DOWNTOWN — An online petition designed to urge city officials to prohibit horse-drawn carriages from operating when the temperature rises above 75 degrees has received more than 6,200 signatures in two months.
Current rules prohibit the carriages from operating when the mercury is 90 degrees or higher or drops below 15 degrees. In addition, the carriages have to shut down if the wind chill drops below zero, or if snow or ice on the ground makes it perilous for the horses to walk, according to city regulations.
Launched by Aryana Thompson, an animal rights activist, the petition calls on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to back new rules for the carriages, most often seen Downtown near the original Water Tower, ferrying tourists up and down the Magnificent Mile.
"This is a very reasonable request and it will help the animals out greatly," Thompson wrote in the petition. "The city of Chicago needs to stop allowing these animals to suffer in the heat."
Emanuel's office declined to comment on the petition.
The average daily high in the months of June, July and August is at least 75 degrees and often reaches 75 degrees in September, according to the National Weather Service.
The city's ordinance requires carriage horses to be given water and allowed to rest for 15 minutes out of every hour, and carriages are not allowed on Downtown streets during the morning and evening rush hours.
Violations of the city's rules can trigger fines of between $100 and $1,000.
Representatives of three firms that offer horse-drawn carriage rides Downtown — Antique Coach & Carriage; Chicago House & Carriage; Great Lakes Horse & Carriage — did not respond to a request for a response from DNAinfo.
In May, the last public horse stable in Chicago was torn down to make way for a seven-story, 252-unit apartment building. The stables burned down in February 2015 in what FBI officials said was arson. After the fire, graffiti found inside read "Freedom" and "Free Save the Horses."
Since then, Chicago's approximately 25 carriage horses have been housed in a converted warehouse or brought in from outside the city.
People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals has long objected to horse-drawn carriages, noting that they have recorded fatal cases of heatstroke in carriage horses working during the summer months.
The Animal Welfare Institute condemns the practice of forcing a horse to pull a carriage as "directly detrimental to [their] welfare."
However, some supporters of the horse-drawn carriages said horses have been bred for generations to excel at pulling heavy loads and become accustomed to the noise, heat and cold.
In 2014, Ald. Ed Burke (14th) proposed banning horse-drawn carriages, saying they were "unsafe and obsolete." Spurred by a complaint from PETA, Burke said he wanted to show "compassion toward animals."
Burke's office did not respond to the petition.
At the time it was introduced, Emanuel said Burke's ban on horse-drawn carriages "would be a step forward," but the proposal was not approved.
At the same time, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio campaigned on a pledge to ban carriage rides, but later agreed to allow the carriages to continue operating only in Central Park as part of a deal that has yet to be finalized.