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Rome 'horse ambulance' to help tourist steeds in need

Buggy pullers' health a concern with summer heat approaching

01 June, 18:47
Rome 'horse ambulance' to help tourist steeds in need (ANSA) - Rome, June 1 - Rome is to lay on a special ambulance service for the horses that pull the city's tourist buggies as part of efforts to step up protection of the animals' health.

Local authorities say the 'horse ambulance' will help prevent repeats of the case of Birillo, a tourist-buggy puller who died in agony after an accident near the Colosseum over a year ago.

The vehicle will be equipped with special straps that make it possible to lift a horse for examination, ultrasound scanners and other diagnostic instruments and a well furnished stock of veterinary medicines.

The ambulance, which will be staffed by a vet and a veterinary nurse, will transport animals in serious need of attention to a special equine 'emergency room' at a Carabinieri police barracks in the city.

Rome has around 80 horses for the buggies popular with tourists for charming tours of its sites.

Their health and safety has long been a bone of contention between buggy drivers and animal rights campaigners who say working in Rome's smog and traffic-choked streets is harmful and hazardous for the beasts.

A new set of city regulations for the buggies came into force in February, after concerns were raised by several horses being badly injured in the line of duty in recent years.

These included limiting the horses' work-day to a maximum of eight hours, with mandatory breaks during the hottest hours of the day.

With Rome's baking summer heat approaching, the council is also taking other measures to ensure the animals stay in fine fettle after renting the horse ambulance from a mounted section of the Carabinieri police.

Vets are about to start a series of examinations on all the horses, including blood tests and X-rays, which will be followed by regular check-ups every two months.

This work will be carried out by a team of three vets, rather than the single expert who has been monitoring their health up to now.

Animal rights campaigners, however, will not be satisfied until Rome at least passes regulations banning horse-drawn buggies from some particularly busy or arduous uphill areas of the centre.

The buggy drivers have countered that this is unnecessary as the time-honoured line of work is not inhumane on the animals, who they say the treat "like family".

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