Vet Law Challenged - Round 3
The Equiery first reported on massage therapist Mercedes Clemens' lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Maryland's Vet Practice Act in the July issue. Earlier this year, the Maryland Board of Chiropractic Examiners ("Chiropractic Board") issued Clemens, a licensed human massage therapist and a certified equine massage therapist, a "cease and desist order," noting that a license from the Chiropractic Board (which regulates human massage therapists) prohibits her from practicing on animals.
However, my disclaimer apparently was not clear enough to the Maryland State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, who sent me a letter in January 2008, stating that I may be in violation of the Maryland Veterinary Practice Act and therefore practicing veterinary medicine without a license. Specifically, the Board was taking exception to certain phrases I used on my website, such as being trained to "identify muscle spasms," "alleviate sore backs, stiffness and lameness" and "relieve pain." According to the Board, only licensed veterinarians are legally qualified to do these things.The Board requested that I "cease and desist immediately from activities constituting the practice of veterinary medicine." They further informed me that I should give a "thorough and thoughtful revision" to my website and promotional materials to "avoid giving the appearance" that I was practicing veterinary medicine. I was surprised, to say the least, as I honestly believed I was only offering massage services to my equine clients.
The Vet Board was "particularly concerned about the barn call aspect of the business, which is without the benefit of direct veterinary supervision." I agree a good massage practitioner is able to work with the veterinarian as part of a comprehensive healthcare team, but it is unreasonable to expect the veterinarian to serve as a "direct, standing-over-your shoulder, watching every move" supervisor. In fact, many of my clients come from veterinary referrals, and most of the veterinarians I have talked with express no desire to massage horses. Their expertise is best utilized elsewhere.
And, apparently, since there is no exclusion under the Practice Act for "certified massage therapists," the state of Maryland "views a certified equine massage therapist no differently than any individual having no training whatsoever." Because the state does not "regulate or license massage therapists for animals" nor certify "equine/canine massage therapists," then those of us who have spent vast amount of time and money learning this trade apparently are bad people who must be reeled in and banished from the animal world! I'm sure my fellow qualified practitioners who, like me, have dedicated themselves by expending the time and resources to learn the skills of this trade would disagree.
Luckily for me, I was able to continue serving my equine clientele by making the terminology changes the Vet Board suggested.
As horse owners, we have the right to self-determine the type of care our horses receive, as long as the care (or lack of care) does not constitute animal abuse. This includes having access to trained professionals who successfully demonstrate their ability to promote overall wellness and keep the entire equine body in peak physical condition. Holistic and alternative services for our horses should be available to all of us and provided by individuals qualified to provide those services, [which does not necessarily mean] four-plus years in medical school.
As the profession of equine massage continues to grow, it is a given that we will all suffer from growing pains. However, there is a better way to handle this. With the recent outpouring of animal massage certifications schools, some better than others, it is imperative and the responsibility of horse owners to do their homework to ensure only trained professionals work on their animals. It is critical for practitioners to supplement the knowledge gained in massage school with continuing education, and for the practitioners and public to demand this level of expertise. None of us should ever stop learning!
While we all wait for the outcome of the current lawsuit brought against the Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners and the Board of Chiropractic Examiners, you can make a difference. Contact the Maryland State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (Laura Downes, Executive Director, 410-841-5862, firstname.lastname@example.org) and let them know that you want free access to the healthcare practitioners of your choice. Contact Christopher J. Kelter, M.P.A., Deputy Director/Massage Therapy Program, Manager of the Chiropractic Board at 410-764-4738. Let the Boards know that you, as the primary advocate for your horse, want and will demand access to trained professionals of alternative services as you determine yourself! There is strength in numbers. It is up to all of us to make a difference!
Call to Boycott Chiropractors
- Elizabeth Rowland, owner of the Maryland-based Half Halt Press, publisher of equestrian-related books and manuals
I am writing regarding the unwarranted interference of Maryland Board of Chiropractic Examiners, in collusion with the Maryland Board of Veterinarians, that affects my rights and abilities to select the best care options for my horses- specifically equine massage therapy. I am the OWNER of said horses, not the Chiropractic Board, and to have my options blocked by a group who in all likelihood doesn't even know which end of a horse eats is simply outrageous.
Horse people, almost by definition, have back problems and use chiropractors with some frequency. Until that is, they come to know that chiropractors are blocking them from receiving the equine massage therapy they may desire for their horses. Let's see, what do you think will happen? Who will be blamed? Can you spell B-O-Y-C-O-T-T? What will your chiropractors think of their own board if it causes such problems for them?
I, for one, will not set foot in my chiropractor's door until they back off , and I will do my level best to make sure every horse person in Maryland is aware of this situation.
© The Equiery 2010