Maryland Veterinary Practice Act Under Fire

Mercedes Clemens is a licensed massage therapist who lives in Rockville, Md. Her patients included both humans and animals (primarily horses) until February, when she received a cease and desist order from the Maryland Board of Chiropractic Examiners threatening her license to practice on humans if she continued to work on animals. Clemens abandoned the animal segment of her practice in compliance with the order.

In June, Clemens teamed with the Institute for Justice to file a lawsuit in state court against Maryland's Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners and Board of Chiropractic Examiners. The lawsuit claims that prohibiting massage or physical therapists from working on animals violates their constitutioinal right to pursue the vocation of their choosing.

Mercedes Clemens, massage therapist suing for right to work on animals

Mercedes Clemens

At issue is the state's Veterinary Practice Act, which defines "veterinary medicine" broadly enough to encompass the practice of physical therapy on animals. The Practice Act has specific exemptions for several groups, including individuals "administering to the ills and injuries" of their own animals, farriers, people who float teeth, and licensed acupuncturists certified by the state Acupuncture Board to practice on animals.

There is no similar exemption allowing non-veterinarians to practice physical or massage therapy on animals, however, regardless of licensure as a human therapist. The position of the state Board of Veterinary Examiners is that physical or massage therapy on animals can only be performed legally by a licensed veterinarian.

According to the American Physical Therapy Association's Animal Rehabilitation Special Interest Group, a task force was formed by the Maryland State Board of Physical Therapy Examiners in August 2001 to investigate the practice of physical therapy on animals. So far, negotiations with the state Board of Veterinary Examiners have been unsuccessful in carving out an exemption for otherwise qualified non-veterinarian physical therapists to work on animals. Clemens and other licensed massage or physical therapists are left with two unattractive options; either curtail a potentially lucrative practice on animals or work on animals illegally.

The Institute for Justice is a public interest organization based in Virginia. Since 1991 the group has represented entrepreneurs across the country in legal challenges to state regulation of numerous occupations, including wine vendors, casket sellers, taxi and limousine drivers, hair braiders, waste haulers, and funeral homes. The Institute currently represents equine dentists in Texas and in Minnesota.

About the Author

Milt Toby, JD

Milt Toby is an author and attorney who has been writing about horses and legal issues affecting the equine industry for more than 40 years. Former Chair of the Kentucky Bar Association's Equine Law Section, Milt has written eight nonfiction books, including national award winners Dancer’s Image and Noor. He teaches Equine Commercial Law in the University of Louisville's Equine Industry Program.

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