OKLAHOMA CITY — For nearly 20 years, equine dentistry has been considered a veterinary act in Oklahoma. But a year ago, the penalty for lay persons who performed procedures like teeth floating was increased from a misdemeanor to a felony.
Now, horse owners are asking legislators to pass an amendment to Senate Bill 452 that would overturn the year-old change to the Veterinary Practice Act and allow various animal-husbandry practices, including equine dentistry, embryo transfers, castrating and vaccinating, to be performed by non-veterinarians.
"The problem lies with the drugs that are used for teeth floating," explains Cathy Kilpatrick, executive director of the Oklahoma Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners.
Many other states are wrangling with the issue, too, with some going with stricter laws and others easing their regulations.
But large-animal owners in Oklahoma are arguing that there aren't enough veterinarians to perform these duties so the Legislature should give them a break. Horse owners turned out in full force in Oklahoma City April 7 to champion the amendments, and they were supported by the public interest law firm Institute for Justice.
But there are more than 200 veterinarians who offer equine dentistry services in Oklahoma, compared to about 20 non-veterinarian equine dentists that she's aware of, Kilpatrick says. And those equine dentists could still practice as long as they are under the direct supervision of a licensed veterinarian, she says.
The Oklahoma board even added a new rule allowing registered veterinary technicians to perform equine dentistry without the direct supervision of a veterinarian, she says.
That way, non-veterinarian equine dentists could comply with the law by getting their two-year technician degree, which would allow the state to regulate them.
"We were trying to be proactive," Kilpatrick says, adding the concern of the board is what would happen if non-veterinarian equine dentists were free to do what they wanted and there was an injury. "Who's the public to go to if they have a problem and these people aren't regulated?"
One equine dentist, a professional rodeo rider named Bobby Griswold who reportedly graduated from an equine dentistry school in another state, already has been penalized under Oklahoma's stricter policy.
Griswold was sent at least four notices to stop performing dentistry services, Kilpatrick says, but just kept paying his misdemeanor fines and working. He was the first, and so far the only, lay person charged with practicing without a veterinary license since the new policy took place in November. Kilpatrick says the courts are now in charge of Griswold's penalty, which could range from one to four years imprisonment and/or between $1,000 and $10,000 in fines.
While horse owners are vocal about their desire for legislators to amend the practice act, there is still a lot of support for keeping regulations tight.
Veterinarian and State Rep. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester, authored the stricter bill and still supports it, saying horses have died from improper sedation during teeth floating. The American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Equine Practitioners also support limiting equine dentistry work to veterinarians.
Kilpatrick says the board is working with legislators to come up with a policy that will work for everyone.