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Aldermen Vote To Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages Starting In 2021

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The City Council is pulling the reins on Chicago's horse-drawn carriage industry, effectively banning them from operating in the city starting next year.

Without debate, the City Council on Friday approved an ordinance to halt the issuance of new licenses, and prohibit the city from renewing any of the 10 existing carriage licenses, which are scheduled to expire at the end of the year.

The City Council License Committee approved the ban last month, but the final vote was delayed when the full City Council meeting in March was recessed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The City Council and committees are now holding meetings virtually.

Chicago Alliance for Animals executive director Jodie Wiederkehr said the animal rights group was thrilled with the ban.

"Chicago officials finally saw how Chicago's horse carriage operators refuse to self regulate and banned this inhumane, archaic and dangerous relic before a human or horse suffers or dies from this unnecessary activity, like so many have in other cities," Wiederkehr said in a statement. "Chicago is a world class city and doesn't need to depend on animal exploitation for a vibrant tourism industry."

Horse-drawn carriage rides along the Magnificent Mile, and other parts of downtown and the Near North Side have proven popular among tourists. But Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) in February said the city issues hundreds of violations every year for carriage operations that violate rules regarding safety and animal care.

"The fact remains that we do have specific rules that are laid out, and this industry has operated in consistent violation of those rules," he said.

Fellow downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) last month said the city has more pressing priorities than to have to issue hundreds of citations every year for an industry that brings in only about $15,000 in annual revenue from licensing fees and taxes.

"To be tying up the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection with hundreds of complaints every season because the industry refuses to comply with the law, I'm sorry, we have given you lots of room to operate and to shape up, and you've failed miserably," he said.

Horse carriage owners and drivers accused the city of putting them out of business for no reason, claiming people who have accused them of animal cruelty of lying.

Dr. Denis French, a veterinarian and vice president of the Horseman's Council of Illinois, called into Friday's meeting of the City Council to urge alderemen to vote against the ban, stating carriage companies are regularly inspected, and horses are given regular veterinary check-ups. He also disputed claims of animal cruelty.

Larry Ortega, owner of Chicago Horse & Carriage, noted the horses used by the industry are regularly examined by veterinarians and would be taken off the streets if they weren't being treated properly.

He also accused the city of setting a double standard by banning horse-drawn carriages while keeping the Chicago Police Department's mounted unit intact.

"Work animals, either pulling a carriage or a mounted police horse, see their job as adapting, communicating, socializing with humans. To think that the city is fine for a mounted police horse but not a carriage horse is blatantly hypocritical," he said.

Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th), an outspoken animal rights advocate, however, has said the city has shown little interest over the years in truly enforcing the rules for the carriage industry, or for protecting the horses.

"Our department is woefully inept at regulating you, and their lack of interest is evident even today," he said last month. "This has got to come to an end, and thankfully we're finally here."

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