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One day after animal rights activists raised questions about the whereabouts of Jerry the Salt Lake City carriage horse, his owner admitted she sent a photo of a different animal but insisted Jerry is safe and recovering.
In conversations Saturday, Carriage for Hire owner Annette Overson said that after Jerry collapsed in downtown Salt Lake City on Aug. 17, she sent photos 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."
Overson repeatedly called the decision a "stupid mistake" that she regrets.
"I should never have sent that photo," she said.
The photo eventually prompted outcry from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which argued the horse in Overson's image didn't match the one photographed by bystanders. Jeremy Beckham, a PETA research project manager, said Friday the photos raised questions about Jerry's condition and whereabouts.
Overson declined to say where Jerry had been taken Saturday but said he was alive and well. She said Jerry was moved after his collapse because she and her company were besieged by threats. The threats scared Overson, who opted to clamp down on information, she explained, which included removing Jerry. She said she would not reveal Jerry's location because she did not want his caretakers subjected to threats or potential violence.
"I just stuck with trying to protect my people," she said.
Overson also said her company properly cares for its horses. The animals have feed available all the time in order to mimic grazing patterns in the wild, she said, and are kept in spacious pens with other horses.
"They are never without water or feed," she said. "Our horses are on the verge of being chubby. They're not thin. They're not abused."
To stress that the horses have good living conditions, Overson gave a Tribune reporter an impromptu tour of the company's stables Saturday. Jerry was not present, but more than a dozen other draft horses appeared to have full feed troughs and water. As Overson walked by the horses, they clustered along a fence apparently jockeying for her attention as she petted their faces.
During an earlier phone conversation, Overson reiterated a veterinarian's diagnosis, which concluded that Jerry collapsed because he had colic. She also argued that the animal activists have long wanted to end carriage rides in Salt Lake City and are more motivated by that agenda than the facts.
"I maybe made a bad mistake," Overson said, referring to the decision to send out the photo of the other horse, "but I should not be crucified. I am a little family business that's being attacked because I had a horse that got sick."
For its part, the controversy surrounding the photos led PETA to offer a $1,000 reward Saturday for information about Jerry's location.