Publication name: Antelope Valley Press
URL for more info: http://www.avpress.com
Author: Alisha Semchuck
LANCASTER - City Council members, in a split vote, paved the way for horse-and-buggy operators to take customers for rides along The BLVD.
Despite objections from some animal-rights advocates, Vice Mayor Ron Smith along with council members Sherry Marquez and Ken Mann voted in favor of a motion that introduced an ordinance that would allow horse-drawn vehicles to function as a business along the renovated main drag of downtown Lancaster on a trial basis.
Mayor R. Rex Parris abstained from the vote, stating he needed more information, and Councilman Marvin Crist cast the single "no" vote.
Kelvin Tainatonga, assistant to the city manager, told council members that city staff conducted more research to ensure the health and safety of the horses as well as of pedestrian and motor traffic in the area - the maximum temperatures a horse can work in, the maximum weight load of passengers that horses can pull, how to deal with the clean-up of horses' feces, and how to provide horses with proper rest and enough water.
Tainatonga said the city staff has heard "complaints of horses being spooked on the streets."
Horse carriage drivers must have sufficient training so they can immediately control their animals in case a situation like that occurs to prevent injury to the horse and people in the area.
"I suggested you require driver testing," said Monica Whitmer, co-owner with husband Jack Whitmer of Sweetwater Ranch in east Lancaster. The Whitmers are seeking a business permit from the city to operate the horse-drawn carriage rides as an entertainment attraction on The BLVD.
"The driver is responsible. It is a matter of a partnership between driver and horse," Monical Whitmer told council members.
The relationship she has with her horse is one of trust. Her horse relays any concerns, and she handles the situation, Whitmer said.
"My horse is so traffic-trained. He has been on The BLVD four times. No problems. My horses like to work. They meet me at the gate. They're happy to do the job," she said.
She's bottle-fed her horse and had him in her house, Whitmer said, adding, "He's more a child than a horse."
Protestors disputed some of her claims, and asked the council to vote down the business-permit request.
"Antique cars or dune buggies (are) way better than cruel horse-and-carriage rides," said Carole Sax, a Los Angeles resident affiliated with the Companion Animal Protection Society, a nonprofit animals rights organization.
"No horse should be anywhere near an 18-wheeler," said Carole Davis, the West Coast director of the Companion Animal Protection Agency.
Davis' comment was in response to Monica Whitmer's comment that her horse didn't even spook on a road where 18-wheelers sped past.
Though Davis does not live in the area, she comes to Lancaster often for animal-rights issues.
"I'm a frequent and unwanted guest," Davis said. "Cities around the civilized world have banned this cruel and inhumane entertainment. If you pass this ordinance, horses will suffer."
"Consider the skittish nature of horses," said Nan Dillinger, another Los Angeles resident. "They are prey, not predators."
Because of the hot summer temperatures in the Antelope Valley, made hotter on asphalt roads, horses can die of heat stroke if worked when the mercury rises, she said.
A couple of the protestors asked the council to view the movie "Blinders" before they voted on the issue.
"I know there are people out there that have concerns," Smith said. "Animal cruelty is a crime."
But Smith disagreed that horse-drawn carriages constitute animal cruelty. "My decision is how do we manage a business license. That's our main question," he said.
"Our citizens are going to be very upset being behind a carriage," Crist said. "I don't see this as necessary at this time."
"I'd like to watch that DVD on 'Blinders,'" Parris said. "I want to watch the DVD before I vote on this."