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Tourism Commission, September 10

Votes to form committee to improve Carriage Horse ordinance
Views of independent veterinarian stir action

Warwick Jones

For some of us attending last night’s Tourism Commission meeting, the issues raised by Dr. Amy Hayek were too familiar. Dr Hayek was retained by the City to study and report on the horses used by the horse carriage industry. Some of her comments were very critical and were similar to those made by members of the public during the 3 years that the Carriage Horse Ordinance was being shaped. And those of us that attended last night’s meeting and those of the sub committee that shaped the Ordinance, applauded Dr Hayek. Representatives of the Carriage Industry did not, and bristled with hostility. Commissioner Doyle, who is the son of Mr. Tom Doyle, the principal of a carriage company, voted against the Commission’s plan to form a committee of three veterinarians to study issues raised by Dr Hayek and to propose changes in the Ordinance.

Dr. Hayek talks of her findings
Much of the meeting was taken up by Dr Hayek’s presentation in which she spoke of her findings, most, if not all of which, were published in her report. The presentation was followed by questions from the Commissioners. Most were reasonable, some cynical and a few hostile. Dr Hayek was not intimidated and in our view, responded well, with certainty, consistency and clarity. She impressed us as a fair and competent veterinarian.

Commissioner White, also a Council Member, was first to move for some form of resolution. He indicated that subjectivity was possible on some of her findings. But what were the areas that she found deficient on an industry-wide basis and that should be rectified via the Ordinance?

The summary of her response was as follows:

Stall size. The present minimum size in the Ordinance is too small - the larger a stall, the better an animal’s health.
Health Care. She referred to salt licks and the bad practice of giving medications to induce sweating. She was concerned about hoof ailments.
Training the Drivers. The carriage drivers may be good drivers or guides, but many did not understand animal health or unable to recognize problems.
Educating those hitching horses to wagons. Some of those performing this task were not doing it correctly and in consequence, horses suffered.

Temperature threshold also an issue
The Commissioners discussed these points and others; in particular, the temperature limit over which horses should be pulled off the street. The Ordinance says that the limit is 98 degrees Fahrenheit. Some say it should be lower. Dr Hayek said that it depends on the horse and its condition. Some horses should not be out in 90 degrees, particularly those that are old and not in good condition. She also said that measuring a horse’s temperature was the best way to assess the horse’s tolerance of hot weather.

There was a lot of discussion on the temperature issue and Commissioner Turner-Maybank reminded the Commission that the temperature of horses was recorded after each carriage trip and that operators were to pull the horses off tours or cool horses if certain temperature thresholds were reached.

Motion to form a committee of three veterinarians
Following this discussion, Commissioner White moved that the City retain three veterinarians to make recommendations to improve the Ordinance and specifically to study the points raised by Dr Hayek and to include the issue of temperature. Commission White suggested that the committee should include Dr. Hayek, an independent Vet and one appointed by the City. Commissioner Crowe wanted to ensure that the veterinarians were independent and that the name of the veterinarian, who filled the independent spot, should not be released until the Committee’s report was filed (they could not be “got at” by interested parties. It also seemed a general opinion that Dr Malark, who is retained by all the Carriage operators, should not serve on the Committee.

The Commission voted on Commissioner White’s motion and it was approved 6-2.

Mr. Doyle and other operators critical of report
Citizens at the end of the vote were invited to speak and one of the first was Mr. Tom Doyle who represents the Charleston Horse Carriage Industry and is principal of Palmetto Carriage Company. He acknowledged, as did Dr Hayek, that his company was rated highest of all the operators in her report. But he took strong issue with some of her conclusions. He said he took great care of his horses and retained an experience farrier to inspect horses’ hooves regularly. Also acknowledging that one operator was severely criticized (and faces penalties under the Ordinance), he said that the whole industry should not be punished for the misdeeds.

Other operators spoke and defended their companies. One broke down and cried at the suggestion that operators did not look after their animals. She cited instances where staff has stayed up all night nursing sick animals. Another speaker questioned Dr Hayek’s knowledge on harnessing and carriages – “after all she is only a vet”. Dr Hayek said her information was drawn from the Carriage Owners Handbook!

But others endorsed it
One member of the public, who claimed a strong knowledge of horses through polo, endorsed Dr Hayek’s view on training of operators, and temperature thresholds. She observed the overturn of a carriage after a collision with a car. The occupants were tipped out and the horse went into frenzy. The operator did nothing to assist the passengers or to restrain the horse in the aftermath of the accident. She only screamed …and screamed.

The speaker also questioned the policing of the carriage companies and the veracity of the recorded information. This issue was taken up by other members of the public one of whom said that there was only one Animal Welfare officer and this was not enough. Commissioner Turner Maybank took issue said this was not true. There were more but she did not know how many more. She also said that the City had regular inspections of the barns and the data. She also noted that the information relating to temperature of animals was available at the barns and could be inspected by the public. We add that Dr. Hayek noted that the data for some operators were not readily available.

What about air quality?
I also asked as to why there was not more attention given to animal health in the areas to be studied specifically by the Veterinarian Committee. I noted that Dr. Hayek was extremely critical in her report of the Polo Carriage Company- about air quality and the suffocating presence of chlorine in stalls. She mentioned healthcare in her summary but that got translated in Commissioner White’s motion as care of hooves. Commissioner Turner-Maybank said that health care was adequately covered in the present Ordinance.

A need for independence
I also applauded the report of Dr Hayek and the action of Commission. I, and another speaker, reminded the Commission that many of the issues raised by Dr. Hayek were the same as those raised by citizens in sub committee meetings to develop the ordinance (and which were ignored). I also applauded the desire for an independent veterinarian, something that was lacking when the ordinance was being formed. Dr. Malark, who sat on the sub Committee, was retained by all of the carriage companies and whose independence was therefore questionable. Also on the subcommittee was Mr. Tom Doyle who represents all of the Carriage companies.

Although I did not say so last night, I think Dr. Malark and Mr. Doyle restrained the sub-committee from going further than it did in crafting the ordinance. Mr. Doyle has strong opinions and expresses them so. He is not afraid to show hostility to an opinion contrary to his. These qualities have served Mr. Doyle and the Carriage industry well. Again in my view, Mr. Doyle intimidated in varying degrees some of the subcommittee members and that they were hesitant to dispute his opinions. We also think similarly about the visit of Dr Merriam and his appearance before the subcommittee. Dr Merriam was to be the independent veterinarian to render opinions for the subcommittee. We note that he spent most of his short time in Charleston in the company of Mr. Doyle and inspected only one barn, that of Mr. Doyle. (In the media business, it is called the “Duchess Treatment”. You endear yourself to somebody, making it difficult for then to say anything negative). During the hearing and attempting to draw opinions from Dr. Merriam, Mr. Doyle was figuratively putting words into the doctor’s mouth.

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