Therapists Challenge Tennessee’s Animal Massage Rules

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CN) – Two Tennessee horse massage therapists sued the state’s Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, claiming it arbitrarily passed a regulation defining animal massage as a form of veterinary medicine requiring a costly degree.

Martha Stowe and Laurie Wheeler say in their lawsuit filed Thursday in Davidson County Chancery Court that they have never claimed to be veterinarians and the regulation is “silly.”

Stowe and Wheeler are privately certified equine massage therapists who practice myofascial release therapy on horses.

Stowe says she lives on a small farm in Franklin, Tenn., and has been her family’s primary breadwinner through horse massage therapy since 2009, after her husband was honorably discharged from the Army. She says he has had sporadic employment since then and is now going back to school.

Wheeler, another Franklin resident, is also licensed in human massage therapy, according to the lawsuit, and has been practicing equine massage since 2011.

But in 2012, the Tennessee Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners enacted a rule change to include massage therapy as a form of veterinary medicine.

“The Board then told Laurie she can be jailed by continuing to practice without a veterinary license, effectively crushing her career and causing her to work under a specter of fear unless they obtain a costly and useless veterinary degree,” the women’s lawsuit states. (Emphasis in original.)

Wheeler claims, “So even though she can massage people, she faces criminal and civil sanctions if she massages a horse.”

The massage therapists tell their clients that the therapeutic relief they provide to horses is not a substitute for veterinary medicine, according to the complaint. They noted that practices like castration, dehorning and artificial insemination are not considered veterinary medicine and can be performed by an unlicensed person.

“This is an arbitrary and irrational regulation because veterinary schools do not require students learn animal massage and because many other practices that are far more invasive and dangerous are permissible as a routine livestock management practice,” the lawsuit alleges.

Stowe and Wheeler say they filed the lawsuit to protect their right “to earn an honest living free from irrational, arbitrary, protectionist, and frankly, silly, regulations.”

They seek a court order declaring the 2012 regulation unconstitutional, and are represented by Braden Boucek with the Beacon Center of Tennessee.

A spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Health said it does not comment on pending litigation.

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