Jerry, the carriage horse from Salt Lake City, has died. Exactly when and exactly how are a mystery. Those should be easily determined details, but this story has taken an odd turn.
Care2 readers may remember our recent story about Jerry, a 13-year-old horse, who’d been pulling carriages on August 17th in near-100 degree heat. Some time during the afternoon, he kicked his stomach and then suddenly went down right on the street and wouldn’t get up again.
What happened next, however, takes this story from sad to strange.
Pressed by activists and the media to know Jerry’s condition after he was taken away, owner Annette Overton released a photo of a healthy-looking horse standing inside a stall. All was well, Carriage for Hire reported.
However, that photo was not Jerry. A close look at the picture, compared with photos of Jerry taken at the scene on the 17th, shows this fact clearly. Jerry’s coat was a shade of grey known as “dappled” – a grey or white shade with mottled brown or black hair. The horse in the photo had a slightly different coat known as “flea bitten” grey and a white mark on its lip that Jerry didn’t have.
Activists, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), began to ask publicly what was going on. Annette Overton eventually came clean and admitted that she intentionally sent out the wrong photo.
Overton told the Salt Lake Tribune she released a photo of a different horse because she was “sick of seeing my horses laying down and so I sent a picture of a horse standing up.” She admitted it was a “stupid mistake” and added, “I should never have sent that photo.”
Epic fail? Oh, yes.
Her husband, Blaine Overton, told KSL.com that his wife intentionally released the wrong photo because she was being “terrorized by these animal activists,” some of whom were threatening them with violence. They’d taken Jerry 300 miles away, he said, to distance him from the frenzy and let him recover. He also said his wife had misunderstood what he’d told her about Jerry’s condition, causing her to report that Jerry was on the mend.
In fact, it appears Jerry may have died the weekend of the incident. Whenever it occurred, it wasn’t revealed publicly until the following week. The news came out when, in response to the outcry about the photo, City Councilman Charlie Luke visited Carriage for Hire to see the horse and was told he had died.
What Really Happened to Jerry?
Seeing a horse go down on a public street is obviously heart wrenching. What is unclear is whether Jerry “collapsed” due to ill-care or heat exhaustion, or whether he lay down on purpose.
Why would he lie down in the street on purpose? Well, Carriage for Hire says Jerry had colic. Colic is a painful condition of the abdomen, causing tightness within the digestive system. The pain is often caused by a twisted intestine or by contractions as the digestive tract tries to force out an obstruction.
Colic is the most common cause of premature death in horses. Symptoms often develop without warning. When the pain hits, horses may kick at their stomach (as Jerry reportedly did). Horses sometimes feel a strong need to lie down to alleviate the discomfort. They do this because, unlike most other animals, horses cannot vomit. It’s therefore possible that Jerry was intentionally lying down to minimize pain. If so, he really didn’t “collapse” as has been reported.
Activist Amy Meyer of the Utah Animal Rights Coalition, who was on scene when Jerry was on the ground, said she didn’t think Jerry appeared to be suffering from colic. Representatives from PETA agree. PETA research project manager Jeremy Beckham, also present, told the Salt Lake Tribune, “After reviewing the video footage of the incident and consulting with equine experts and veterinarians, we question the diagnosis of colic and subsequent reports from Carriage for Hire.”
Unfortunately, without seeing the veterinarian’s report, we will never know for sure. Jerry’s carcass has been destroyed, and Salt Lake City’s Animal Control officers never saw him after he was taken from the scene.
The Overtons say it was colic. Maybe it was. Unfortunately for them, they created a credibility problem when they attempted to placate the public by intentionally releasing a photo of a different horse and failing to promptly reveal Jerry had died. Even the mayor’s office decried the delay in reporting Jerry’s death.
Jerry‘s Legacy: Salt Lake City Re-Evaluates Carriage Horse Ordinance
The bigger issue currently under consideration is whether the carriage horse industry will be allowed to continue operation in Salt Lake City.
Astoundingly, in Salt Lake City, carriage horses are permitted to work unless the heat index reaches 150 degrees. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, that equates to hitting Salt Lake City’s record high of 107 degrees, plus 57 percent humidity. In reality, it just never gets “too hot” for the horses to work, even when it’s sweltering out there.
Salt Lake City Councilman Charlie Luke has called for an investigation into the incident and the re-evaluation of the city’s carriage horse ordinance. If you want to add your voice to those who oppose carriage horses in Salt Lake City, sign this petition to the Salt Lake City Council.
Photo credit: Thinkstock