By DANA SMITH
Tribune Staff Reporter
IN view of the recent death of a surrey horse, the Nassau Tourism and Development Board is proposing entirely new stipulations and provisions for the popular downtown Nassau attraction – including moving the route the horses take.
In a statement released by the board’s founding executive director, Diane Phillips, she also spoke on another incident involving alleged mistreatment of a surrey horse.
“During the past week, two incidents involving surrey horses occurred that force us to face how we handle surrey horse operations in Nassau,” she said.
“On November 7 a surrey horse collapsed and died on busy Dowdeswell Street as onlookers gasped in disbelief and horror. Two days later on the same street, another horse, so emaciated and weak it could no longer pull the carriage, rolled back into a car.”
She said this second incident was reported to her by a “frantic” onlooker who claimed: “Police yelled to the driver of the surrey to stop blocking traffic, prompting him to get out of the carriage and whip the horse until he could force it, on spongy, spindly legs, to move a step or two.”
The onlooker was “near hysteria” from witnessing the cruelty, Ms Phillips continued, and persons in the vicinity were left horrified by what they saw.
“We cannot state for certain that every surrey horse is abused or neglected and do not imply that every owner is heartless. Until an autopsy is completed on the death of the first horse, which was 22 years old, we will not know whether there was cruelty or if it was old age that caused the horse to collapse,” she said.
“We do know that the horse in the second incident, which happened about 48 hours after the first, was emaciated. We do know that what seemed like a traditional tourist experience, to see an island by horse and buggy, half a century ago when the pace was slower, can no longer be run the way it was then if it is to continue at all.”
The Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Tourism have tried to bring order to the operation of surrey horses with present regulations and inspections, Mrs Phillips continued.
“But if the holders of the licenses and the owners of the horses do not have the heart to feel the pain and suffering, if their bottom line to earn a few dollars is greater than the bottom line of the reputation of the country they say they care about, then there is little anyone can do to convince them that neglect and cruelty hurt.”
The industry can be “salvaged,” she said, by putting a “swift end” to animal neglect and abuse and by “re-inventing the experience” with a new system that requires operators to demonstrate knowledge of care and financial capability for care.
Operators must also be fully insured to be licensed and retention of license should be dependent upon proof of care.
“Experts say that a horse can look like it is starving not because food is not provided but because its teeth have not been filed or it has an abscess, making it difficult to eat because it is just too painful,” she said.
“If feet are not trimmed every six to eight weeks, a horse can have difficulty walking. If its hooves are not maintained, if shoes are not professionally nailed by a blacksmith, feet can become infected or so sensitive to the pavement or rocks on the road that every step aches.”
New hours of operation and routes away from city traffic is also proposed.
“We worked with the Bahamas Humane Society and devised routes that covered Cable Beach and Paradise Island from 8 to 11 am and again from 4 to 9 pm,” Ms Phillips said.
“A horse is not a machine. It is a living, breathing soul that must be cared for and we must care for ours if The Bahamas is not to suffer at the hands of world opinion for the animal abuse and cruelty that has now been exposed internationally.”