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May. 25, 2022 | Wednesday
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From the horse’s mouth: OSCPA provides no comment reviewing position on horse-drawn carriages
Carriage horses fall under the working animals' category, along with service, guide and police dogs, and others. Photo: Sentineal Carriages.

To ride or not to ride: that is the question.

For about a year, a local activist group has been protesting the use of horse-drawn carriages in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The carriage rides, run by Sentineal Carriages, have operated locally for decades. The activist group, At War For Animals Niagara, would like to see an end to that, and believes human use of animals for any means is "speciesism," and would like to see an end to human owership of all animals.

Protesters have been standing beside the loading area for the carriages, in an attempt to hinder the company's business and spread their message.

The Sentineals have seen an influx of local support since the protesters began, while AWFAN members have not given up and say they plan to keep protesting unless the company switches to electric carriages.

When it comes to the law, animal cruelty prevention agencies across the country have differing opinions on the subject.

Ontario doesn't have specific regulations for the use of carriage horses, however the Ontario Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act states animals shouldn’t be put in distress and must be provided with adequate care, food, shelter and treatment. Otherwise, the owner could be guilty of an offence within both the Criminal Code and the OSPCA Act, and inspectors and agents could issue orders and lay charges.

In Montreal horse-drawn carriages – also called caleche – will be banned starting Dec. 31, 2018, while in downtown Toronto the rides have been prohibited since 1998.

The SPCA in Victoria, B.C. recommended banning horse-drawn carriages after two horses slipped and fallen down on May 4, 2018, while carrying a trolley with passengers.

Victoria Carriage Tours provided a statement in response to the recommendation, pointing out at their safety policies and noting, “one incident cannot reflect the whole, not with horses.”

Tally-Ho Carriage Tours, another horse-and-carriage company in Victoria, also responded to the recommendation with a statement saying it “follows strict procedures and precautions" to maximize the safety of its "horses, staff and the general public."

The Ottawa Humane Society says it recognizes many animals are used for work activities, and believes animals should be provided with proper care, while owners should be responsive to the five freedoms of animal welfare.

The Five Freedoms is a standard in animal welfare which was first developed in the UK government report in 1965. This core concept includes freedom from hunger and thirst; discomfort; pain, injury or disease; from fear and distress; and freedom to express normal behaviour.

The OSPCA did not have much to say about the hot topic.

“We always expect standards of care are being met for animals, no matter what working job they have,” said Melissa Kosowan, the associate director of communications at Ontario SPCA, in an email to The Lake Report. “We are in the process of reviewing our position statements and, as such, our statement will be provided at a future time.”

A Fort Erie SPCA spokesperson wouldn't comment, but said the organization complies with current Ontario and OSPCA legislation.

Humane societies in Niagara Falls and Welland, as well as SPCA branches in Barrie and Orangeville refused to comment on the issue.

AWFAN has criticized Sentineal Carriages, claiming the horses are subject to poor working conditions, while local residents and staff members of the carriage company have consistently fought the allegation, saying the horses are well-cared-for and enjoy the work and socialization.

For many NOTL locals and tourists, a horse-drawn carriage ride is a part of history, and something that adds character to the community.