Friday, May 10, 2013

Connecticut Drops Charges Against "Equine Podiatrist" for Illegal Practice of Veterinary Medicine

For years, Connecticut has been known as the wealthiest state in the United States of America. Add to that the highest number of horses per square mile of any state. It's also one of the most beautiful states. If you had to pick a state to live in and run a farrier business, you couldn't do much better for job security than Connecticut.

After a state legal decision made there last month, it might be an even better state in which to be an equine podiatrist.

While a decision there was based on whether or not someone who calls him- or herself an equine podiatrist is practicing veterinary medicine it managed to make some scratch their heads about whether s/he would also be practicing farriery or not.

A  woman in Connecticut who would rather not be called a farrier has had all charges against her dismissed after a hearing before the Connecticut Department of Public Health and Connecticut Board of Veterinary Medicine determined that she was not guilty of the illegal practice of veterinary medicine because "the practice of equine podiatry is not the practice of veterinary medicine", according to the state document.

On her website, Chris Huppe states that she is dedicated to equine podiatry; founder K.C. La Pierre states that Huppe is a graduate of his Institute of Applied Equine Podiatry (IAEP) and is qualified to the level of Diploma in Applied Equine Podiatry (DAEP). The Hebron, Connecticut practitioner mentions that she uses synthetic Perfect Hoof Wear materials and Epona shoes when barefoot isn't possible.

Thanks to the cooperation of the Department of Public Health, Hoofcare Publishing was forwarded a copy of the Memorandum of Decision, which gives the background and decision-making process in the case, and permission for it to be quoted on The Hoof Blog.

Huppe's case began on December 20, when the Department filed a statement of charges against her, and ended on April 25, with a final decision in her favor.

Connecticut authorities decided that equine podiatry is somewhat equivalent to human podiatry's legal status as allowing shoes to be used to help feet. Second, it described equine podiatry as an "evolution" of farriery, which it defined, based on a previous legal case in Connecticut, as the application of metal shoes to horses' hooves.

The state found that an equine podiatrist (which it never capitalized) was "a type of farrier who uses hoof filing and non-ferrous applications ('shoes') to care for a horse's hooves." (Quotation marks are the State's.) At one point in the document, farriery is described in the past tense, as if it no longer is practiced.

"It is merely an evolution or subset of the centuries-old 'farrier' profession, which historically fitted metal shoes to horses' hooves," the document continues. In a footnote, the document references a 2005 case in Connecticut that defines a farrier as a person who shoes horses.

The document mentions that Huppe had a website that seemed to be confusing or promise veterinary-type services. In response, Huppe stated that she simply wished to differentiate her services from those of a "traditional metal-shoe installing farrier".

Distinctions within and from the farrier profession are nothing new. The US Army ran two schools at Fort Riley in Kansas early in the 20th century: one for farriers and one for horseshoers. The farrier's course sound like they were designed to prepare a type of horse medic or EMT.

In 1909 in the US Army, horseshoers received pay equivalent to a sergeant, while farriers were paid at a corporal's salary. A farrier's badge was a horse's head; a horseshoer's badge was a horseshoe. Likewise, the British Army in World War I distinguished between farriers and shoeing smiths.

The state said that there had been no consumer complaints against Huppe, nor had she been confused with a veterinarian. She stated that she does not diagnosis, or administer any nerve blocks, injections or pharmaceuticals.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the document is the state's discussion of the relationship between equine podiatry and veterinary medicine, based on a Connecticut Supreme Court case in 1959 that differentiated between human podiatry and the practice of medicine.

In that case, the court concluded that "making and fitting of custom shoes, even if doing so results in the relief or correction of previous foot discomfort, is not 'treatment of a foot disorder' within the scope of podiatry which, under the statute at that time, defined podiatry as the prevention and treatment of foot ailments, among other things."

As readers well know, the laws governing the practice of veterinary medicine vary from state to state. Unlike Connecticut, many states do not have a previous court case that defines what a farrier is. So, it is possible that Chris Huppe's case would have been decided differently in another state. Also the language of the Veterinary Practice Act in each state varies slightly, so equine podiatry may be defined differently in other states if such a case is brought up.

It is also possible that if a consumer or veterinarian had named Huppe in a complaint about her work, her case might have gone differently.

Nonetheless, this case is an interesting one that may raise some eyebrows, change some business cards, and stir anew some old discussions that need to be decided, state by state. While a lot of emphasis in this story is on what Chris Huppe chose to call herself, the important influences in this case are on what she did--and did not do--in her work.

Thanks to K. C. LaPierre, who supplied additional information related to this case, and to Sal Falko for the photo of the judge's gavel.

To learn more:

AVMA: Horseshoeing Is No Longer an Excluded Profession in the New Model Veterinary Practice Act (But Farriery Is)

Vet-Span: Watch an Arkansas Legislative Committee Consider a Bill to Clarify the State's Vet Practice Act

Journal of the United States Cavalry Association, Volume 14

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