On one particular issue, Dallas City Council members are beating a dead horse — in a manner of speaking.

They spent more than an hour on Wednesday debating whether to ban horse-drawn carriages, impose even more regulations on the micro-industry, or send the matter back to the Quality of Life, Arts & Culture Committee for further deliberation. Ultimately, they chose to kick the can back in a 10-5 vote — but only after more than a dozen people spoke on the matter during public comment.

“You’re discussing a ban on our industry and on my three-generation family business based on what is clearly a manufactured crisis,” North Star Carriage owner Brian High said during the council meeting. “First, we were accused of inhumane treatment of the horses, which a four-month City-funded investigation completely debunked. Then, it was special events mislabeled as road carriage operators and then imaginary Dallas accidents pulled from PETA propaganda. And, finally, it was the streets themselves.”

The Quality of Life, Arts & Culture Committee proposed the amendment to ban horse-drawn carriages in April.

‘You’re Now Being Bullied’

“After these concerns were proven false, you’re now being bulled to govern on emotion — the very thing that this body said it wouldn’t do,” High said. “None of this strategic campaign is built on facts or data. …We’ve been able to set straight many misconceptions, but this body as a whole still has not gathered the necessary information on this matter that has such devastating consequences to my family and employees.”

Patrick Carreno, director of aviation for the City of Dallas, briefed the Quality of Life, Arts & Culture Committee on April 15 on the horse-drawn carriage industry and its impact in Dallas. The committee also received a briefing on the same topic in December.

Chapter 47A regulates the operation of horse-drawn carriages. North Star Carriage is the only such company permitted in Dallas, but Code Enforcement inspectors only conduct “late afternoon/evening field inspections of non-motorized operations” occasionally. Inspection locations frequently include major hospitals, popular hotels, high-traffic areas, Downtown Dallas, NorthPark Center, Galleria Mall, and Klyde Warren Park.

“The City of Dallas has confirmed that there have been no accidents involving horse-drawn carriages in the last 10 years, including zero accidents involving North Star Carriage,” said John Jaksch, owner of Threejays Carriages, during the public comment period. “All alleged Google reports of accidents in Dallas and Highland Park are not verified and merely propaganda from animal-rights groups based in Chicago, which has simply been echoed by this council.”

Threejays Carriages operates in Highland Park.

“Claims of animal cruelty and safety concerns are baseless as even the council and animal-rights groups acknowledge it does not exist. … A leader of an animal-rights group from Chicago is attempting to dictate how this city should be governed, hiring lobbyists and their vegan counterparts to call, email, and harass you,” Jaksch said.

North Star Carriage averages six to 12 rides a night Thursday through Sunday. Eighty percent of them are in Dallas, and the others are in Highland Park.

‘Not Led by Outside Activists’

Shelby Bobosky, executive director of the Texas Humane Legislation Network and a Dallas resident, also spoke during the council meeting.

“We assist cities in updating their ordinances to reflect public safety standards surrounding working animals in our communities,” she said. “On behalf of the 3,500 DFW supporters, I’m speaking today to show our support for the ban on horse-drawn carriages in Dallas. … This is not led by outside activists but by Dallas residents that live in this city.”

Under the existing ordinance, horses are allowed to work up to eight hours per 24-hour period, and they must be given 10-minute breaks after every 50 minutes. Electric carriages are an alternative to horse-drawn carriages.

“I have owned horses for more than 40 years,” Ethel Strother said during public comments. “I have been in the animal-control profession for more than 40 years as well. And I, too, have participated in carriage rides. I have owned a carriage horse … so I’m very familiar with that.”

But operating in a “congested city” is “very concerning,” Strother said.

“There’s a lot of scenarios … without anybody knowing it’s going to happen. It just happens, and it’s too late. It’s either too late for the horse, or it’s too late for whoever the horse encountered. … I think the City’s doing the right thing for the city and for the citizens, and the horses are that involved in this.”

‘Source of Enjoyment’

Council Member Paul Ridley (District 14), a member of the Quality of Life, Arts & Culture Committee, moved to amend the ordinance to include temperate regulations and require documentation of how the horses are used.

“A horse may not work to 90 degrees Fahrenheit or above, or when the thermal heat index exceeds 150 as measured by the National Weather Service at Love Field,” he said.

Ridley also wanted to amend the ordinance “requiring the operating or driver of a horse-drawn carriage to maintain a daily record for each horse used, of the hours worked, amount of breaks given — the rest — water and feeding times for the horse,” as well as record any traffic accidents.

“This motion will preserve a thriving small business,” Ridley said. “It will preserve the livelihood of 40 employees of that business. It will preserve the lives of several working horses. It will preserve a source of enjoyment of countless Dallas residents and visitors.”

Council Member Adam Bazaldua (District 7), chair of the Quality of Life, Arts & Culture Committee, took Ridley to task.

“I was reminded of the pot calling the kettle black when I heard ‘that in the interest of small-business owners’ because that wasn’t the sentiment from the same council member when we discussed short-term rentals,” he said. “So, I will say that this is not an attack on business. It’s not an attack on business owners. In fact, it’s actually very consistent with the investments that we’ve [made] in … safer streets. … We can’t talk out of both sides of our mouths and say we want safe streets, but we like the nostalgia of Texas history. I mean, let’s be real.”

‘Small Business Is Important’

Bazaldua asked for support to send the proposed ordinance back to Quality of Life, Arts & Culture “so that we can work through this … and see if there is the will to go line by line to figure out different conditions and regulations that could be added and brought forth.”

“I think that, if there’s even a chance at this point to save this industry, we need to go back to committee,” Council Member Omar Narvaez (District 6) said. “I am very worried that the vote, if we do this vote, may not go the way that this motion lays out. And so, for that, I definitely want to send back to committee because small business is important.”

Council Member Jaynie Schultz (District 11) called Ridley’s proposed amended ordinance “completely unworkable.”

“I don’t even understand why we’re investing in this as a City in terms of our staff for this additional oversight,” she said.

North Star Carriages is based in Krum, a Denton County community about 47 miles northwest of Dallas.

“I’m just going to say when we wonder why there’s low voter turnout … any resident who’s been following this issue, this would exactly be the kind of thing that would turn them off from participation and engagement with city government,” Council Member Cara Mendelsohn (District 12) said. “I hope that the council members disagree with the idea that we are not listening to residents about this. … I think this has been talked about since before short-term rentals. This has been going on for a very long time.”

Mendelsohn called Ridley’s justification for amending the ordinance to provide more regulation on the industry in Dallas “valid and logical.”

“There was another reason why it was brought up to send this back to committee, which is that the committee would consider alternatives to a ban. …This has become absurd,” she said.

As previously reported by The Dallas Express, Dallas maintains a litany of regulations impacting businesses within its jurisdictions, some of which have been called “burdensome.”

The next Quality of Life, Arts & Culture Committee meeting is scheduled for August.