There are 50 states in the USA but Arizona seems to make the news more often than most. And when it does, it is usually because there is something that lawmakers in Arizona want to keep out. Whether it's unique Arizona-only laws to send illegal immigrants back to Mexico or the rights of businesses to refuse to serve gays on religious grounds, Arizona makes the news when it makes new laws.
Now it wants to get rid of equine massage therapists.
A new set of statutes defining what constitutes the practice of veterinary medicine in Arizona went into effect late in 2013, and the first test is about to begin. While equine dental technicians have been targeted in many states, it is massage therapists who are threatened currently in Arizona.
Tensions over the interpretation of state veterinary practice acts are nothing new. Arkansas wasn't crazy about horseshoers. Oklahoma and Texas tried to put an end to non-vet equine dental technicians. Maryland had its own issues over massage therapy. And now it's Arizona's turn.
What many of these cases have had in common is that the conflict begins when veterinary boards send a cease-and-desist order to an individual practitioner. Typically lacking a major organization's legal arm, the lone practitioners turn to the Institute for Justice (IJ), a sort of self-appointed national backer of small professions that find themselves in crisis because of pending legislation or prosecution.
What happens next is that the Institute for Justice's formula goes into action. You can see it in this video; IJ paints a picture of a lone self-employed David who is just trying to make a living vs a Goliath state body with deep pockets and a greedy agenda.
That is an over-simplification, of course, and designed to assist with fundraising and public support, which can in turn put pressure where IJ knows that pressure works: in the court of public opinion.
While it's easy to sympathize with Celeste's plight, it shouldn't come as a surprise that a restrictive practice act like the one passed in Arizona would soon be tested. Self-employed non-vet professionals should have known when the Arizona Practice Act was before the state legislature, and gone into action to either change the language or obtain an interpretation before it became law.
Now it will be up to them, with IJ's help, to work for an informal interpretation of the Act, which won't be in writing and could change with either public or vet pressure, or with a change in the Board's members.
The Arizona statutes vary from the Model Practice Act offered by the American Veterinary Medical Association. For instance, the AVMA suggests an exemption for "Any person lawfully engaged in the art or profession of farriery", although it does not define farriery or how one might practice it "lawfully". Arizona does not have the AVMA's recommended exemption for farriers; this case could easily have been against a farrier.
In 2009, the Institute for Justice came to the defense in a similar case against Maryland equine massage therapist Mercedes Clemens, who was being charged with illegal practice by both the Maryland Board of Veterinary Examiners and the Maryland Board of Chiropractic Examiners.
British equine massage therapist Amanda Hood was recently featured in this video by the FEI, world governing body of equestrian sport, about the practice of equine massage and the benefits it can bring to horses. Amanda explains that, in Great Britain, she must get veterinary permission before working on a horse. She also repeats several times that her goal is to use her skills to prevent injury rather than to treat injury.
At the outset of the Clemens case, Maryland State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners president, Dr. Chris Runde was quoted in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association as saying, "If the equine massage individual is massaging horses to make them relax or calm them down, then they have no problem promoting themselves like that. It's promoting in such a way that it reflects perhaps to diagnose and treat an ailment. That's when they step over the line."
Runde may have had a good point when he said that if equine massage was not deemed a veterinary act, then his Board would have no jurisdiction over a complaint against a therapist if an animal was harmed while under his or her care.
In a case in Minnesota involving requirements for certification of equine dental technicians, court documents stated, "The state may legitimately exercise its police power to protect public health, safety, or welfare through the regulation of occupations that require specialized training or skill and the public will benefit from assurance of initial or continuing occupational ability ... Veterinarians are the natural group to provide education and training with respect to the overall health and anatomy of animals."
In the end, in the Maryland case, equine massage therapy was deemed not be veterinary medicine in Maryland. However, Clemens was unable to earn income by massaging animals for 18 months while the case was pursued.
Do you know how your state's Veterinary Practice Act defines what constitutes veterinary care? Do you know if the current document is up for review this year and, if so, what the proposed new document says?
Read more about the Mercedes Clemens case in Maryland.
Arizona's new statutes can be found under Article 3 in this document (download)
Read the Institute for Justice's background document on this case.
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