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Jeremy Beckham
Crews try to move upright a horse that had undisclosed medical issues Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013. The horse was pulling a carriage and was taken back to the barn. The horse, Jerry, died Monday, Aug. 26, 2013.
It's really a sad thing that some of the people out there don't understand that over 500,000 horses a year die of colic. That's what Jerry died of. They want to blame it on the fact that he was out there on the street. —Blaine Overson, owner of Carriage for Hire

SALT LAKE CITY — A horse that collapsed downtown earlier this month died Friday, its owner said.

Blaine Overson, owner of Carriage for Hire, said he and his wife are upset about Jerry's death.

"We cried between the two of us," Overson said. "We're sorry to see him go."

After Jerry collapsed on Aug. 17, Overson said the horse was taken about 300 miles away to recover. On Wednesday, he called his wife to tell her Jerry was on the mend. Two days later, Overson said the horse "took a turn for the worse" and died.

"We get attached to (the horses)," he said. "Our drivers get attached to them, and they get attached to us."

Overson said the criticism his company has received since Jerry collapsed has been difficult to take. He's even received some death threats, he said.

"It's really a sad thing that some of the people out there don't understand that over 500,000 horses a year die of colic," Overson said. "That's what Jerry died of. They want to blame it on the fact that he was out there on the street."

Jeremy Beckham, spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said the organization is calling on the company to release the veterinary records and to perform a necropsy on the horse.

"This is a clear indication that horses don't belong in a densely urban environment in Salt Lake City," Beckham said. "They shouldn't be pulling carriages in sweltering heat (and) on crowded streets."

Regardless of what the necropsy shows, he said, "it doesn't change the fact that horses are 1,800-pound animals that spook easily, and it wouldn't change the fact that we have an urban environment where there are loud noises frequently."

Beckham said he suspects heat was involved in the death of the animal. The company's story that Jerry died of colic, he said, should be questioned.

"How can a horse that has a clean bill of health Wednesday suddenly drop dead two days later?" Beckham asked.

Overson said they take good care of their horses, keeping them well fed, their feet trimmed and providing regular medical attention.

"It's really upsetting to think people think we abuse these horses," he said.

Overson said it's hard to educate people on how Carriage for Hire runs its business and how much people in the city enjoy the horses.

"These (horses) like their job," he said. "I know it's hard for these animal activists to understand that, but if they were here every day and see what we see, they like what they do. They really do."

Carriage for Hire is also under scrutiny after releasing a photo of a horse the company said was Jerry in good health. The photo turned out to be a picture of a different horse.

Overson said his wife sent the photo to a media organization in haste after he told her Jerry was improving.

"It was the wrong thing to do," he said. "She regrets that, and it's a sad thing. But she really thought by my comment (that the horse was improving) that we were going to be back here with Jerry."

Mayor Ralph Becker's office released a statement Monday saying city officials "are saddened" about the news of Jerry's death.

"We are also extremely disappointed that the owners of Carriage for Hire chose not to publicly share this information in a timely manner," the statement said.

Mayor Becker supports Salt Lake City Councilman Charlie Luke's call for an investigation into the incident and the re-evaluation of the city ordinance that allows for horse-drawn carriages downtown, the statement said.

"Now that the horse has passed away, there are still a number of questions that are out there," Luke said.

City officials are looking at ordinances on horses in urban areas in other municipalities while moving forward with the investigation, he said.

"What we are trying to do is stay as unemotional about the situation as possible," Luke said.

Email: eeagar@deseretnews.com

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