People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals is calling for a ban on horse-drawn carriage rides in Charleston following a Charleston City Paper report last week of a spooked horse incident.

On March 26, a driver for Classic Carriage Tours told police that she was turning the corner at Market and Anson streets when her horse was startled by the sound of construction machinery and ran down the street “at a high rate of speed.” Fearing for pedestrians, the driver veered the horse and carriage to the side of the road.

According to the police report, “The result of the sudden stop overturned the carriage, bending the stop sign at North Market Street and Anson Street completely over onto the sidewalk.”

The driver was uninjured, but the incident, along with five others covered in the City Paper’s pages since January 2008 involving various carriage companies, prompted a letter from PETA to Charleston Mayor Joe Riley to ban horse-drawn carriages.

“It’s cruel and dangerous to force horses to pull oversized loads in heavy traffic and extreme weather conditions,” says PETA Director Debbie Leahy in a press release. “The number of incidents that have occurred in Charleston make it clear that banning horse-drawn carriages is the only way to ensure the safety of passengers, horses, and motorists.”

Riley responded Tuesday, saying the horse carriage industry in Charleston has been “vigilantly” managed for 25 years.

“The horse drawn carriages are a very safe and delightful way to see the sights of our historic city of Charleston,” he said. “As a matter of procedure, the City of Charleston investigates all incidents involving horses and carriages. The industry is highly motivated to ensure safety for their riders and for their horses as is the city. The concerns of PETA are noted but the City feels that there is no anxiety warranted. We will continue to maintain great standards and service the model for the care and respect for horses and the carriage industry.”

In the letter to Riley, Desiree Acholla, PETA’s Animals in Entertainment Specialist, notes two other recent horse carriage accidents in the past few weeks, including a spooked horse incident in Salem, N.Y. that required a nine-year-old boy to be airlifted to a hospital and an one in Victoria, Canada, that injured a carriage driver.

“As evidenced by these tragic incidents, the horse-drawn carriage industry endangers the public and horses,” Acholla wrote. “… We hope that you will make the compassionate decision to protect Charleston’s many residents, tourists, and horses by banning horse-drawn carriages before another tragedy strikes.”

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