
No permit. No license and a minimal level of care.
That may soon change.
A Philadelphia councilman is seeking an ordinance requiring anyone keeping a horse in the city to have at least a half-acre of land. It also would require licensing and inspections.
The bill was introduced by Bill Greenlee Thursday just days after three horses and a dead pony were removed from a ramshackle building in North Philadelphia.
"The Pennsylvania SPCA supports the efforts of Councilman Greenlee and the Mayor's office to put long-needed regulations in place regarding horse ownership in the city," said PSPCA CEO Jerry Buckley . "All too frequently, our agency is in involved in rescuing horses from unsanitary and unsafe conditions where they are living in backyard stables, weed and trash filled lots and or wandering neighborhoods... too many of these animals are suffering from cruelty and neglect because they are simply being kept in conditions that do not meet their needs. We believe this bill is step in the right direction and long overdue."
An aide said Greenlee would be scheduling a hearing on the matter.
The PSPCA removes at least one and sometimes as many as five horses a month from horses living in similar conditions: ramshackle buildings in filthy shanty towns in the middle of busy blocks. So far the group has removed 24 horses from such conditions this year.
In the past several years horses have been found tied to light posts, stashed away in the falling-down living rooms of abandoned houses or wandering like strays on the street.
Similar conditions led to the founding of the PSPCA in 1867.
"It is a huge problem in the city," said PSPCA spokeswoman Wendy Marano, who estimates there may be more than 100 horses living in the city not including those kept by carriage companies or in stables in the city parks.
In most surrounding counties property owners are required to have five acres of land to keep horses. The rule of thumb is one acre per horse for grazing. Of course, horses in backyard situations never have the opportunity to graze.
"Most of the horse owners we deal with in the city are well-meaning but severely misguided on the care and upkeep of the horses. The conditions we found these one in are typical," said Marano. "Often the owners are glad for our help because they simply got in over their heads and cannot afford to keep them properly. Others are upset at us. They love their horses, but can not see that they are being harmed and have special needs."
She said many of the horses are purchased very inexpensively at horse auctions in the suburban counties (Camelot Stables in New Jersey and New Holland Stables in Lancaster are two of the biggest that hold weekly horse auctions).
"People often get them on a whim for $50 or $100 because they think it would be cool to have a horse. And most are simply not equipped to handle their care," she said.
In the case of the horses removed from N. 11 St. in North Philadelphia last week, the PSPCA said it had been working to try to close down the stable for a long time. But the owner Otis Zimmerman continued to rent stall space to city horse owners.
As PSCPA humane officers led horses away last week, Zimmerman told a TV news reporter that he intended to get more horses.
Marano said a necropsy was done on the pony to determine the cause of death but no results were yet available.
Marano says Zimmerman's property might qualify as a stable under the Greenlee bill.
Regardless, she said, "We'll probably be back there again in the near future."