Labrador Puppy with Bow (4)

As massage therapy becomes more and more widely accepted as a useful medical tool, it makes sense that it might be beneficial for more living creatures than just humans. Animal massage therapy has seen a steady rise in popularity over the past few years, but not without some backlash.

In Arizona, three animal massage therapists have filed a lawsuit against the Arizona State Veterinary Medical Examining Board to claim they shouldn’t be required to have veterinary degrees to provide their services. So far, they have gathered plenty of support.

After all, the majority of (human) massage therapists aren’t licensed MDs, but they’ve received extensive training in their field. Should animal massage therapists be required to have more training than human massage therapists in practice?

Celeste Kelly, an equine massage therapist, and Grace Granatelli, a canine massage therapist, have already received cease-and-desist orders from the board. If they keep practicing, they may be charged with a misdemeanor, which puts them in a bind of being unable to pursue a living. Plus, their regular patients are suffering.

Working out the kinks

According to the therapists’ attorney, Tim Keller, this case deserves a ruling in the Superior Court of Maricopa County. He’s adamant that massage therapists shouldn’t need additional degrees no matter who their patients happen to be.

“You do not need a medical degree to massage humans,” he points out, so logically, nobody should need a medical degree to massage animals either. Instead, he says that the board’s “interpretation” of the law was designed to fit its needs and is too vague as it stands.

Keller is at a loss as to why animal therapists would need to be veterinarians, since the services they provide don’t cover the same territory as the training a veterinarian receives. The claim was filed in Phoenix, and the attorney notes that, given the broad reach of the board, even groomers might find themselves in trouble for lack of a medical degree.

It’s unclear whether there might be anything more to the board’s position on the matter, or it has expressed so much concern over the potential impact of massage therapy for animals. There doesn’t appear to be any record of complaints from pet or livestock owners, or from veterinarians.

Us vs. them

However, the plaintiffs are quick to note that they haven’t been sued (or countersued) by the board. They’ve simply been asked to stop practicing, which of course renders them jobless.

Similar to human massage therapists, animal therapists can treat a variety of species in the role of post-injury physical therapist. In certain cases, a state may require the supervision of a veterinarian, but none of these forms of care specifically require a medical degree.

The therapists are probably in good legal hands, since Keller has previously litigated a highly similar case in Maryland. It would appear that interest is increasing with regard to holistic and alternative treatments, no matter what kind of species of patient is involved — and with good reason.

Massage can be an excellent complementary form of care for a variety of ailments, whether physical, emotional, or mental. The fact that these therapists happened to treat animals is an interesting twist, but it serves to showcase the utility of massage across the board.

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