Arizona animal massage therapists sue state veterinary board

Therapists challenge state law requiring a veterinary license to practice massage on pets.
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Mar 31, 2014
By dvm360.com staff

A civil suit has been filed in Arizona against the state Veterinary Medical Examining Board in an effort to challenge the state’s licensing requirements, according to a complaint filed by the Institute for Justice in the Superior Court of Arizona. Under Arizona law, veterinary medicine is limited to practice by licensed veterinarians, the scope of which includes animal massage.

The three plaintiffs, Celeste Kelly, Grace Granatelli and Stacey Kollman, have all been privately certified in animal massage, Kelly from Aspen Equine Studies, Granatelli from Equissage, and Kollman from EquiTouch Systems. Kollman and Kelly are equine massage therapists and Granatelli is a canine massage therapist.

They don’t claim to be veterinarians and also advise their clients that animal massage isn’t a replacement for veterinary care, according to the lawsuit. However, the the plaintiffs say, theArizona law is so broad that almost anything done for a fee, like animal massage, is classified as veterinary medicine, which can be practiced only by a licensed veterinarian.

Kelly and Granatelli have received cease-and-desist orders from the board, and while Kollman had not received one at the time of the filling, she was concerned that she would also face enforcement from the board, according to the complaint. As the law currently stands, animal massage therapists must provide their services for free or go to veterinary school, the suit states.

The plaintiffs are arguing that, as with human massage, animal massage is noninvasive and all-natural—plus, human massage therapists aren’t required to go to medical school. “It does not take years of medical education to become a qualified massage therapist for animals or humans,” says Diana Simpson, one of the Institute for Justice lawyers on the case. “Veterinary schools are not even required to teach massage, and our Arizona clients would have to uproot their entire lives because there are no accredited veterinary schools in the state. Becoming a licensed veterinarian adds no additional knowledge of or training in massage, so it is outrageous to require animal massage therapists to move out of state and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend four years of veterinary school.”

If Kelly, Granatelli and Kollman were to continue their massage practices without a license, they could be penalized up to $1,000 per violation and also face jail time. Their lawsuit seeks a ruling stating that the restriction of animal massage to licensed veterinarians is unconstitutional and permanently stop the board from enforcing such a restriction. The plaintiffs are not seeking monetary damages.

Some states, such as Colorado, Georgia and Washington, do allow animal massage by nonveterinarians, according to a report from the American Veterinary Medical Association listing state practice act exemptions covering complementary and alternative veterinary medicine.

he Institute for Justice, which is representing the plaintiffs in this case, is a civil liberties organization known for challenging licensing laws across the country. The group is also handling the case of Ron Hines, DVM, in Texas, in which it argues that an inability to provide veterinary advice on the Internet is a violation of Hines’ right to free speech. “Victories in these types of lawsuits will force the government to take a good look at regulations and decide if they genuinely protect public health and safety, or if they only protect already licensed members from competition,” Simpson says.

The Arizona Veterinary Medical Examining Board declined to comment to dvm360 for this article.