Changes could be in the works for laws regulating Charleston carriage horses.
A new committee met Wednesday to review current temperature regulations. Right now, city of Charleston law requires horses and mules be pulled off the street when temperatures reach 98 degrees or heat index of 125 degrees.
"Every part of this ordinance is outdated," Dan Riccio, director of City of Charleston's Department of Livability and Tourism, said. Riccio will chair the committee consisting of veterinarians, community members, as well as representatives from carriage companies and the Charleston Animal Society.
Riccio said review of the temperature laws have been forthcoming, but recent complaints prioritized the issue. There have been about 50 in the last
two months, which is normal for the summer, according to the department.
"I think there definitely can be some changes made," Dr. Sabrina Jacobs, veterinarian who works for the city, said. "You know this summer was a bit of a hot summer, and I think that reflects some light on the community as a whole."
According to the ordinance, the official thermometer determining the temperature and the heat index is atop the Dock Street Theater on Church St. W. Kurt Taylor, representing Charleston Animal Society, said the thermometer's location doesn't reflect the street temperatures where horses are working. At Wednesday's meeting, Taylor requested an independent scientific review to determine appropriate temperatures for the animals.
The committee will recommend suggestions to the Tourism Commission who will make recommendations to City Council for approval.
Before their next meeting, the committee agreed to collect several years of city weather data and correlate temperature and heat index with horses' internal temperatures, as logged by carriage companies. Jacobs and fellow veterinarian, Dr. Chris Ernst, will review the data to evaluate how the combination of high temperatures and heat index affect horses' health. Both veterinarians agreed that the horses' internal temperature was as big a factor as ambient temperature.
"Horses get water after every tour, they get a break after every tour, they get their temperatures after every tour," Manley said. "These are our buddies and co-workers so we're going to take care of them. A lot of people see this as an emotional issue but you can't judge it based on emotions, you have to judge it based on numbers."
The committee plans to use Jacobs and Ernst's evaluation to see if the current standards should be altered. Some carriage company representatives agreed the 125 heat index number was too high.
"The heat index number was something kind of arbitrary and never really agreed to by anybody and something you're never really going to hit," Tim Manley,
Classic Carriage Works, said. "The 98 degree number has always been the most important for us, and I do think you could fine tune how that temperature is taken."
Riccio said city officials shut down carriage tours three times this summer. In addition to temperature standards, the committee hopes to refine rules when tours can resume.
"The more 'black and white' we can make it, the more factual based information we can obtain," Dr. Jacobs said, "I think will set everyone in a more comfortable place about the carriage horses in Charleston and the carriage industry as a whole."