Colo. Alternative-care bill derailed for lack of 1 vote


Denver, Colo. - One vote defeated Colorado HB 1296 and decided the fate of lay practitioners who, at least for now, must continue to seek veterinary referral and supervision before treating animals.

DENVER, COLO. — One vote defeated Colorado HB 1296 and decided the fate of lay practitioners who, at least for now, must continue to seek veterinary referral and supervision before treating animals.

The 4-3 Colorado Senate Agriculture Committee vote killed HB 1296, legislation that several organized veterinary groups feared might jeopardize the safety and quality of animal care. The bill proposed allowing pet owners, without veterinary referral or supervision, to employ an unlicensed practitioner to treat, care for, train or assist their animals — services that bill supporters say are not included in the practice of veterinary medicine and should therefore not be regulated by the state's veterinary practice act.

Led by lobbying efforts from the Colorado Veterinary Medicine Association (CVMA), opponents argued the measure would increase risks of improper animal care and undermine the DVM licensing system. Essentially, the bill was unnecessary, they contend.

Proponents of the measure fought to give pet owners open access and the ability to choose providers of less traditional forms of health services for pets.

"Veterinarians do work with non-veterinary medicine providers with whom they have a relationship, trust and confidence. This cooperative approach is not just a dream, it is a reality in the current environment," says Ralph Johnson, executive director of CVMA.

With the help of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and other veterinary groups, CVMA squared off against the Colorado Alliance of Animal Owner Rights (CAAOR), a grassroots effort that supports the right of pet owners to choose what care their animal receives, instead of relying on referral from a DVM.

"The alliance folks have painted a somewhat drastic picture and accused veterinary medicine of being a restrictive marketplace, ... but that is not the reality of the way health care is delivered these days. It is difficult for them to realize that flinging open the doors to any self-proclaimed, unregulated, potentially undereducated provider of health-care services to animals has significant complications for animal health and public health," Johnson says.

Despite criticism, CAAOR hopes eventually to gain the support of CVMA with some amendments to the original bill language.

"It opened up too many doors at once. I think we will try to take baby steps for the next session, maybe just work on a massage bill and not try to include all practitioners at once," says Lisa Speaker, CAAOR president/founder and owner of the Rocky Mountain School of Animal Acupressure Massage.

Initial collaboration with CVMA did not yield mutually supported legislation, but Speaker says she wants to continue their collaboration to seek a compromise in creating language that veterinary establishments would support.

Allowing some sort of veterinary involvement is a key factor needed in the bill, says Adrian Hochstadt, AVMA assistant director of state legislative and regulatory affairs. "From our perspective, we'd like to make sure that there is some veterinary input, whether through some referral mechanism or supervision to ensure the health and safety of animals is maintained," he says. "The bill, at this point, was very broad and exempted from the practice act a number of practitioners with no supervision or referral."

Compromise is possible, says Diane Balkin, Denver's senior deputy district attorney and spokesperson and member of the Colorado State Board of Veterinary Medicine. "I think there's always hope of a compromise position that would allow animal owners to provide these alternative and complementary medicines in a manner that is safe to the pet population and the human population," she says.

"I think the more we talk about it, the closer we can come to an agreement. We really just started talking to them last November, so we haven't spent that much time on it," Speaker says. "Hopefully, with a little more time and discussion, we can find some common ground."

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