Jerry Kopel

Massaging Animals

By Jerry Kopel

Mar. 1, 2008

You have a dog, a blessed animal that is considered a member of the family. Or maybe it's a cat, or some other furry four legged or two legged animal.

As the animal grows older, muscles start to tighten, and you try to help by massaging the shoulders. Well, keep doing it, as long as it's your animal.

But beware if you massage a neighbor's or a relative's dog or cat. House Bill 1042 by Rep. Wes McKinley (D) and Sen. Greg Brophy (R) might make you liable for treble civil damages under the Colorado Consumer Protection Act for harm done. (Practicing without a degree or certificate, or for violating the Veterinary Practice Act.)

Beginning Jan. 10, 2010, the Colorado laws governing veterinarians will not apply to any person performing massage on an animal, as long as that person doesn't prescribe drugs, perform surgery, or diagnose medical conditions, and (this is the key):

The person has earned a degree or certificate in animal massage from a school approved by the private occupation school division ... or from an animal massage program with an accreditation recognized by the U.S. Dept. pf Education, or a school exempt from the private occupation school division jurisdiction.

Massage, as defined in the bill, treats the animal's body for remedial or hygienic purposes. Examples include rubbing, stroking, kneading, or tapping with the hand or an instrument or both.

Chiropractors, acupuncturists, and physical therapists need not worry, as long as their activities fall within their statutory authority.

Coloradans were forewarned in October, 2007, that HB 1042 was coming in 2008 by Corissa Baber of the Colorado Alliance For Animal Owners Rights (CAAOR).

Ms. Baber told the public that animal owners increasingly turn to massage for their animals, but veterinarians are too busy treating illness to supervise or be interested in massage. Thus, allowing separation from veterinary laws benefits present consumer demand. In other words, "there IS a demand".

Different versions of HB 1042 have now passed the House and Senate, and is now in conference committee. It appears no one mentioned the issue of occupation review under Sunrise. If enacted into law, it definitely will lead to a new occupation.

"Animal Massage Therapy" signs will sprout up, since this is not limited to agriculture animals. If you are unemployed, you may just be a "C" student, but still able to pass the course with minimum competence.

The new occupation did not go through a Sunrise Review according to Dept. of Regulatory Authority (DORA), and does not contain a Sunset repealer and review date.

Here is how DORA defines a measure that by statute should go through a Sunrise review:

The bill sets up minimum standards for initial entry and provides limiting and removing from subsequent practice persons who have harmed the public. If the occupation needs regulation, this minimal entry "serves to protect the public from incompetent practitioners".

Regulation of a practitioner "can lead to increased prestige and higher income ... the ... programs are often championed by those who will be the subject of regulation." "[B]y erecting barriers to entry into a given occupation, even when justified, regulation can serve to restrict the supply of practitioners. This not only limits consumer choice, but can also lead to an increase in the cost of service."

Corissa Baber writes that "claims by these (various Veterinary) Associations imply that animals are being harmed by practitioners who administer massage in lieu of veterinary services.

"In reality, there has not been a single instance of a formal or informal complaint or a lawsuit brought against an animal massage practitioner or any evidence or instance where a zoon-otic (fully developed animal) disease was spread via massage. CAAOR expects that statistic to remain."

Hopefully, she is right, but what does a legislator who voted for the bill tell an irate constituent whose animal in 2010 has been harmed by someone who has every right under HB 1042 to continue to call himself or herself a Animal Massage Therapist despite being incompetent or performing massage while drunk or drugged.

Get a lawyer and sue? File criminal complaint for cruelty to animals with the district attorney? "Sorry" says the legislator "we can't help you".

That, of course, is the reason why a Sunrise review by neutral researchers at DORA would be a benefit to a final legislative decision.

HB 1042 provides no criminal penalty for practicing in an abusive manner, although other criminal statutes relating to abuse of animals would likely apply.

As a new occupation requiring a school degree or certificate showing successful completion, it should either be a title protection act, or go through Sunrise and, if passed by the legislature, become a Sunset occupation law.

(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado.

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