They care very much for their animals, and the animals are work horses. I can't believe that the animals aren't happy working most of the time. —Walter Gunn
SALT LAKE CITY — Those calling for a ban of horse-drawn carriages downtown gathered outside the Salt Lake City-County Building on Tuesday for a vigil for Jerry, the horse that collapsed while pulling a carriage earlier this month.
Following Jerry's death, about 80 people from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Utah Animal Rights Coalition and other concerned residents held signs that said "RIP Jerry" and "Justice for Jerry," as well as pleas for a ban on horse-drawn carriages in Utah's capital city.
Amy Meyer, who spearheaded the gathering, said no amount of regulation is going to change the urban landscape. She just wants carriages off the street.
"We don't need any more horses dying on the street," said Meyer, with the Utah Animal Rights Coalition. "We don't need anymore accidents involving people. We need to stop this before the problems escalate even more."
An urban environment, she said, is not the place for a horse.
"It is not where they can thrive," Meyer said, "and they would be much better off and much happier if they were not on the street all day, especially pulling a carriage behind them."
Blaine Overson, Jerry's owner and the operator of Carriage for Hire, said he has received threatening calls since the horse's death.
"These (animal activists) are terrorists, straight up," he said. "They're terrorists."
Overson said he has complied with all city ordinances and that Carriage for Hire "plays a really good, honest game." He said the business has continued to operate despite the threats and negative attention.
"The only thing that went wrong was sending the picture," he said. "Other than that, we have followed every rule."
Overson said because his wife was being "terrorized by these animal activists," she sent a picture of a different horse to media outlets, claiming it was Jerry and that the horse had recovered.
Following the vigil, the group made its way to the Salt Lake City Council meeting, where 30 people stood to share their thoughts.
Nicole Melkonian said three years ago her father tried to get her into a carriage along with her sister and brother, but she refused.
"I chose to walk behind the carriage," she said. "Clearly the horse was struggling. Even then I knew it was not well-regulated."
Walter Gunn, a longtime neighbor of Carriage for Hire, said "there is no cruelty in (the owners)."
"They care very much for their animals, and the animals are work horses," he said. "I can't believe that the animals aren't happy working most of the time."
Gunn said the carriages give a "real flavor" to Salt Lake City, and he called for the City Council to regulate the operations but not ban them altogether.
"Accidents happen," he said. "Things are beyond our control."
Lauren Lockey stood to tell the City Council that there should be a compromise.
"I agree with giving animals things to do," she said. "But being down in Salt Lake on hot asphalt is not where an animal should be. I hope there can be an in-between."
Lockey called for more respect for the animals, suggesting they have protections just as human workers do.
"These animals don't have a choice," she said.
On Tuesday morning, Councilman Charlie Luke toured the Carriage for Hire facility. He addressed the group at the vigil prior to the City Council meeting and thanked those gathered for not letting the issue disappear.
"Everything is on the table," he said. "What I don't want to do as a council member is try to get stuck with one position at this point."
Last week, the City Council formally authorized the use of council staff to look into the issue, Luke said.
Councilman Luke Garrott said the fact that Carriage for Hire misrepresented facts is "very, very disturbing."
Garrott said the company's license will automatically be renewed unless it violates city ordinances.
"Until we can prove that they have violated part of our ordinance, we can't yank or even suspend their permits," he said. "That's a problem, and that needs to change."