Read the original article by Lisa Schencker at chicagotribune.com here.
Three Chicago horse-drawn carriage owners are suing animal rights activists, accusing them of defamation and interfering with their businesses in an effort to get the carriages banned from the city’s streets.
The owners filed their lawsuit Sept. 11, a day before a City Council committee heard three hours of heated arguments over a proposed ordinance that would bar them from renewing their licenses to operate. The committee ultimately adjourned without voting on the ordinance, after its chairwoman said she’d like to see if a compromise could be reached between the city and carriage owners.
The owners allege in the lawsuit that two activists and their organizations followed and videotaped the carriages, and made false statements to customers about their businesses and the treatment of the horses.
In the lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, the carriage owners accuse the activists and their organizations, Chicago Alliance for Animals and the Center for Ethical Science, of posting false and misleading information on social media and their websites, such as photos of horses allegedly injured or killed pulling carriages in other places and suggesting the incidents happened in Chicago.
The owners also allege in the lawsuit that the activists gave city officials false and misleading information so they would write tickets and ban horse-drawn carriages from Chicago streets.
“They’re ruining our business, our relationships with the city,” said Debbie Hay, owner of Antique Coach & Carriage Co., in an interview. Hay is one of the owners suing the activists.
Animal welfare advocate Jodie Wiederkehr, campaign director for the Chicago Alliance for Animals, in a statement Tuesday called the lawsuit “nothing but a baseless attempt to scare critics into silence.” Wiederkehr and Debby Rubenstein, a volunteer with the alliance, are named as defendants in the lawsuit, along with the alliance and the center. Weiderkehr founded the center.
Efforts to reach Rubenstein were unsuccessful.
Aldermen backing the ordinance to block the license renewals say the horse-drawn carriages are a safety hazard in Chicago traffic and worry about the animals’ treatment. The owners say their carriages are safe and their horses are well-cared-for.
Carriage operators have received a number of citations recently, but they say those were over rules that are outdated or weren’t previously enforced, and they were reported by animal welfare activists trying to put them out of business. Wiederkehr said activists have been reporting violations in an effort to hold the companies accountable.
The owners are seeking damages, plus attorneys’ fees and other fees.