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New Ordinance Takes On Horse Urine

By Alexander Hough in News on Mar 31, 2011 6:20PM

Why didn't you go before we left the stable? (Photo by Kyle Eertmoed)
Ah, urine: the forgotten excretion. Forgotten, that is, until 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly got the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection to amend city rules to include it.

The ordinance, which goes into effect today, is below. New language has been underlined; the preexisting content regarding horse diapers was the result of the efforts of Reilly's predecessor, Burton Natarus.

Rule 2.9: Waste Containment. All horse-drawn carriages and horses shall be equipped with a device for catching horse excrement, approved by the Commission on Animal Care and Control, whenever the carriage is on the public way. Urine must be immediately diluted with a deodorizing, non-toxic liquid. The liquid used shall be eco-friendly, safe, recyclable, non-toxic, and non-harmful to people and property. The driver shall be responsible for carrying and using the diluting liquid. The Carriage licensee shall be responsible for providing the liquid and shall maintain documentation in the Carriage as to the composition of the liquid used.

The change shifts the clean-up burden from the city's Streets and Sanitation Department to the private horse carriage businesses, a defensible move given budget woes. Not that that was mentioned as a reason, though. according to a Sun-Times article, the impetus was the smell:

One complaint that triggered the new rule was filed by Arthur Handelman, an energy consultant who lives near Dearborn and Chestnut - a corner he says was drowning in urine last summer.

"Drowning in urine"? Really, Mr. Handelman?

Anyways, the carriage owners are, of course, pissed. (Gah, pun not intended.) Carriage owners are angry. According to Noble Horse director Dan Sampson, the new rules are unwise, unfair, and unneeded because cleaning up the urine will slow down traffic (not so much an issue because drivers can clean-up from their perch via spray bottle); because dogs are allowed to pee anywhere they want (touché); and because horse urine doesn't smell.

Whoa whoa whoa - horse urine doesn't smell? That's a load of horsesh...O.K., we're really trying to avoid cutesy puns. Sampson is wrong on this one. Our brother Sam worked on a farm one summer (a horse farm, not a "Hey Dude" farm, although speaking of...), and he was aghast at Sampson's assertion. According to Sam, horse urine "smells like pure ammonia." He literally threw up one day because of the overwhelming odor, and he spent the rest of the summer with Vicks VapoRub under his nose, all because of the urine smell ("Shit actually doesn't smell that bad. I'd rather clean horse manure than people manure.").

As a side note, WBEZ reported that the "City Council has dealt with the issue of horse droppings since at least the early 1980s." That's it? Weren't horses the main mode of transportation for Chicago's first hundred or so years? We're prone to romanticizing the past, but we also forget that the past smelled like horses.