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Horse-Drawn Carriage Owners 'Circling Our Wagons' To Fight Proposed Ban

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Horse carriage companies in Chicago face possible extinction if an influential alderman has his way, but drivers have banded together and are trying to enlist public support to save their industry.

"To have this happen completely has blindsided all of us," said Jim Rogers, owner of Great Lakes Horse & Carriage. "We are circling our wagons."

WBBM Newsradio's Mike Krauser reports Ald. Ed Burke (14th), powerful chairman of the City Council Finance Committee, has proposed banning horse-drawn carriages in Chicago, saying they're a traffic hazard, a nuisance, and are cruel to animals.

Horse-Drawn Carriage Owners Fight Proposed Ban

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged to ban horse-drawn carriages there, and Burke wants to beat him to the punch.

Rogers denied horses are mistreated by carriage owners, and said their lives are better than in the wild.

"I don't understand how this could be happening. I mean, this guy's a lawyer," Rogers said of Burke. "I've never seen someone try to put someone out of business on baseless accusations."

He's been driving a horse-drawn carriage for 15 years, and met his wife, Valerie, when she worked for a competitor.

"I believe that we do give the city a lot of character," Valerie said. "This is our life. This is who we are, and our horses depend on us, and we depend on them."

The Rogers have just one of the 23 carriages that operate in Chicago.

The companies could face an uphill battle in stopping the proposed ban. Burke has a great deal of influence with his colleagues on the City Council, as its elder statesman, and chairman of the Finance Committee, which shares control of the city's purse-strings with the Budget Committee.

But Rogers is undaunted.

"Tell your alderman how you feel, and if you do not support what they're trying to do, say so, or an icon of the city … will slip away for no reason at all, other than someone doesn't like us," Rogers said.

Rogers said, if the carriage companies can't operate, their horses won't get proper care.

Their horses have spent a great deal of the winter in their stables, the carriages sitting idle, because city rules require the horses be kept off the street if temperatures are below 15 degrees – a limit critics feel isn't good enough.

The city already limits individual horses to 6-hour workdays, and requires veterinary exams every three months.

Rogers and other horse-drawn carriage owners are collecting signatures on a petition against the proposed ban, and have set up a website and a Facebook page to help deliver their message.

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