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State rep. seeks changes in Arkansas veterinary laws

THE ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

For the past 17 years, Arkansas law has apparently banned professional horseshoers.

State Rep. Jim House, D-Fayetteville, who is a part time farrier, said Arkansas Code Annotated 17-101-101 makes horseshoeing illegal unless it is done by the horse owner, an employee of the owner, a neighbor or a veterinarian.

Also outlawed are equine dentists, also called “horse teeth floaters,” who aren’t veterinarians, and anyone who performs other routine farm animal procedures such as castration and dehorning for pay.

Horse owners often have the animals shod every two months and their teeth filed down, or “floated,” once a year because they continue to grow.

Throughout Arkansas’ history, people who have some expertise or training in certain areas, such as horseshoeing, have been available for hire. But now those chores seem to fall under the purview of veterinarians.

The law, which is known as the Arkansas Veterinary Medical Practices Act, defines the practice of veterinary medicine as one that involves, among other things, diagnosis and an attempt to correct disease, defect or deformity, which House said he does when he shoes a horse. House said he often tries to correct for improper growth of a horse’s hoof by filing the hoof down and attaching the proper shoe.

“I wasn’t overly concerned when I read it because I knew it was being practiced across the state,” House said of horseshoeing. “It’s not going to be enforced. If we’re going to have public policy on the book we’re not going to enforce, we need to change it.”

Dr. Lyndon H. Tate, a veterinarian in Mansfield and member of the Arkansas Veterinary Medical Examining Board, defended the wording in the law.

“I’ll admit that’s a little bit vague, but how do you break diagnosing down?” he said. “I know of no horseshoer who’s ever been brought up before the board for doing his profession.”

The examining board was created in 1915 to “ensure the best possible quality of veterinary services” in Arkansas.

Tate said farriers are still basically unregulated. He said they “operate pretty much at will right now,” but the law is in place as a safeguard against abuses.

“The practices act was set up to protect the animals, and the rights of the animal owner, from sub-standard veterinary procedures,” he said. “We could get an exuberant person out there who takes a sharp knife and cuts on a foot or whatever and does some damage.

“Farriers are not specifically exempt. I don’t see that happening. If it did, they could go out and do invasive procedures on horses like surgery. … I don’t think any profession should have a blanket exemption. If there is a complaint by an animal owner, they do have somewhere to go.”

House said some states that exempt farriers have laws that outline the work a horseshoer is allowed to do. Such laws would allow farriers to shoe horses but make it illegal for them to do surgery.

But, House said, if someone did complain about a farrier who was simply shoeing a horse, the farrier could be prosecuted under current state law. Under the Arkansas act, practicing veterinary medicine without a license is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine for each violation of $50 to $250, or imprisonment for six months to one year, or both.

House wants the wording of the law changed or for horseshoeing to be exempted from the law. Changes should also be made for teeth floaters and other people who do routine animal-husbandry jobs that currently fall under the state veterinary code, he said.

House filed an interim study proposal through the Legislature, and a meeting was held Sept. 15 in Little Rock to address the issue. About 40 people attended, including a dozen legislators. Members of the Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development committees in both chambers of the Legislature were invited, House said, but only those serving in the Arkansas House of Representatives were at the meeting.

The next session of the General Assembly starts in January, but House is up for re-election before then, on Nov. 2, and may not be in the Legislature to file a bill pertaining to the issue.

“I want the wording changed, but I don’t know how far to change it,” House said Wednesday while shoeing a 14-year-old quarter horse named Emmylou. “That’s what the interim study is about. I want it changed, but I’m not sure I want it wide open. Do we need some sort of certification?”

House said farriers don’t want to go through certification or licensing. He said he doesn’t know how many farriers there are in Arkansas. Their only advertising now is by word of mouth, he said.

Lee McGrath, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Institute for Justice, said the American Veterinary Medical Association began a campaign in the early 1990s to include the broad definition of veterinary medicine in legislation across the country, and Arkansas’ General Assembly apparently adopted the boilerplate language. At about that same time, power instruments were introduced that made horse dentistry easier, said McGrath.

“Because it’s easier work, veterinarians have become interested in it,” he said.

“The only reason these laws have been interpreted this way is to exclude competition,” said McGrath, who also spoke at the interim studies meeting in Little Rock. “In the last five years or so, veterinarians have pressured veterinary boards … to fence out non-veterinary competition.”

The Institute for Justice lobbied for changes to Oklahoma’s veterinary practices law. After a two-year battle led by state Rep.Don Armes, R-Faxon, the Sooner State’s Legislature exempted animal husbandry tasks from its veterinary practices act this spring. Opinions were swayed by the March 4 arrest of rodeo star Bobby Griswold of Geary, Okla., for floating horse teeth. In addition to being a famous saddle-bronc rider, Griswold is also a horse dentist.

The issue was hotly debated in Oklahoma, with veterinary interests claiming a change in the law would allow horse sedatives to be more readily available, leading to more incidents of date rape and abortion.

But the Oklahoma Legislature didn’t buy it, and Gov. Brad Henry signed the bill into law on April 16.

“It got to be a battle of egos over there,” said Tate.

McGrath’s organization has also filed suit in Texas over that state’s veterinary practices act.

House said Indiana, Kansas and Louisiana have similar veterinary laws to Arkansas’. Connecticut exempts teeth floaters. Maryland exempts farriers and floaters.

McGrath said there aren’t enough large-animal veterinarians in Arkansas to do the work that state law says only they can do.

Arkansas has 160,000 horses and a $3.5 billion-a-year equine industry in the state, according to the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. The UA estimates the state has 1.9 million head of cattle.

House said Arkansas has 625 veterinarians, but only nine of them specialize in horses.

“There’s not enough large animal veterinarians to take care of the population,” said McGrath. “There are some counties in Arkansas that don’t have a large-animal veterinarian.”

House said he realized he was a law-breaking farrier about four years ago, when he was approached by John R. Brochu of Fayetteville about the law. Brochu had been a horse teeth floater in Arkansas.

Brochu, who also testified at the Little Rock legislative meeting, noted that veterinarians have little training in teeth floating.

“If this law gets changed, I don’t think it diminishes in any way the role of the veterinarian,” said Brochu. “The owners are still going to look to their veterinarians for medical issues. For herd health, they’ll go to the people they’ve gone to in the past, people who do that for a living.”

Greg Jeter of Hogeye said it would be a “big problem” if farriers like House weren’t allowed to shoe their horses.

“There’s not one veterinarian who knows how to do it, and a veterinarian wouldn’t waste his time for that small amount of money,” said Jeter. “If a veterinarian did it, it would cost $200.”

House charges $50 to shoe a horse.

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