Chiropractic, animal protection hot items in N.M. legislature


Santa Fe, N.M.-New Mexico veterinarians are busy monitoring two state legislative issues, as chiropractors seek to practice on animals, and animal rights groups attempt to rewrite the regulations for public shelters.

Santa Fe, N.M.-New Mexico veterinarians are busy monitoring two state legislative issues, as chiropractors seek to practice on animals, and animal rights groups attempt to rewrite the regulations for public shelters.

Of primary concern to a segment of the state's veterinary community is an attempt by New Mexico chiropractors to have the wording of the veterinary practice act amended to enable chiropractors to practice on animals without veterinary supervision.

While chiropractors initially approached the board of veterinary medicine and board of chiropractic examiners in 2004, no decision was expected until the 2005 legislative session, when the entire veterinary practice act will be subjected to sunset review, which occurs every five years.

The American Veterinary Chiropractic Association (AVCA) is directly involved in efforts in New Mexico. Dr. Paul Rowan, veterinarian, chiropractor and AVCA president, is currently coordinating efforts with a N.M. veterinary board member to help word a proposal that would spell out the appropriate restrictions for veterinarians and chiropractors who perform, or wish to perform, animal chiropractic.

Dr. Roy Stewart

The bottom line, Rowan says, is: "(We) want to change the wording of the practice act, whether to create animal chiropractic as an exception to what's typically considered the practice of veterinary medicine or to define it within the veterinary practice act as to what qualifications are necessary."

He adds, "Veterinarians need to be equally as required to be certified as chiropractors should be, and certified chiropractors who keep up with their continuing ed should be allowed to practice chiropractic on animals."

Despite the racket the issue appears to be stirring on both sides, Dr. Michael Tomasic, representing New Mexico Veterinary Medical Association's (NMVMA) taskforce that's focused on the chiropractic issue, contends there is no tremendous public demand for the profession of animal chiropractic. However, he and the taskforce are surveying the association veterinarians to determine their stance.

Tomasic says the chiropractic issue is slightly bothersome. "Veterinarians are established as having a gatekeeper role for animal health. What this animal chiropractic group is saying is that they have as much training as we do, but they don't in terms of animal health."

On average, doctors of chiropractic medicine who take AVCA-approved courses only receive about 12 hours of animal health, Tomasic says. "These people have to demonstrate to the state's veterinary board and chiropractic board that they have done these courses and both boards approve them."

Rowan agrees to an extent. "Let's make something that is very sensible that takes into consideration how you define animal chiropractic, who should be able to do it, what are the requirements?

"If a veterinarian says I'm legally allowed to do this, then the public has a right to say you've got to have some specific reason for saying you can do this. Show me you have the appropriate education. We need to address this from both sides."

At presstime, sources say the boards of veterinary medicine and chiropractic examiners were planning joint meetings following the 2004 legislative session to attain understanding. Tomasic says the NMVMA taskforce plans to present to the boards a prepared statement reflecting association members' concerns and offering a reasonable approach to the issue.

Future action

Some practitioners, like Belen, N.M.-based Dr. Roy Stewart, NMVMA secretary/treasurer, anticipate a battle. "(The year) 2005 probably will be the year when we have a bigger fight about opening the practice act and allowing alternative medicine language to creep into our practice act," he says.

But Dr. Ray Powell, chairman of the New Mexico board of veterinary medicine, says it's standard protocol to look at issues involved with the practice act, because of the sunset review.

"Through that arduous process, people have come to the board with their concerns and ideas, including the chiropractic issues," Powell says. The board's charge is to continue its fact-seeking mission to obtain input from veterinarians and chiropractors.

The second animal-related issue concentrates on a proposed Animal Protective Services Act that includes the creation of an animal protective services board to enforce newly-written rules and regulations for the 38 public shelters in New Mexico. State Governor Bill Richardson added the act to the 2004 legislative session, which incidentally only includes items of interest to the governor that are typically budgetary in nature.

Shelter authority

The act's overriding goal is to establish, for the first time, criteria for operating state-run or municipal-run shelters. The act equally focuses on euthanasia administration at shelters with an objective to have a licensed person (not necessarily a veterinarian) who can purchase appropriate solutions and administer euthanasia to animals.

Besides gubernatorial support, driving forces behind the act include animal rights and advocacy group, Animal Protection of New Mexico (APNM) and Animal Protection Voters (an APNM subgroup), as well as Powell of the veterinary board.

The legislation, if passed, has three components, according to Elisabeth Jennings, executive director of APNM:

  • Set up the Animal Protective Services board as an entity with the ability to promulgate rules for shelters. The Department of Regulation and Licensing initiated the development of this policy-making board, said to be the first of its kind nationally. The board would be comprised of one veterinarian, an inspector and other animal care officials.

  • Establish minimal standards of care for county or city operated shelters.

  • License certified euthanasia practitioners to ensure public shelters can provide humane euthanasia to unwanted animals.

Currently 17 states regulate animal shelters, according to New Mexico officials. To date, New Mexico has had no governing authority over shelters.

"Yet animal shelters regularly look for guidance and support to ensure the humane care of their animals," says a spokesperson for the Animal Protection Voters.

The NMVMA contributed input for the potential board, appointing a taskforce to work with the state regulation and licensing department.

Veterinary say

"Our (NMVMA) taskforce has met with the attorneys and other parties trying to influence the legislation before it is enacted. If we had our particulars, we'd vote it doesn't need to exist," Stewart says.

Not everyone agrees. Powell says the response he's seen from the veterinary community has been "quite the contrary."

"We've seen a breadth of support for this legislation," he says.

As for specific veterinary impact, Powell says, "Veterinary services would be increased in terms of need by having more unwanted animals adopted."

Actually, the only veterinary concerns pertaining to the bill that Tomasic of NMVMA's taskforce has heard are that this act doesn't apply to private humane societies or animal shelters. Addressing this issue to state representatives, Tomasic relays its response: "We had to start somewhere. We only have a limited amount of money."

Tomasic adds, "We hope this act is going to provide some concrete rules about how to operate a shelter. That's not a direct effect on veterinarians, but it does have a tremendous indirect effect."

If the act passes, Tomasic says NMVMA will offer recommendations for naming the veterinarian to the Animal Protection Services Board.

Stewart still suspects the current legislative moves are the harbinger of what's to come. Referencing the pending legislation, he says, "Everything seems to be catching up to us as veterinarians. A few years ago, we felt like we were in backwaters with no real activity. Now we seem to be hitting the big time."

To elaborate, Stewart suggests Gov. Richardson appears to have an animal-related agenda. The Governor's office did not return calls seeking comment.

Gubernatorial influence

"The governor is leaning toward the animal rights group and garnering a little bit of attention," Stewart says. "We, in veterinary medicine here in the state, feel they are already pushing an animal rights agenda."

Powell downplays the claim. The animal protective services board made the governor's cut, because, Powell says, "it's a priority for him."

Nevertheless, Stewart questions the governor's approach in which he sought resignation of all board and commission members, reappointing his own members. In the process he appointed an executive member of the APNM to serve among veterinarians such as Powell and other public figures on the board of veterinary medicine.

According to Stewart, "Since then, there has been activism from our board of veterinary medicine to shake things up here in the state," Stewart says.

Jennings, the public member to which Stewart refers, made no reference to the governor's agenda, but did say, "The Governor's ties to animal issues are a way of strengthening our state. We haven't had the opportunity to have an infrastructure for shelters until now."

So far, Jennings says she's only heard positive feedback from veterinarians. "NMVMA is very supportive of this effort. Since veterinarians are strongly supporting it, I'd think the impact on them is good."

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