NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- They are lucky to have a job.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Wednesday that carriage horses in the city are fortunate to be working -- rather than dead.
His words came as critics call for horse-drawn carriage rides to be banned, following a tragedy over the weekend, reports CBS 2's Kathryn Brown.
"Most of them probably wouldn't be alive if they didn't have a job," Bloomberg said.
Bloomberg, defending the controversial horse carriage industry, lashed out at critics that want to put a stop to it.
"You should remind those people that the way we pay our municipal employees and the way we pay them is with taxpayers' money and the taxpayers depend on tourists coming here, and going out in carriages are just one of those things that they do," Bloomberg said.
But over the weekend there was a disturbing sight. A carriage horse named "Charlie" dropped dead in the street.
It's still unclear why.
A necropsy will show whether Charlie was abused, neglected or died of natural causes.
"This case just points out the treacherous life of a horse, whose job it is to drag around thousands of pounds of carriage and people," said State Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal.
Rosenthal said she's gotten more than 5,000 letters and e-mails in the last few months supporting her state bill to ban horse-drawn carriages.
Other lawmakers have floated plans to replace the popular tourists' rides with electric cars.
Both are options those in the industry are, not surprisingly, opposed to.
"It's very hard to wade your way through and discover who's actually a genuine animal rights person and who's just looking to steal your livelihood," 25-year carriage driver Conor McHugh said.
McHugh pointed out the ASPCA inspects the horses frequently and signs off on their conditions.
He said despite the tide of fury from activist groups and some lawmakers his industry has plenty of support.
"We get to make people happy every day," McHugh said.
But even many of those people admit they're torn.
"It kind of is a bit cruel because it is so busy here and everything. Maybe it's fine in the park, but in the streets? I don't know," said tourist Louise Young.
Brown made dozens of calls -- from the city to advocates of the horse carriage industry to opponents -- and no one could tell her now much money the carriage rides generate, or how much the city would stand to lose if they were stopped.
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