Carriage industry in the crosshairs of debate between animal advocates, city


Animal rights advocates believe the Charleston carriage industry isn’t regulated properly. The assertion isn’t new, but the claims that their offers to help the city with reviews and equipment have been ignored are.

“It’s time to do a peer review independent study,” said Ellen Harley with Charleston Horse Carriage Advocates. ”We have asked. The Charleston Animal Society has repeatedly asked for a study, and the city and the industry has rejected it.”

Dan Riccio, the city’s director of tourism, said that’s not true.

“We welcome that study and we welcome the results of that study,” he said.

City officials said CAS and other advocates have never pointed out the specifics of the study they want conducted. Riccio even said a study on weight would be helpful to come up with ideas of how to ensure carriages don’t exceed the mandated load, which is no more than three times the horse's weight.

VIDEO: CAS director says regulations of Charleston horse carriage industry are arbitrary

Riccio said the city knows each horse’s weight from a certificate of serviceability, and for a typical draft horse that is about 2,000 pounds.

However, the director of the Charleston Animal Society said the organization already offered a solution that went unnoticed.

“Nobody weighs the loads and we went so far as to offer to buy a set of scales,” he said. “They haven't even gotten back in touch with us about that offer last summer, nearly a year ago.”

“That’s not true,” countered Riccio. “They've offered to provide scales, but the scales that they've offered are portable scales that can only measure one part of the carriage at a time.”

Riccio explained that is a major safety issue, and it would put every passenger at risk.

“One of our ideas is to possibly have a weight system in each barn that no one sees but the operator that is a combined total weight of horse, carriage, people,” he said.

The general manager of Palmetto Carriage Works, Tommy Doyle, said they wouldn’t be opposed to a new scale system, but they will not participate in a study sponsored by CAS.

“Our place is open to the public 364 days a year,” Doyle said.” “The city comes through all the time. The animals are well fed and well taken care of.”

Doyle said the city’s animal welfare program is second to none.

Still, Harley said Charleston should be known for its reform of the carriage industry not videos of terrible incidents.

“People all over the world are watching the issue,” she said. “That's not the image Charleston needs. We don’t need the image of a horse lying on the street with children crying around and parents consoling them.”

Riccio also said the city is the first in the country to have an equine manager who does weekly and sometimes daily inspections of the barns.

He also said the city has a vet based in Aiken who does annual inspections. He said they use a vet outside of the city for the very reason of keeping bias out of the inspections.

The back and forth between city officials and advocates follows two recent incidents which have advocates and those working in the horse carriage business closely watching each other. On Easter Sunday a woman took swings at a carriage worker and threatened to take the horses. On Wednesday a horse fell while pulling a carriage of tourists in downtown Charleston, prompting advocates to question how those situations are managed and if an independent veterinarian was called in to examine the horse.

Below is the complete report provided by the City of Charleston. It indicated an independent veterinarian was called, and the report from the veterinarian, among other documents, does not indicate any wrong-doing of the carriage company.

** ABC News 4's Brian Troutman contributed to this report.

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