FVMA fights to maintain veterinary safeguards


Tallahassee, Fla. — The Florida Veterinary Medical Association (FVMA) reports its lobbying fund is almost depleted after countering legislation that allows an "independent contractor" to treat animals.

Tallahassee, Fla. — The Florida Veterinary Medical Association (FVMA) reports its lobbying fund is almost depleted after countering legislation that allows an "independent contractor" to treat animals.

Donald Schaefer

Agricultural application brought the issue to lawmakers, but if passed the legislation will bring much broader implications.

"We are hopeful that common sense prevails," says Donald Schaefer, FVMA executive director.

House Bill 791 and Senate Bill 958 are receiving strong opposition from the FVMA, requiring Ken Plante, the association's lobbyist, to try to fend off the legislation.

Farriers could diagnose animals; the profession would operate without practice standards, and human physical therapists could legally practice on animals without answering to the Florida Board of Veterinary Medicine.

"We have one part-time lobbyist, and there are 15 lobbyists working to get these bills passed," says Don Schaefer, FVMA executive director. "I don't think the politicians understand the ramifications of the bills and the negative impact such a law would have on veterinarians, animals and owners."

Sen. Carey Baker

The association reports having spent tens of thousands of dollars, including attorney and lobbyist fees in addition to an exorbitant amount of staff time organizing the necessary avenues of opposition.

If the bill is made into law, it would permit a new category of unregulated veterinary healthcare. Officials say those giving care to animals at the request of owners, or owners who practice medicine, would be exempt from the veterinary practice act, and it might flirt with animal cruelty.

In a DVM Newsmagazine interview, Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis, expressed why he feels the legislation will be beneficial for the state.

"Right now it is considered a felony to perform certain procedures on animals. It's also considered a felony for the owner if they know the act is happening," Baker says. "There just aren't enough large animal veterinarians in the state to tend to the needs of all of the horses and millions of cattle. All of the business the independent contractors currently receive is from word of mouth. These people deserve to have a job they can perform without fear of being arrested. We want to find the right wording to make everyone happy, and we want to protect the animals, too."

The FVMA, licensed veterinarians and pet owners say they are concerned with the repercussions this legislation will have on the millions of animals in the state.

"The argument is that animals are property, and owners should be able to choose who cares for them," Schaefer says. "This isn't just a veterinary concern; the current law would move from the agricultural side and include small animals."

Dr. Stephen Shores

The legislation spawned an FVMA drive to capture pet-owner opposition to the proposed law.

The association asked members to submit at least 30 client signatures per practice to prove these bills are also a concern to animal owners.

Interest in changing the law according to some doesn't originate from interest of helping small ranchers or those who would like to work with animals.

The legislation originated with two lobbyists with personal gain sought out politicians to legalize the practices in question, so they could perform and receive the services themselves, says Dr. Stephen Shores, FVMA president-elect.

Shores has been an active voice for veterinarians in the state; he says the Florida law has been in place for decades, and no one has been prosecuted to the level politicians are saying could happen by floating horse's teeth or dehorning cattle.

"Sen. Baker is allowing himself to be tricked into supporting this legislation," he says. "He thinks that by making this into law he will be helping ranchers, but the cattle association isn't even getting involved in this. It is all about various therapies that laymen want permission to perform."


Current law only permits the owner of an animal or his or her regular employees to administer to the ills and injuries of his or her animals. If these bills are made into law, foreign-trained veterinarians not currently certified to practice veterinary medicine in the United States could call themselves veterinarians and legally perform procedures.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) and the Board of Veterinary Medicine would not have the ability to regulate or take disciplinary action against unlicensed veterinarians who are practicing because a license would not be required.

The bills also seek deletion of the terms "ills and injuries" that is included in the currently existing exemption. Ills and injuries places limits on what can be performed by a non-veterinarian, officials say.

"This type of legislation was intended for agriculture purposes," Schaefer says. "It was to allow farmers to administer first aid and control parasites in herd animals used for consumption."

Because the exemption does not specify animal species that would fall under the law, all companion animals would be included, thereby permitting unlicensed veterinarians to perform ovariohysterectomies and neuters in pets.

Disease control

"The practice of veterinary medicine in the state will be deregulated," Schaefer says. "Independent contractors would also pose a threat to the Department of Agriculture in the sense that it would inhibit its ability to meet legislative mandates to control disease."

Veterinarians are public health officers that monitor potentially fatal disease from animals to people. The safety net is removed with these bills, Schaefer says.

"The number one concern in our country is animal-transmitted disease. We cannot compromise with the care of animals as a direct reflection of human health."

Pet stores and breeders of non-agricultural animals could use also non-veterinarians to perform spay and neuter procedures on animals they temporarily own.

"Imagine the Medical Practice Act containing a exemption that stated any person could hire an independent contractor to assist them with his or her medical needs," Schaefer says. "That is what this would do in the field of veterinary medicine."

Dr. Earnest Godfrey, FVMA president, says,"We believe the correct public policy development approach is for these providers to become regulated by the state rather than exempted by laws that safeguard the animal patient they wish to provide medical care for."

Godfrey requested that legislation be reintroduced at next year's session and include herd owners' concerns regarding permission to have a full or part-time employee assist with the ills or injuries of their animals and require the providers of all non-veterinary medical care under regulation of the Florida Board of Veterinary Medicine.

In favor of the bills

"We are asking our members to have their clients sign a petition stating that they are against the bills, so we can show that this is a concern for all residents."

Shores says Baker is on the wrong track with his logic.

"It doesn't seem logical to say here is group of people that are breaking the law, let's go ahead and make what they are doing legal."


"Veterinarians are very sensitive about this topic although the services we are discussing are not something only veterinarians can perform. Animal massage, accupressure and floating of teeth in horses isn't something veterinarians have expressed a strong desire to do," Baker says. To me, it seems wrong not to let these people (independent contractors) do their jobs."

The conflict between those supporting the bills' passage and those against them prompts Schaefer to say there will be no compromise.

"Improper or incomplete diagnosis given by clinically unprepared individuals will prompt injury and deaths of animals that needed veterinary care and did not receive it," Schaefer adds. "If veterinary medicine is practiced by unlicensed individuals, it is animal cruelty."

Carey says he is only interested in addressing horses and herd animals and not dogs and cats.

Rep. Frank Attkisson did not return phone calls from DVM Newsmagazine.

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