Yes, horse and dog massages are real services offered by real people who operate businesses in Arizona.
However, according to two women who have filed a lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court, the state veterinary board has told them to stop providing their services, insisting that they need to be licensed veterinarians to charge a fee for such animal therapy.
A libertarian-oriented group called the Institute for Justice has taken up the case on behalf of these three women. The group has represented Arizonans in other cases where they have claimed the state was overstepping its bounds in licensing requirements, like in the cases of eyebrow threaders, an African hair-braider, a handyman, and a landscaper.
According to this lawsuit, Celeste Kelly (an equine massage therapist), Grace Granatelli (canine massage therapist), and Stacey Kollman (equine massage therapist) each hold certifications from organizations that specifically taught those massage practices.
However, Kelly and Granatelli say the state veterinary board's "Veterinary Investigations Division" investigated their practices, and sent them cease-and-desist orders, explaining that they need to stop "engaging in the practice of veterinary medicine" without a license. (Kollman joined the lawsuit out of a concern of possible future enforcement of the board.)
The cease-and-desist orders cited the Arizona law that defines what "veterinary medicine" means. Here are a couple relevant sections of that law:
2. Advertises or makes known or claims ability and willingness to perform the following for hire, fee, compensation or reward that is directly or indirectly promised, offered, expected, received or accepted:This law provides an exception for "equine dentistry" (yes, that's also a real thing).
(a) Prescribe or administer any drug, medicine, treatment, method or practice for any animal.
(b) Perform any operation or manipulation on or apply any apparatus or appliance to any animal.
(c) Give any instruction or demonstration for the cure, amelioration, correction or reduction or modification of any animal condition, disease, deformity, defect, wound or injury.
4. Prescribes or administers any drug, medicine, treatment, method or practice, performs any operation or manipulation, or applies any apparatus or appliance for the cure, amelioration, correction or modification of any animal condition, disease, deformity, defect, wound or injury for hire, fee, compensation or reward that is directly or indirectly promised, offered, expected, received or accepted.
The Institute for Justice draws the parallel to humans -- you don't need a medical degree to massage humans, yet you apparently need a veterinary license to massage animals.
To continue their practice, the women would have to spend the money to go to veterinary school. According to the lawsuit, veterinary school accreditation has no requirement for animal massage therapy, "but do include a host of information irrelevant to animal massage."
If they don't comply with the cease-and-desist order, the women could face criminal and civil penalties.
"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," Institute for Justice attorney Diana Simpson says in a statement. "The Arizona and U.S. constitutions protect the right to earn an honest living, and that right has been violated by a government protecting veterinary industry insiders."
Click here to see the complaint filed against the veterinary board.
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