Charleston City Council gave final approval to a new set of standards aimed at ensuring the health of the city’s carriage horses, but animal advocates say the changes don’t go far enough.
Under the new guidelines given final approval Tuesday night, carriage horses will now be removed from the streets once temperatures reach 95 degrees. The previous limit was 98 degrees. Horses will also now be pulled from streets once the heat index hit 110 degrees, rather than 125.
The finalized changes are the product of a city committee formed last August to evaluate Charleston’s temperature standards for carriage horse operations. Carriage companies are required to track the internal temperatures of horses throughout the day and remove horses from their routes if their internal temperatures rise above 103 degrees. By comparing outdoor and internal temperatures over four year’s worth of data, the committee learned that horses’ temperatures began to rise when the heat index reached 110 degrees, with an average outdoor temperature of 95 at those moments.
In managing the new regulations, the ordinance also requires limits to be evaluated using four consecutive temperature or heat index readings taken at least 15 minutes apart. Objecting to the city’s decision to increase the number of temperature checks needed before horses can be pulled from streets by two, animal advocates also asked that the official thermometer be moved to street level. A thermometer placed atop the four-story Doubletree Hotel on Church Street is now used by the city to evaluate temperatures affecting carriage horses. Last year, the National Weather Service in North Charleston recorded more than 30 days during which the high temperature reached or exceeded 95 degrees. Of those 34 days, 11 saw temperatures reach or surpass the 98-degree mark.
Passing first vote earlier in March, Councilmen Keith Waring, William Dudley Gregory, and Bill Moody opposed the changes. Echoing the sentiments of numerous veterinarians and members of the carriage horse industry who addressed City Council Tuesday, Moody called the changes unnecessary, saying that local carriage companies look out for their best interests by looking out for their horses. Representatives from the Charleston Animal Society and Pet Helpers still believes the new ordinance doesn’t go far enough.
“I don’t want to beat a dead horse here, but this whole thing is getting worse to me. The whole issue about this weather station to me is nothing more than arranging the chairs on the Titanic,” said Moody. “The weather station up top or down below, to me it doesn’t make a difference because the horses are not on top of the building, nor are they standing in the spot on the street where they receive their medallion. They are walking through the streets. There’s shade and there’s buildings and trees and the whole nine yards. It doesn’t really make any difference where you measure the weather.”
Moody said that the city’s evaluation of temperature standards found no instances where horses perished. He also took a moment to sound off about a full-page ad placed in Tuesday’s Post and Courier by the Charleston Animal Society, Pet Helpers, Hallie Hill Animals Sanctuary, and two other groups. The ad in question summarized advocates’ request to lower the thermometer used to evaluate working conditions for horses and require only one temperature reading before the decision is made to pull horses from the streets. For animal advocacy groups, the ad was a call for citizens to contact the mayor’s office. For Moody, it was the final insult.
“I’m not sure who paid for it. I’m assuming the Animal Society did. They also got a $5,000 grant from the city for spay and neutering animals,” said Moody. “If they’ve got so much money that they can run an ad like that, to me they don’t deserve any taxpayer money, and I for one will see that doesn’t happen in the future.”
On the topic of money, Councilman Mike Seekings acknowledged a proposal submitted to City Council for lowering the official thermometer. Calling the ordinance passed by council a compromise between all parties involved, Seekings said an invoice presented to council placed the cost of relocating the thermometer at $3,000, which could be paid using private donations.
“If we’re going to implement this ordinance,” Seekings said, “let’s do it in a way that gives everyone confidence in it.”