In a time when small businesses across the country are struggling for survival amidst a global pandemic, Chicago is celebrating the imminent death of one of its long-time taxpayers.

Citing inhumane treatment, traffic safety and ordinance violations, the Chicago City Council voted 46-4 on April 24 to forbid new and renewal licenses of horse-drawn carriages. Carriages will be completely off the streets by Jan. 1, 2021. Unfortunately, much of the reasoning, at best, could have been avoided, and, at worst, is specious.

“I grew up surrounded by farms and horses,” Alderman Brendan Reilly told reporters, including the Chicago Sun-Times. “They’re bred to work. But they were not bred to be sucking gas fumes from the back of CTA buses and comingling with cement mixers. That’s not humane treatment of animals. They do not belong in downtown busy traffic. In other cities, we’ve seen people and animals killed because they’re comingled with traffic.”

“Sucking Gas Fumes”

There’s much to pick apart in Reilly’s talking points. 

“Sucking gas fumes” isn’t an original argument, nor is it a good one. When Harry Werner, an equine veterinarian from North Granby, Conn., examined New York City, N.Y., carriage horses, he looked for symptoms that this was a problem.

“As I went through these stables, I was very consciously looking for horses with a rapid respiratory rate, shallow respiratory depth, heaving, any evidence of respiratory abnormality — nasal discharges, coughs — and I didn’t see a one,” the former president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners told American Farriers Journal in 2015. “So, if people are worried about air quality, my response for them would be, ‘Fine, let’s worry about air quality. Where’s your evidence?”

True enough, Werner was discussing the New York carriage horses. While New York horses must be examined by veterinarians twice a year, Chicago horses are seen four times a year, according to Rule 1.3 of Chicago’s horse-drawn carriages rules and regulations.

“No horse may be used to draw a carriage in the City of Chicago unless it is examined, not less than every three months, by a veterinarian, who shall certify the fitness of the animal to perform such work. The veterinarian’s certification for said examination and immunization shall be on a form prescribed by the Commission on Animal Care and Control. This form shall be in the possession of the driver of a horse-drawn carriage at all times such carriage is in operation. One copy of each of this form shall be filed with the Commission on Animal Care and Control and with the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, Public Vehicle Operations Division within seven days following such examination and immunization.”

A horse may not work if it’s found to have “any open sore or wound or if the horse is lame or has any other ailment, unless the driver of the carriage has in his possession a written statement by a veterinarian that the horse is fit for such work, notwithstanding such condition.”

Is Reilly insinuating that veterinarians who examine the same horses every 3 months would not recognize the symptoms that Werner described?

The vets disagree with Reilly and animal rights activists who claim that the horses are not being treated humanely or being overworked.

“These animals are very well taken care of,” says Olivia Rudolphi, president of the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association, according to the Chicago Tribune. “Them pulling the carriage is like you pulling a wagon for your kid.”

Larry Ortega, the owner of Chicago Horse and Carriage, took it a step further.

“Even though there are city, state and federal laws clearly stating what is animal cruelty, there has never been one horse driver or owner arrested [who is] operating on the city streets of Chicago,” he says. “To think that the city is fine for a mounted police horse, but not a carriage horse is blatantly hypocritical.”

Traffic Hazard?

Alderman Brian Hopkins agreed with Reilly that carriages pose a safety hazard on the streets of Chicago.

“When you take a large, slow-moving object and out it downtown on Michigan Avenue, Chicago Avenue, or inner Lake Shore Drive during peak traffic periods, you’re clearly taking a risk,” Hopkins was quoted by the Sun-Times.

According to 6.12 (Page 14) of the rules and regulations that govern Chicago’s horse-drawn carriages, they are not permitted to be driven on any city street during peak traffic periods. Individual streets, particularly those cited by Hopkins, have extended drive time restrictions, as well. 

“We have more regulation than any other state and city,” Tony Troyer of the Horseman’s Council of Illinois was quoted as saying by the Sun-Times. “Yet, you would like to see a ban. … It’s pretty bad when we have more regulations on the horse-and-carriage business than the pedicabs. How many hours can one person be out there riding around on the bike?”

Chicago’s electric scooter pilot project resulted in more than 300 hospital visits during its 4-month duration, Ortega points out. Chicago’s carriage industry “can’t even touch that number” in its past 40 years, he says.

According to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Chicago Alliance for Animals (CAA) documented 334 violations in one year that they attributed to horse carriage operators. That’s a far cry from the 1,433 speeding citations issued to taxi cab drivers in 2012 or the 996 citations for “unsafe driving,” that WBEZ reported.

Reilly says that he’s tried to work with the carriage operators on the violations, but he has been consistently rebuffed. Hence, Reilly says he has no choice but to shut down the carriages. Yet, in 2013, Chicago doubled the fine for dooring cyclists from $500 to $1,000 and required all cabs to display “Look! Before Opening Your Door” decals. 

“In reality,” Ortega says, “statistics show that we are the safest form of transportation or ride service in Chicago.”

So, essentially, Chicago is shutting down an industry for violations akin to traffic violations.

Bravo, Chicago! Well played, particularly since the city has seen a 47.44% increase in unemployment from January 2020 to March 2020, according to a WalletHub report, citing data obtained from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It’s unfortunate that the employees of the three carriage companies, farriers, veterinarians, grooms, and feed and tack suppliers will be losing even more income from an already depleted wallet during these trying times.

And when the clock strikes midnight on Chicago’s carriage horses, will PETA, CAA and the 46 City Council members help care for these unemployed animals? It’s more likely that the carriages will turn back into pumpkins.