Arizona Vet Board’s war on horse massagers

Tim Keller Executive Director, Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter
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Where would you turn if the government took away your livelihood just to protect somebody else’s profit margin?

Today, three Arizona entrepreneurs are turning to the courts to protect their right to earn an honest living in the occupation of their choice.

Celeste Kelly is a privately-certified, Tucson-based equine massage therapist. She has spent more than ten years building a loyal clientele one referral at a time. Using her hands, Celeste works on performance horses to loosen tight muscles, release tension and regain full range of motion. Her skills are in increasing demand as horse owners find it tremendously beneficial to their cherished animals.

But the growing popularity of animal massage has caught the attention of a powerful, government-sanctioned cartel.

The Arizona State Veterinary Medical Examining Board sent cease-and-desist letters to Celeste and other animal massage therapists threatening them with steep fines and jail time for daring to touch an animal without first going to veterinary school and obtaining a license to practice veterinary medicine.

The Vet Board’s demand makes no sense: Human massage therapists don’t need a medical degree to practice their craft, so why should an animal massage therapist need a veterinary degree to massage animals? Moreover, the Vet Board does not require applicants for a veterinary license to study animal massage, nor does it test applicants’ knowledge of animal massage techniques.

It is irrational to require animal massage therapists to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend four years of veterinary school where they won’t even learn massage. Adding insult to injury, they would have to uproot their lives by moving to another state since there are no accredited veterinary schools in Arizona.

There have been no allegations that any of the massage therapists the Vet Board is targeting have harmed any animal or defrauded any customer. The only plausible reason then for the Vet Board’s actions is to fence out potential competitors.

But protecting the financial interests of licensed veterinarians is not a legitimate exercise of governmental power. If left unchecked, the Vet Board will put individuals with experience and skill out of work, and limit access to the services animal owners want and desire.

Arizona’s Constitution is a charter of liberty. Its “declaration of rights” is supposed to protect us from runaway government. But our Constitution’s limits on government power are meaningless unless judges enforce them.

Absent judicial enforcement of constitutional limits on government power, we are left to rely on the self-restraint of public officials. And Arizona’s experience has shown that this is no restraint at all.

The Institute for Justice, a nonprofit law firm dedicated to protecting economic liberty, has repeatedly filed lawsuits in Arizona challenging similar violations of the right to earn an honest living. To date, those lawsuits have resulted in significant public backlash against unreasonable government regulation, causing the challenged occupational boards to back down and allow African hairbraiderseyebrow threaderslandscape maintenance workers, and handymen to offer their services without having to first obtain a government permission slip to work.

The Vet Board’s aggressive actions against animal massage therapists suggest it will not back down any time soon. And that is fine with Celeste — because it is time for the courts to declare that the government cannot take someone’s job away for no good reason.

To learn more about this lawsuit, visit ij.org/AZmassage.

Tim Keller is the executive director of the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter and represents Celeste Kelly and others in the lawsuit filed today against the Arizona State Veterinary Medical Examining Board.