Police Explain Animal Remains Found in Riverside Park

Photo by Shinya Suzuki.

By Carol Tannenhauser

On Tuesday, December 28, after entering Riverside Park near West 83rd Street, an Upper West Side woman (who prefers to remain anonymous) happened upon a sight that “saddened and disgusted” her.

“…an animal had been chopped up or dismembered and left on a plate,” her husband explained in an email to West Side Rag. “I called 311 to report it, but thought it might be important to also let local media know.” His concern was that there is “a person extremely dangerous to animals walking around out there in our neighborhood. We don’t want this to happen again.”

On Wednesday, December 29, another reader wrote in.

“Warning: the attached photo is real and awful,” read an email from a second woman, who also chose to remain anonymous. (We chose not to show the photo.) “Was walking my friend’s dog in Riverside Park near 84th Street and discovered a plate with four dismembered dog legs. Called 311 and police. Not sure if the cops will come, but you all need to know.”

A call to the NYPD’s press office provided answers.

“It’s related to Santeria,” Detective Denise Moroney told West Side Rag, in a phone conversation. “The animal legs were from a goat, not a dog or cat. They came from a butcher. The responding officers could tell by the cuts. Parks came and took them away.”

Santeria is an Afro-Caribbean religion based on beliefs and traditions originating in West Africa, with some Roman Catholic elements. “It grew out of the slave trade in Cuba,” according to the BBC.

“One of the principal forms of devotion in Santeria is animal sacrifice,” US Courts explains. “Sacrifices are performed at birth, marriage, and death rites; for the cure of the sick; for the initiation of new members and priests; and during an annual celebration. The sacrificed animal is cooked and eaten at some ceremonies.”

The practice is legal — a landmark 1993 Supreme Court decision declared it so.

“The issue was whether local city laws directed at animal sacrifice as part of the Santeria religion violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” US Courts explained. “Justice Kennedy concluded that the local laws violated the Free Exercise Clause because they were designed to persecute or oppress a religion or its practices.”

Animal sacrifices must, however, be humane.

“Every state has enacted animal cruelty legislation that provides for criminal penalties. Thus, even though a state cannot flatly prohibit animal sacrifices, the state can mandate that the practice occur in a humane manner. Practitioners of animal sacrifice who do not adhere to the state requirements can be criminally prosecuted.”

Santeria was brought to the United States during the 1940s by Cuban immigrants. “It has been estimated that approximately 10 million individuals in the Americas are adherents,” according to the Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion. “Somewhere between half a million and five million of them are located in the United States. It is believed that approximately 50,000 adherents reside in South Florida. In addition, there are also large clusters of practitioners in New York City, New Jersey, and Connecticut.”

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 18 comments | permalink
    1. George CPW says:

      Moral: never jump to conclusions

      • Peter says:

        Moral 2: Keep your 12th century, “enlightened” religious sacrifices contained to your bathtub, not public parks where children play.

    2. Zed says:

      Haven’t heard much from PETA on this problem.

      • Klass Klown says:

        Of course not!
        As it says, “The animal LEGs were from a goat, not a dog or cat. They came from a butcher”
        Therefore PETA doesn’t have a LEG to stand on!

    3. Sellich says:

      While legal to sacrifice animals within the stated guidelines I sincerely doubt that leaving animal remains in a public park in NYC is legal. The city has a massive rodent problem and leaving edible organic waste of any kind just laying on the ground is bound to attract vermin. All in favor of religious freedom but I don’t think leaving a big mess in public is protected.

    4. Adam Paul says:

      I’m looking forward to chopping up a (dead) animal and putting it on a plate tonight, and then eating it. With potatoes.

      This happens every day, in millions, if not billions, of restaurants and private homes throughout the world.

      Quit the pearl clutching

    5. abood says:

      The Supreme Court says Santeria is legal.
      I say Santeria is immoral.
      There’s many a religion that have acts of violence toward humans and animals.
      But killing animals for the sake of killing them is just wrong.
      Shows that the mighty Supreme Court is not always right in its rulings.
      On this (in my mind) it is dead wrong.

      • UpperWest says:

        The Supreme Court is to make judgments rooted in law, not make a more abstract determination of “right” vs “wrong” without that context.

        It can be right here, as can you, with different views expressed.

        Leaving animal remains in a public park is clearly a problem, and could be dealt with by ordinance. That is, the sacrifice might be protected religious behavior (shrug, awful IMO), but that shouldn’t mean one can just leave remains in a public place. Do it in your own house/church/whatever.

    6. UWS lifer says:

      A friend found animal remains from a Santeria ceremony 40 years ago in riverside park. We were in high school at the time and I remember it vividly. Thanks very for the coverage.

    7. Nadezhda Wall-Rossi says:

      The Supreme Court, years aago, sided with Santeria and against the rights of animals. I’ve never forgotten and I’ve never forgiven.

    8. Brandon says:

      There was no outrage about killing goats when the WSR ran this article about Saphhire’s goat curry just a few days earlier.


      If the goat is killed humanely, what’s the difference? Note I’m not defending leaving goat parts in Riverside Park.

    9. notsofast says:

      Two commenters referred to animal sacrifice, presumably ironically, as “enlightened.” But this practice is protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion, a concept of the European Enlightenment.

    10. Nevets K says:

      Character 1: Religion is the organized psychosis of humanity.
      Character 2: “But it’s better than drinking alone…!”

    11. David Rapkin says:

      For many years I have been finding occasional candle-holders near animal remains in Central Park and assumed it was for the observation of Santaria rituals. Thanks for this closer look at the phenomenon.

    12. Upperwestslider says:

      Life imitates art. There was a suspenseful 1987 movie with Martin sheen- The Believers- about Santeria practitioners and dead animals on the upper west side.

    13. S. Elizabeth says:

      I saw the remains while walking my dog and there were clearly hooves on the feet. While saddened by the sight, this was the conclusion I came to. I’m glad to see this confirmed here!