The US state of Arizona is trying to stop equine massage therapists from practising without a veterinary degree.
The state’s Veterinary Medical Examining Board has sent cease-and-desist letters to two animal massage therapists, threatening them with fines and jail time for massaging animals without first going to veterinary school and obtaining a license to practice veterinary medicine.
In Arizona, massaging animals without a veterinary license is punishable by up to $3,500 in fines and six months in jail. However, if the therapists do not charge a fee for their work, they can continue.
Arizona’s definition of the practice of veterinary medicine encompasses nearly everything done to an animal for a fee. The law does not specifically target animal massage, but exempts equine dentistry from its definition of veterinary medicine. To practice equine dentistry in the state of Arizona, the practitioner must be certified by the International Association of Equine Dentistry or the Academy of Equine Dentistry and be under the general or direct supervision of an Arizona licensed veterinarian.
But three equine massage therapists are fighting back, and have enlisted the help of national law firm The Institute of Justice (IJ). They have filed a suit in the Maricopa County Superior Court which challenges Arizona’s animal massage regulation as an unconstitutional violation of animal massage entrepreneurs’ right to earn an honest living.
The law firm said: “The act of accepting a fee transforms their services from something that can be legally performed by anyone to something that requires a veterinary license, demonstrating that the Vet Board does not consider the practice of animal massage to be much of a health or safety risk.”
Arizona equine massage therapists Celeste Kelly, Grace Granatelli and Stacey Kollman, spent hundreds of hours learning about animal anatomy and developing massage techniques to obtain private certifications in animal massage.
They say that the Vet Board’s demand makes no sense. “Massage therapists do not need a medical degree to massage humans, but entrepreneurs who want to massage animals in Arizona must spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend four years of veterinary school where they are not even required to learn massage.”
IJ Attorney and lead councel Diana Simpson said: the “outrageous” licensing scheme puts individuals with experience and skill out of work, while forcing animal owners to pay more for extra care they don’t want.
“The Arizona and US constitutions protect the right to earn an honest living, and that right has been violated by a government protecting veterinary industry insiders.”
The law firm said the suit is part of its efforts “to strike down unreasonable occupational licensing requirements” in Arizona and across the United States. It said that Arizona was among the most heavily licensed states in the nation.
“A victory here will help entrepreneurs create more jobs and provide more choices for consumers.”
Tim Keller, executive director of the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter, said the the Vet Board’s licensing requirement “is a lose, lose, lose for Arizona entrepreneurs, Arizona animal owners, and the animals themselves”.
“There is no good reason to put these animal massage therapists out of work, which is why we are asking the courts to declare that the Vet Board’s actions violate Arizonans’ right to work in the occupation of their choice, free from unreasonable government regulation.”
The Vet Board had opened an investigation into Kelly after receiving an anonymous complaint alleging that she was illegally providing veterinary services without being a licensed veterinarian. Her response — that she provided massage services, not veterinary medicine — was to no avail; the Vet Board demanded that she stop massaging horses.
The Vet Board then contacted Granatelli, stating that they had opened an investigation into allegations that she was illegally providing veterinary services without a veterinary license. She responsed that she only massaged dogs and did not provide veterinary medicine, but she was ordered to stop offering her services.
Stacey Kollman said she had not yet received a letter from the Vet Board, but fears that one day soon she too will be ordered to stop.
More on the lawsuit