An Arizona licensing board wants to put hard-working entrepreneurs in jail for no reason other than to protect industry insiders from honest competition. Celeste Kelly is the quintessential American entrepreneur. She spent years building her successful business massaging horses for a wide range of clients. For Celeste, massage provided a new avenue to work with the horses she loves while offering a sought-after service. She spent hundreds of hours learning animal massage techniques and has been privately certified by animal massage schools.
But the Arizona State Veterinary Medical Examining Board is demanding that Celeste and others like her become licensed veterinarians. This is because the Board decided that animal massage is the practice of veterinary medicine. Arizona defines the practice of veterinary medicine so broadly that it encompasses nearly everything done to an animal for a fee, regardless of the necessary skill or risk of the service.
Dog groomers beware: You may be next. According to the Board, if Celeste wishes to massage animals, she faces two options: become a licensed veterinarian or massage animals for free. This means Celeste would have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend four years of veterinary school. Even worse, there are no veterinary schools in Arizona and most schools do not require would-be veterinarians to learn massage. Practicing animal massage without a veterinary license is subject to up to six months in jail and fines of $3,500 per violation. A massage therapist doesn’t need a medical degree to massage humans, so it makes no sense to require an animal massage therapist to have a veterinary degree to massage animals.
Arizona’s outrageous licensing scheme puts individuals with experience and skill out of work while forcing animal owners to pay more for extra care they don’t want. Because veterinarians are not required to learn how to massage animals in school, they must specifically seek out massage training to learn proper massage techniques. Few do, and few, if any, veterinarians offer massage services in Arizona. Animal owners are left with fewer choices for their pets’ care and more expensive veterinary bills.
Fortunately, both the Arizona and U.S. Constitutions protect the right to earn an honest living. On March 5, 2014, Celeste and two other animal massage therapists teamed up with IJ to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of this senseless licensing scheme. Their case is about more than massaging animals: By taking on the Board, these entrepreneurs are fighting back against irrational licensing requirements and state licensing boards that go to extreme lengths to protect the financial interests of industry insiders.
A victory here would provide what the Arizona and U.S. Constitutions guarantee: the right to earn an honest living free from unreasonable government interference.
Diana Simpson is an IJ attorney.