Last ten horse-drawn carriage licenses will not be renewed
CHICAGO––150 years of horse-drawn carriages plying downtown Chicago––interrupted by a 17-year suspension, 1962-1979––are to end by January 1, 2021, the Chicago City Council resolved on April 24, 2020.
The 46-4 vote ratified a March 2020 decision by the Chicago Committee on License & Consumer Protection to retire the last ten active licenses to operate horse-drawn carriages within the city, effective upon expiry at the end of the year.
Each of the ten license holders, associated with three different carriage companies, paid a $500 annual renewal fee, but the licenses will no longer be renewed.
“Popular with tourists, newly-weds, & prom-goers”
“The carriages are often stationed at Chicago Water Tower and other points around the city, and take tourists on rides around the Loop, Millennium Park, and Buckingham Fountain,” explained Chicago Tribune reporter Abdel Jimenez.
“The city’s 10 existing carriage licenses, each of which has a $500 annual fee, will expire at the end of the year,” Jimenez continued.
Carriage rides are “popular with tourists, newlyweds and prom-goers,” observed Chicago Sun-Times writer Fran Spielman, “but have been criticized by animal rights activists as cruel to horses and dangerous to motorists.
Alderman Brendan Reilly, who represents the 42nd district in downtown Chicago, told Spielman that he “spent the better part of a decade trying to regulate” the carriage horse industry and persuade carriage operators to “treat their animals in a humane way.”
Wouldn’t move to Grant Park
Wrote Spielman, “He even offered to shift the horse-drawn carriage industry to Grant Park,” a much greener and more spacious area fronting on Lake Erie, a mile and a half south of the traditional carriage routes around the Loop.
“When the answer was no and violations continued,” Spielman added, “Reilly said he had no choice but to banish horse-drawn carriages from the streets of Chicago.”
Said Reilly at a March 2020 media conference, “There are folks who have an issue with this industry entirely related to traffic and public safety. There are others who care about whether these animals are being treated in a humane fashion. For me, it’s a combination of both.
“I grew up surrounded by farms and horses,” Reilly said then. “They’re bred to work. But they were not bred to be sucking gas fumes from the back of Chicago Transit Authority buses and co-mingling 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 co-mingled with traffic.”
The Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association, Horsemen’s Council of Illinois, and Cook County Farm Bureau opposed the Chicago carriage horse ban, but to no avail.
Busted for neglect
Objected Larry Ortega, owner of Chicago Horse & Carriage, “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 operating on the city streets of Chicago.”
Ortega, however, overlooked that in September 2009 two drivers who had worked for J.C. Cutters Horse Drawn Carriages were convicted of neglecting six horses who were impounded by Chicago Animal Care & Control, after repeated inspections found them living in filth.
The J.C. Cutters company was denied an operating license in 2009, but by 2012 was again offering carriage and sleigh rides in and around Chicago.
Cop work is not the carriage trade
“To think that the city is fine for a mounted police horse,” Ortega charged, “but not a carriage horse, is blatantly hypocritical.”
This was also somewhat of a distortion.
The Chicago Police Department Mounted Patrol Unit, decommissioned in 1950 as a purported anachronism, but revived in 1974 to patrol parks and do crowd control at special events, works 32 geldings, sometimes in some of the same areas frequented by horse-drawn carriages.
Mostly, however, the Mounted Patrol Unit trots through the lakefront, the Museum Campus, Lincoln and Grant Parks, and the shopping areas of North Michigan Avenue and State Street, tending to stay out of heavy vehicular traffic.
Enforcement agencies “continually fail the horses”
Carriage operators in Chicago are allowed to work their horses no more than six hours a day, are not allowed to work them in peak traffic hours, are not allowed to work them at all in temperatures of less than 15 degrees above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and must rest their horses at least 15 minutes per working hour.
But Chicago Alliance for Animals founder Jodie Wiederkehr in October 2019 told WTTW reporter Evan Garcia that the regulations were poorly enforced.
“Business Affairs & Consumer Protection, the Chicago agency tasked with enforcing the law regarding the carriage horse trade, continually fails the horses and neither Chicago Animal Care & Control nor the police monitor this trade,” Wiederkehr charged.
Horse-drawn carriages previously banned for 17 years
Horse-drawn carriages for hire, including horse-drawn buses, debuted in Chicago in 1852, according to the Chicago Tribune archives, but were taken off the streets in 1962 by mayor Richard Daley (1902-1976), who saw them as a traffic-snarling anachronism.
Daley served six terms as Chicago mayor, spanning 21 years, 1955-1976, before his death in office. His successor, Michael Bilandic, allowed horse-drawn carriages to return in 1979, issuing 60 carriage licenses.
A 1986 collision between a car and a horse-drawn carriage at Delaware Place and Michigan Avenue caused the Chicago City Council to rethink. The council voted unanimously to reduce the number of carriage licenses from 60 to 40, but the resolution was never enforced because of an error in how it was worded. Instead, at least two carriage owners hoarded between ten and 25 licenses each to keep competitors from getting them.
“I goofed,” acknowledged then-42nd district alderman Burton Natarus, whose tenure preceded that of Brendan Reilly, to Chicago Tribune reporter Gary Washburn in November 2005.
“Enough horse poop,” said medical whistleblower
Washburn was investigating a “determined one-man crusade against horse-drawn carriages that stray from the Near North Side zone where they’re permitted to operate,” waged by endocrinologist Gerald Weisberg, M.D., who had also “waged war against the messy, but inevitable, byproduct” of horses working the streets.
Weisberg had in 2001 become a prominent whistleblower against “a campaign by the makers of Lupron to get doctors to prescribe the effective but costly prostate cancer drug, instead of its less expensive competitor,” ABC News reported. Weisberg, previously head of clinical research for Lupron at the TAP Pharmaceutical Company in suburban Chicago, testified that “the scheme was presented to thousands of doctors across the country,” ABC News summarized.
Lupron and another company in October 2001 agreed to pay $875 million to settle fraud charges brought against them, in part because of Weisberg’s testimony.
Of the Chicago City Council decision to ban horse-drawn carriages, Weisberg emailed to ANIMALS 24-7, “It took some fifteen years, but common sense finally prevailed.”
Richard M. Daley did nothing evident
Accidents, meanwhile, continued, but the five-term mayoral tenure (1989-2011) of Richard M. Daley, son of Richard Daley, saw no substantive response.
In September 2000, for example, a horse who had been stung by a bee was injured, along with a pedestrian, after bolting from a wedding in Lincoln Park and breaking free when the carriage he was pulling became wedged between two cars.
In June 2005, according to a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) summary, “A spooked horse reared up, overturned the carriage he was pulling, and threw the driver into the street. The horse galloped down the street, hitting at least one car before he was stopped.”
In July 2014, the PETA report added, “At least five people, including four children, were injured when an SUV rear-ended a horse-drawn carriage operated by Chicago Horse & Carriage. The driver was thrown from the carriage. The horse, named Milo, sustained some scratches to his knee.”
Will New York follow Chicago example?
Said PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk, to Spielman of the Sun-Times, “We have high hopes that this kinder, carriage-free city will influence others to follow suit, including New York — where a horse used for carriage rides died in Central Park earlier this year.”
The New York City horse-drawn carriage trade appears to be already moribund, having been ordered off the streets on April 20, 2020 by New York state governor Andrew Cuomo as a COVID-19 pandemic control measure.
As the New York City carriage horse stables are in an area slated for redevelopment, it is possible that the city carriage horse is at an end.
Montreal ended carriage trade on 1-1-2020
Horse-drawn carriages quit operating in Montreal, at least officially, when a ban took effect at the stroke of midnight, initiating 2020. Several carriage owners operated unofficially during the next few days as an act of protest, giving rides for tips instead of charging fares.
Horse-drawn carriages had operated in Montreal since 1655.
Other cities that have banned horse-drawn carriages include Salt Lake City, Utah; Biloxi, Mississippi; Camden, New Jersey; and seven Florida communities, among them Deerfield Beach, Kenneth City, Key West, Palm Beach, Panama City Beach, Pompano Beach, and Treasure Island.