It was an odd scene on the streets of Old Sacramento on Sunday, July 28, as burly men stood between petite women and the banner which they erected to bring awareness to the ongoing issue of alleged carriage horse mistreatment in Old Sacramento.
While volunteers from the Working Animal Advocates group handed out leaflets, counter-demonstrators blocked the banner and presented an intimidating presence which unfortunately was probably more intimidating to the public than to the animal advocates. One counter-demonstrator circled the intersection with a tiny brochure-sized hand written sign reading, “P.E.T.A. Kills & Sucks”. It was an ironic example of the disconnect between the opposing viewpoints since PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) had neither a presence at, nor any involvement with, the demonstration.
When counter-demonstrators began taking down the Working Animal Advocates’ banner police were called. Two squad cars and a bicycle officer showed up and the crowd of shoppers and tourists were left wondering what was happening.
The Working Animal Advocates group is a coalition of concerned citizens from Sacramento and beyond who are concerned that carriage horse operations in Sacramento do not meet laws and ordinances that have been on the books for many years, designed to protect carriage horses from abuse. The group claims to have documented that ordinances are not being followed and enforcement is nonexistent. Concerns over violations and lack of enforcement were addressed in a letter to Old Sacramento Manager Liz Brenner dated Nov. 28, 2012. A formal response was assured to be forthcoming but as of yet there has been none.
Everyone should have an interest in commercial operations that may contribute positively to the local economy. Tangible economic contributors in a tourist environment are in everyone’s best interest but other major cities of the world have progressed beyond the notion that carriage horse operations are necessary to maintain a feeling of nostalgia. Paris, Toronto, London, Santa Fe and even Reno are ahead of Sacramento in this trend as they have all banned carriage horses.
Old Sacramento has a world class railway museum, a fantastic art museum nearby, attractive shops and restaurants, a picturesque waterfront and compact, pedestrian-friendly streets. If carriage horses are deemed to be vital to its economy then isn’t it in the best interest of the city and public alike to ensure that such operations are conducted with utmost integrity and in accordance with rules, regulations, ordinances and laws that seemingly were created to allow such operations to exist?
An advocacy group of citizens is calling for a ban on carriage horse operations. The reason is that the laws and ordinances designed to protect the horses are neither followed nor enforced leaving a complete ban to seem like the only answer.
It should go without saying that the reasonable approach is to address rather than suppress public inquiries over compliance? The public is responsible for the existence of the ordinances that protect carriage horses. But the mere existence of the ordinances on the books does nothing. It is not a placebo. The public is simply not that collectively ignorant.
While there will clearly remain both opponents and proponents to carriage horse operations in Old Sacramento neither side should feel the need to resort to intimidation, malfeasance or misinformation to further its agenda. Let’s start with dialog.