VICTORIA – Victoria councillors are considering tightening city regulations governing horse-drawn carriage tours, but that’s not enough for at least one council member who says it’s time to put the downtown rides out to pasture.
Councillors are set to debate wholesale changes to the animal control bylaw Thursday to consider the health and identification of carriage horses and to prohibit pet store sales of dogs, puppies, cats, kittens and rabbits.
The debate last week did not resolve issues that were raised on carriage horses.
Coun. Ben Isitt said council is considering incremental changes to prolong a business that should be phased out of the city.
“This is just scratching the surface,” he told last week’s meeting. “If we’re serious about animal welfare these animals need to be in rural areas, on farms, not working in a dense urban environment under these conditions.”
The City of Montreal adopted new rules last year to protect the welfare of horses working in the city’s caleche industry. Former mayor Denis Coderre also tried to place a one-year moratorium on the popular tourist draw in 2016 after several accidents involving the horses were caught on camera, but that decision was later reversed after a judge ruled the carriages should be allowed to continue operating.
Horse-drawn carriage tours of Victoria’s scenic Inner Harbour and bucolic Beacon Hill Park are popular tourism attractions, but they have often been dogged by animal rights proponents who say the trips put stress and hardship on the horses.
Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe said she did not want to engage in a debate at this time about the future of the carriage horse industry.
She told council last week her proposed bylaw amendments seek to protect the horses and their passengers.
“My goal is to make sure the health of the horse and the safety of the passengers are being considered,” Thornton-Joe said.
The changes include ensuring individual horses display identification numbers and health records to allow for improved animal monitoring by city licensing officers and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Highly visible numbers also help public reporting of potential issues involving horses, she said.
“People, when they do want to complain, they say, the brown horse that was on Government Street,” said Thornton-Joe. “This would help to identify more quickly which animal.”
A spokeswoman for Victoria’s Tally-Ho Carriage Tours said the company is preparing to make a statement on Victoria council’s plans, but was not prepared to comment on Monday.
Tally-Ho has been in the tour business using horses in Victoria since 1903. Its website cites three key goals, including “to ensure the horses are healthy and happy in their work at all times.”
But Isitt said his concerns about the horses go beyond criticism of the business case. He said pollution from animal waste is also an issue.
Horse urine flows freely into the Inner Harbour, he said.
“That seems to be a violation of the storm sewer bylaw,” said Isitt. “What kind of enforcement action is going on in relation to that? Are we basically ignoring that infraction?”
A city official said the carriage operators are required to remove horse manure but the issue of horse urine has not been addressed.
Council is also considering renaming the animal control regulation to the animal responsibility bylaw to also stop the sale of dogs, puppies, cats, kittens and rabbits at pet stores.
“The only exemption is if these animals are offered for adoption from a recognized animal rescue society or shelter organization, at which time the current bylaw policy would still apply,” city council documents say.