Heat Loophole Exposed in Charleston

How carriage tours stay on the streets well past the 95° max temperature.

IT’S AN ISSUE CAROLINA TAILS HAS brought to light before – a loophole in the carriage tour ordinance. Most people believe the city pulls horses off the street as soon as the temperature reaches 95° -- but that is not the case.

In May, the Lowcountry experienced an unusually early heat wave, with temperatures skyrocketing to 95° - 100° on several days. On at least three of those days, horses were eventually pulled, but what you may not realize is the animals were working in temperatures beyond 95° before they were taken off the streets.

So why were horses still on the streets when temperatures reached as high as 97°? Within minutes of a Charleston Animal Society Facebook post raising that question, horses were finally pulled downtown. These horses were caught in the “loophole.”

To understand how this happens, you have to look at the details of the ordinance that was passed with much fanfare more than two years ago.


Most people believe that carriage tours downtown are pulled when temperatures reach 95°. While it’s an easy talking point for carriage operators and the city to tell the media – it just isn’t true. It’s much harder to say what the law actually states.

A loophole in the ordinance DOES NOT pull carriages from the road until there are four consecutive readings of 95° or higher! These readings are taken 15-minutes apart.

Despite the temperature exceeding 95° during the heatwave, carriages were still carrying tourists in temperatures that reached 95°, 96° and 97° and perhaps even higher, according to the city’s official thermometer downtown. (By the way, the city’s thermometer is on top of the DoubleTree hotel, instead of at ground level where the horses work).

Once city officials determine the temperature has reached 95°, they make note of it but continue to allow carriages to tour. This first reading just starts the “clock.” After 15 minutes, they will again record the temperature. Even if it is higher than 95°, like the 97° eyewitnesses saw horses working in during May, the carriages can continue according to the ordinance.

After another 15 minutes, they record the temperature a third time. Even if the mercury is still rising and far above 95° – horses can continue to work. It is not until the fourth reading, which takes place 45 minutes after the initial reading of 95° – that the horses will be pulled if, and only if, each of the readings has been 95° or higher.

You read that right: to make it even more complicated for the working animals, if just one of those readings dips slightly below 95° -- the whole process starts over and the horses and mules keep on sweating it out in the heat.

On top of that, it can take the carriages and wagons a considerable amount of time to make it back to the barns once they’re called in, which is not factored into the ordinance.


“This loophole is so easy to fix,” said Charleston Animal Society President & CEO Joe Elmore. “We could easily regain the public trust by pulling the horses when the temperature reaches 95° -- PERIOD!”

This loophole has occurred time and again since this ordinance was passed. Charleston Animal Society has sent out alerts about it happening in 2017, 2018 and now in 2019.

You can monitor the city’s official thermometer at weather.weatherbug.com/weather-forecast/now/charleston-sc- 29407?station=3:CHRDT. If you still see horses operating at temperatures above 95°, contact city officials at (843) 709-1985 and email Charleston Animal Society at: Cruelty@CharlestonAnimalSociety.org.

Let city officials hear your voice about closing this loophole once and for all. Tell them to drop the requirement of four readings and pull horses at 95°, keeping them off the streets until the temperatures are safely below the threshold temperature.

“Bottom line, we still need a scientific study to determine what a safe threshold temperature really is. The current maximum temperature, 95°, was adopted by the city as a political solution, not one based in science,” Elmore said. “Charleston Animal Society is not against working animals, but we call for reform, based on an independent study that will look at heat, load and congestion.”