Carriage tour

A horse carriage tour travels down Meeting Street. Leroy Burnell/file 

Most motion pictures with animals in them make it clear that none were harmed during filming, but what rules would let Charleston claim its carriage horses aren't harmed pulling tourists?

That question is complicated enough that the city, carriage industry and animal welfare advocates formed a special committee to try to find an answer.

That committee met Wednesday and voted 5-1 to recommend lowering the current temperature limit from 98 degrees to 95 degrees — and to lower the heat index from 125 degrees to 110 degrees, said Dan Riccio, the city's director of Livability and Tourism.

Once a weather station measures that level of heat in downtown Charleston on four consecutive readings — readings taken 15 minutes apart — then no new carriage tours will be allowed to start until the temperatures come back down. Ongoing tours may be finished before their animals are required to rest.

The committee's recommendation will be drafted into a proposed ordinance for the city's Tourism Commission, and ultimately for City Council, to consider.

Riccio said the special committee may not need to meet again.

But its session Wednesday showed the complexity of the issue. The meeting lasted three hours, and while many agreed a horse's humane working conditions depends on heat, humidity, the weight of their carriage and the animal's own health and strength, there are few industry guidelines.

Instead, the committee reviewed a veterinarian's report that analyzed 20,625 total readings over the past four years.

The carriage animals' average temperature was 101.2 degrees, and veterinarian Chris Ernst said about 2.7 percent of the readings had a temperature of 103, while 0.23 percent found a temperature of 104 degrees. He said when the heat index rises above 110, then the percentage of temperature readings above 103 reaches 4 percent.

But he stressed that continuing to measure animals' internal temperatures is more important than lowering the city's heat limit above which they're taken off the streets.

"It's a huge range, and there's a lot of variation from horse to horse," he said.

Kurt Taylor of the Charleston Animal Society said it asked an expert with North Carolina State University to review studies of draft animals. He suggested a study that would track animals' body temperatures, respiration, heart rate and other signs of heat-related stress and offered to help pay for that.

But Broderick Christoff of Charleston Carriage Works said the industry would be wary of participating in any study backed by an animal rights group.

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Reach Robert Behre at 843-937-5771 or via Twitter @RobertFBehre.

Robert Behre works as an editor and reporter. He focuses on the historical landscape, including architecture, archaeology and whatever piques his interest on a particular day.