St. Louis health director Pamela Walker said Moose, a carriage horse who worked a downtown route, has a chronic lung condition, according to an examination by a veterinarian, and no longer should be used.
Walker says Dr. Sarah Frei, a St. Louis Health Department veterinarian, determined that Moose has heaves, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — a condition that severely restricts the animal’s ability to breathe, Walker said.
Walker sought the examination after she spotted the horse breathing heavily in front of the City Museum on Saturday night.
The health director lives in a building adjacent to the museum and was walking her dog just before 9 p.m. when she spotted what she said was a horse “showing classic signs of heatstroke.” She intervened to stop riders from boarding the carriage being pulled by that horse, Moose, and stopped another horse, Ben, both owned by carriage operator Brookdale Farms.
When a Post-Dispatch reporter arrived roughly 15 minutes later, Moose was breathing heavily enough to rock the attached carriage.
Walker said Frei examined the horse Sunday and found the animal continuing to breathe heavily. Walker said a normal horse would have six to 12 breaths per minute. A horse with COPD would have 36 to 40 breaths a minute but Moose was at 80 breaths a minute.
“I told him (the owner) that he cannot work him anymore — ever again,” Walker said Sunday.
Jerry Kirk, the owner of Brookdale Farms and Moose, disputed the COPD diagnosis.
“I dispute it and so does my veterinarian,” he said. Kirk plans to have his veterinarian, Dr. Mark Cassells, give Moose a thorough examination, including an ultrasound and scope, to confirm that there are no issues.
Kirk said Frei came to his barn and spent 5 minutes examining Moose.
“That horse never coughed in the nine years that I’ve had him,” Kirk said Sunday. He said his horses are examined regularly. He said Moose is a large horse and breathes a little heavier sometimes.
Walker said steps are underway to deal with the issue.
“My vet called his vet and asked him to call the owner and suggest moving Moose to Eureka so that his own vet can diagnose him,” she said. “I will not allow this horse to work in my city.”
Walker said city ordinances bar people from working an unfit animal or overworking an animal.
Walker said the vet will inspect the other carriage horses today and will provide a report on the welfare of the others. “Then we will see what we will do from there,” she said.
Walker said the city health department has authority both over animals in distress and farm animals. She would like to see horse drawn carriage rides banned here.
“We have a beautiful city to walk and see the architecture,” she says. “It is not necessary to have a downtown experience with carriage horses.”
Kirk said Walker is involved with animal rights advocates and is “trying to force her opinion on other people.”\
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect affiliation for Dr. Sarah Frei.