NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A Central Park horse carriage driver has been hit with animal cruelty charges, after an officer reportedly caught him driving a horse that had been injured for days.

Saverio Colarusso worked a horse – named Blondie — with an injured leg for four days, even though it was having trouble pulling its carriage, police said.

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An officer stopped Colarusso in the park late Wednesday night after noticing that the horse appeared to be distressed.

Christina Hanson, a carriage industry spokeswoman, said if Colarusso is convicted, this would be the first instance of cruelty in the NYC industry, WCBS 880’s Jim Smith reported.  “The New York City Carriage industry has never had anyone in our business commit animal cruelty.  There’s been no citations or convictions.”

Hanson said the injury was likely a common hoof infection caused by the snow and road salt.  She also said the horse’s owner has suspended Colarusso pending the outcome of the investigation.

Still, critics say the incident reinforces the need to end carriage horse operations in the city.

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“The ASPCA believes that the use of carriage horses in 21st century New York City is unnatural, unnecessary, and an undeniable strain on the horses’ quality of life,” the ASPCA said in a statement.

The organization also said that if the practice should end, it would find and facilitate humane retirement options for the horses in need of a home.

Colarusso faces up to a year in jail if convicted.  His lawyer did not return a phone message seeking comment.

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