Wellness care for pets is thriving in San Diego. There are fitness trainers, massage therapists, and more. For many animal owners, it’s a tool to prevent illness. To the California Veterinary Medical Board, it’s risky business.
On October 20–21, the board will hold a meeting to discuss plans to regulate the services. Such businesses lack oversight, they say, which puts pets at risk of injury or death. The board proposes that only veterinarians, or physical therapists and registered vet techs under a vet’s supervision, be allowed to perform animal rehabilitation.
Critics say the board’s definition of rehab goes too far. It affects businesses that work with pets on the mend but also covers practices aimed at preventing disease or injury. Along with esoteric modes like biofeedback technology, it includes therapeutic massage and prescribed exercise.
“It affects a lot of people, and in the end, the animals,” says Ann Montalto, a registered nurse with years of canine massage practice in San Diego. She now works for a vet, but despite having two canine-massage training certificates, she is not a registered vet tech. “It should be at the discretion of the vet,” who they hire to perform rehab. Montalto would find herself, mid-life, starting over, she says.
Vet supervision for non-invasive therapy? Hmmm...
The proposed rule would force scores of San Diegans to hire a veterinarian to supervise them — or shut down. The board found that small businesses would be significantly affected but said there could be an increase in the number of jobs for allowed providers, with more demand for them.
A report by the board found many older animals in veterinary rehab would “crash,” getting worse or developing new disease during treatment, which is one reason for the rule. Montalto says she hasn’t heard of any documented problems involving pet massage, which may be the service most affected.
Some states, like Washington, require state certification for animal massage. But California and many others have no training requirements. One state that does require veterinary supervision is Arizona, where equine-massage providers sued the vet board last year, saying the licensing rule could strip them of their livelihood. They argued that the board was barring competition and that massage has been safely used on horses for years. This year, Iowa introduced a bill that would exempt equine massage from the list of veterinary practices, and Indiana passed a similar law.
For the benefit of horses...
ML Taylor, an East County resident certified in horse massage, says she donates her services to horse owners who can barely afford veterinary care, let alone body work.
“All of these horses are old, injured, or difficult. My work is for the benefit of the horses,” she says. Taylor achieved her certificate through a private course called equinology, which she says instructs students not to work on horses without the knowledge of their vet.
“I actually meet the vets and try to be present for the exams of horses that are injured.” She’s also there for follow-up visits. While some vets may worry that body work could interfere with their clients’ treatment, Taylor says it hasn’t been an issue for her with vets or owners. The work, she believes, greatly enhances the animals’ outcome. And since humans can have a massage without a doctor present, she doesn’t understand “why vets would want to essentially shut down a non-invasive, holistic, treatment.”
Taylor considers herself lucky since she doesn’t depend on the work for a living. But she is still concerned that the proposed rule “will no doubt put most body workers out of business.”