SALT LAKE CITY — Three days after a horse collapsed while pulling a carriage downtown, the Humane Society of Utah is calling for an end to the use of carriage horses on city streets.
Humane Society spokesman Carl Arky said it's not a new stance, it's just one the organization is reiterating.
"It's a quaint idea. We understand why some people enjoy it, and they think it's a nice way for tourists to tour downtown, or even locals to do that," Arky said. "But at what cost? What cost do we want to continue to see things like this happen?"
It was Saturday afternoon when Jerry, a horse from Carriage for Hire, collapsed on State Street just north of South Temple.
Jeremy Beckham, spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said he saw the horse being transported back to the barn. Beckham said the horse would not get up, so he was tied with ropes and straps and loaded into a trailer. A forklift was then used to move the horse into the barn, he said.
"If a horse had a serious health condition and had collapsed in a pasture or a stable, there wouldn't be a need to drag his body into a trailer somewhere else for him to get veterinary attention," Beckham said.
The situation, he said, "underscored" why horses shouldn't be in an urban environment.
"These photographs and these images and people really seeing what a collapsed horse on State Street looks like, I think that's galvanized a lot for the opposition we see now," Beckham said. "That combined with the fact that I think we're seeing a big social change in how we think we should be treating animals."
Arky said Humane Society officials felt they needed to speak up after Saturday's incident.
"The question always comes back to whether animals should be used for this purpose, and I think that’s what we’re trying to get to the heart of," he said. "(The question is) whether horses should be used in these conditions," citing temperature, traffic and vehicle exhaust.
An employee from Carriages for Hire who asked to remain nameless said Jerry is OK.
"It was colic, a terrible bout, and he's on the verge of recovery," the employee said.
Carriages for Hire plans to continue to operate in Salt Lake City, the employee said. Its horses normally work five- to six-hour shifts for three to four days a week.
Bill Whorton, a carriage driver for Carriage for Hire, said he retired but decided to drive carriages as a hobby. He said he grew up around horses and his grandfather had draft horses.
"These horses are as well taken care of as my dogs, and I love my dogs," Whorton said. "And I love these horses."
He said the horses are doing what they love and are meant to do.
"They're pullers," Whorton said. "They love to go out, they love to pull and that's their purpose. That's what they do."
When carriage drivers go out to pick a horse, the horses "come over and go, 'Pick me, pick me, pick me,'" he said. "They love to do what they're called to do."
For riders, it takes them back to a time when people used to travel by horse and carriage, Whorton said.
Salt Lake City Councilman Charlie Luke said city officials are taking the issue seriously and gathering all the facts.
"Anytime something like this happens, it increases the dialogue and allows for people to really start talking about what needs to be done," he said.
Currently, city ordinance prohibits horse-drawn carriages from operating when there's a heat index of 150 degrees or higher. The heat index is a combination of actual temperature and humidity. Luke said the effectiveness of the ordinance is something the City Council will explore.
"I think a 150 degree index is unrealistic," he said. "If we're going to have something in ordnance, I think it makes sense to have something that reflects reality."
Luke said the City Council is in the early stages of examining the ordinance.
"I don't think people are going to stay away from Salt Lake City if the carriages were not around," he said. "I don't think people come to Salt Lake City specifically for the carriage. I think it does add some ambiance right now, but all of those things will be taken into account."
Beckham said regulations won't fix the problem. He said horse-drawn carriages don't belong on the streets of Salt Lake City.
"Regulations can't redefine the nature of our urban landscape," he said. "They can't change the nature of a horse, which is a large animal that scares easily. There are just some factors that are really beyond the City Council's control that make it so that horse-drawn carriages, no matter what we try to do to regulate the practice, it'll always have very serious problems associated with it."
Don Porter, acting director for South Salt Lake Animal Services, said Carriage for Hire, which has operated since 1987, did not violate any regulations. Animal services also has not had any previous concerns about the company, he said.
Arky said horses on the streets pose a risk to the horses as well as the public.
In 2009, a family of seven was taking a ride in a horse-drawn carriage when the horse became spooked and took off running. The horse eventually ran into a parked car. No one was seriously injured.
Another incident happened in April, when some kids were taunting a horse pulling a carriage by throwing wads of paper at the animal. The carriage was waiting at a light when the horse eventually spooked, bucked and tipped the carriage over into a bus. No one was injured, but traffic was delayed for about an hour.
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