Texas veterinary board blocked from stopping equine teeth floaters
A court ruling temporarily disabled the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners from taking action against non-DVM teeth floaters.
Austin, Texas — A court ruling temporarily disabled the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners' ability to take action against non-veterinarians who practice equine teeth floating without sedation.
A district court's decision brings an end, for now, to a lawsuit filed by the public interest law firm Institute for Justice against the state board on behalf of teeth floaters. The state veterinary board sent cease-and-desist letters to several teeth floaters in 2007, in an attempt to marshal what it describes as the unauthorized practice of veterinary medicine.
"As a result of my efforts, the board's efforts, to stop what we believed was the unauthorized practice of veterinary medicine by so-called teeth floaters, we were sued," explains Dewey Helmcamp, executive director of the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. "(Teeth floaters) filed this suit against the board in August 2007 basically seeking a declaratory judgment that the veterinary practice act was unconstitutional insofar as it would allow the board to prevent these teeth floaters from practicing their trade."
In the end, the court says the state board should have adopted a rule defining equine dentistry before it could make equine dentistry a part of the veterinary practice act. The court did, however, dismiss the teeth floater's claims that the veterinary practice act was unconstitutional.
"Over the years, (teeth floaters) more or less been overlooked, ignored and allowed to float teeth," Helmcamp says. The court said that until the board adopts rules by the administrative procedure act, which is a requirement for agency rulemaking, they can't force teeth floaters to stop, Helmcamp says.
In response to the court's decision, the board proposed a rule in December 2010 that would prohibit lay people from floating teeth unless under the supervision of a veterinarian. The proposal is now in the notice and comment phase, and the board is expected to adopt a formal rule at its March meeting.
Texas isn't the first state to clash with teeth floaters. In Oklahoma, a battle over equine dentistry heated up after a world champion rodeo competitor turned teeth floater was charged with a felony for practicing equine dentistry without a license. The charges were later reduced to a misdemeanor. By 2010, after more involvement from state rulemakers, Gov. Brad Henry signed a law allowing non-veterinarians to float teeth as equine dental-care providers after paying the Oklahoma State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners a $200 fee and completing a certification program consisting of at least 80 hours of education in equine dentistry. Under the new law, horse owners or their employees can also administer sedatives with a valid client-veterinarian relationship and prescription.
The concern in Texas is that while some teeth floaters do work under supervision of veterinarians, others do not.
Horse owners need to be able to have some accountability if something happens to their horse while under the care of a teeth floater, Helmcamp contends.
"We currently, by rule, allow chiropractors operating under the indirect supervision of a veterinarian to perform (treatments) on animals," he says. "Part of the safeguard is that there is supervision. And chiropractors are licensed by a different board. With an unlicensed person, there is no board to provide that protection to the public," he says.
"Some people think they should be able to give animals injections ... or perform their own spays and neuters. It's a complicated subject, and the only answer I can give you is you have to look at what the person wants to do to the animal" and look at what the rules permit unlicensed persons to do, Helmcamp says.
The court's ruling and the proposed action by the veterinary board does not end the battle in Texas, Helmcamp says.
"It remains to be seen how this will ultimately play out. I think there's a place in veterinary medicine for persons who are not licensed veterinarians, but I think that place needs to be in harmony and conjunction with the veterinarian."
The Institute for Justice may file another lawsuit to overturn the board's new rule if it is adopted at the March meeting, and the legislature will likely take note of the issue this year.
"We'll just have to wait and see what might happen," Helmcamp says. "In meantime, the Texas legislature convenes a new session this month, and there might be various bills introduced on both sides."
The Texas Veterinary Medical Association aims to back a bill to limit the practice of equine dentistry to qualified veterinarians or those under the direct supervision of a veterinarian. But no bills have been introduced or pre-filed at press time.