Maryland Veterinary Board Backpedals on Animal Massage Monopoly, But Therapists Remain Under Threat

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · July 11, 2008

Arlington, Va.—In a statement released today, the Maryland State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners backpedaled on its earlier position that only licensed veterinarians may perform animal massage in the state of Maryland. However, until the law is changed or struck down, animal massage therapists still cannot practice their craft freely.

The Veterinary Board’s statement was released in response to a lawsuit filed on June 10, 2008, by the Institute for Justice on behalf of Mercedes Clemens, a Maryland entrepreneur with a thriving massage practice in Rockville that, until recently, offered both human and animal massage. In addition to being a licensed massage therapist for people, Mercedes has more than 30 years of practical experience as a horse owner and rider, has been privately certified in equine massage, and has even taught animal massage to others.

“We are encouraged by the Veterinary Board’s statement, but until Maryland law is changed, entrepreneurs like Mercedes still cannot practice their craft without threats of prosecution,” said IJ Staff Attorney Paul Sherman. “We will continue to fight until Mercedes’ right to practice her chosen occupation is fully vindicated.”

In February 2008, the Maryland Board of Chiropractic Examiners-which licenses massage therapists-threatened Mercedes with criminal sanctions and the loss of her license to massage people unless she stops practicing animal massage and takes down the parts of her website offering the service. Included with a letter from the Chiropractic Board was a letter from the Veterinary Board in which the Board’s President, Chris H. Runde, stated that Maryland’s veterinary practice act encompassed “massage therapy . . . [and] other manual techniques on animals.” The letter also stated that, “an individual who is not a licensed veterinarian who performs any of these procedures on an animal would be considered to be practicing veterinary medicine without a license.”

But after Mercedes Clemens brought a lawsuit challenging the veterinary monopoly on animal massage, the Veterinary Board backpedaled. According to the Veterinary Board’s newly released statement, “[Ms. Clemens] is not prohibited from massaging horses for the purposes she describes in her lawsuit.”

“The Veterinary Board’s change in position simply acknowledges the obvious: limiting animal massage to licensed veterinarians makes no more sense than limiting human massage to medical doctors,” said IJ Senior Attorney Scott Bullock. “Animal massage is a skill that requires some hands-on training and common sense around animals but not four years of veterinary school at a cost of $150,000.”

Founded in 1991, the Virginia-based Institute for Justice has represented entrepreneurs nationwide who successfully fought arbitrary and unnecessary regulations. These cases include the landmark legal battle to open the interstate shipment of wine in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down discriminatory state shipping laws that hampered small wineries as well as their consumers.