On the surface, it might seem a recent recommendation by the City of Charleston’s Carriage Animal Temperature and Heat Index Committee would make things better for carriage animals. But in reality, it will make things much worse.
Under current law (as of December 2016), horses are only pulled from service if the temperature spikes to a sizzling 98 degrees fahrenheit or a 125 degree heat index. There have to be two readings within 15 minutes before tours on the hot downtown asphalt are halted. Now, while the committee has recommended that the temperature be dropped to 95 degree/110 degree heat index, there must be FOUR readings 15 minutes apart, which means the horses will be out in dangerous heat four times longer than the current ordinance allows — even as the temperature could soar past 100 degrees on an extreme Charleston day. How is this better for the horses and mules downtown?
But this alone is not why Charleston Animal Society voted against this latest proposal. Since before the advisory committee was formed by the city, we have proposed that a comprehensive, prospective, peer-reviewed study of the Charleston carriage industry using a science-based approach is a much better way to resolve issues of stress on these animals. We know this is a mouthful, but it is so important for true reform of a system about which time and again the public has expressed concerns.
Such a study would be conducted by university researchers under carefully planned, controlled circumstances. It would be designed to test the horses’ stress responses to the heat, humidity, solar radiation and weight-load, among other things. This position has been supported in two separate editorials by this newspaper and has been endorsed by animal welfare groups such as the Humane Society of the United States, and numerous equine veterinarians across the country. Unfortunately, the advisory committee chose recently to only support a plan based on conjecture by the two veterinarians on the committee, both of which are tied either to the city or the industry. A request from Charleston Animal Society for an independent veterinarian to be appointed to the committee was denied by the city.
The data which these veterinarians reviewed was produced by the industry and unverified by any independent sources. The vets said multiple times, “we’re not statisticians,” and admitted that they performed no regression analysis, did not test the data for variations in who took the temperatures, what type of instruments were used and their margins for error, had no control group, nor addressed any of the other issues which made the data unsuitable. In the end the 110 degree heat index was thrown on the table. It was then suggested that there need not be any maximum air temperature limit. Interestingly, the discussion quickly turned to the need to address “public perception” and in a move repeatedly acknowledged as “arbitrary,” an air temperature limit of 95 degrees was hastily added. Aribitrariness as a basis for a regulation would make that regulation unenforceable!
Charleston Animal Society has made a tremendous effort to navigate a humane middle ground regarding this industry. Charleston Animal Society is not against the use of working animals, but we cannot support the conditions currently in place in Charleston because we do not believe they are humane. We have offered to mitigate issues such as the weight of loaded carriages by purchasing a portable scale for the city to use, but the city still is making no efforts whatsoever to enforce this portion of the ordinance, along with other important sections.
Charleston Animal Society is in touch with experts who are excited about doing this study that will have impacts for not only Charleston but the entire country. Charleston has a long history of hiring independent experts as advisors on issues from architecture to urban planning, to tourism to roads and infrastructure. The city has benefited tremendously from these outside examinations. Why not here? Why not for the welfare of the carriage tour animals? Please let the Mayor and council know that you agree.
Joe Elmore is the chief executive officer of the Charleston Animal Society.