Veterinarians have years of medical education to insure that animal patients receive proper healthcare, including nutrition and behavioral advice. Doctors of Veterinary Medicine are also highly regulated by state government for your protection. So, with experts like these, why do we see an increasing number of unlicensed and unsupervised non-veterinarians performing veterinary medical services? Even more importantly, why are existing laws not enforced?
The ad read “Ear Trims – Any dog, any breed – $25”. Most pet owners knew to stay away, but some were intrigued by the low cost and called. On the day of their pet’s “surgery”, the owners were told they needed to sign ownership of their pet over to the individual doing the ear trim. It was only then that they found out that the man operating on their dogs was not a veterinarian!
Illegal scams like this are not uncommon and we see more of it during hard economic times. Some unscrupulous people, with no medical training, violate state laws to make a buck, but sadly, states simply cannot go after all of them.
Since pets and livestock are considered property, the animal owner is allowed to “treat and care for” their animals in any fashion, as long as the treatment does not constitute animal cruelty. In the case of the ear trims (a tedious and precise surgical procedure), the unlicensed person was knowingly by-passing the law. After surgery, he would return ownership to the rightful owner and collect his fee, an overt scam.
Unfortunately, there are many people trying to perform a variety of veterinary medical and surgical services fraudulently calling them “animal husbandry”. Farmers and cattlemen can call on individuals to castrate or dehorn their cattle and avoid the veterinarian. Horse owners are using cowboys and off season rodeo stars to perform equine dental work. There are even reports of such unsupervised, unlicensed non-veterinarians doing pregnancy checks and other reproductive work in horses and cattle. A quick Internet search also shows individuals with no formal training at all advising pet owners on nutrition and behavioral issues that may actually involve complex medical issues. It is all becoming alarmingly common.
In a well publicized case, rodeo star Bobby Griswold fought the state of Oklahoma for the right to file the teeth of horses during his off-season. This highly political battle has resulted in the state re-defining “animal husbandry” to allow unlicensed and unsupervised non-veterinarians to perform dental medicine on horses with zero to a maximum of 8 weeks of trade school training.
They call themselves “lay dentists”. That is like calling someone a “lay brain surgeon” or a “lay cancer specialist”. It is simply wrong and frankly dangerous to both animals and their owners.
In another Oklahoma case, a man was vaccinating pets for rabies in Wal-Mart parking lots. He signed rabies certificates as a veterinary technician, despite the fact that he had not completed any accredited program. Since he was doing this without veterinary supervision, the 1,000 animals he vaccinated are now considered “unvaccinated”. This could have dire consequences, especially for one dog that bit an individual less than one week after his illegal “vaccination”.
The potential for mistakes and significant damage is great! Countless examples of damage, infection, anesthetic complications and deaths have occurred. But where does an animal owner turn when this happens? Nowhere.
You may even think these lay people offer services cheaper. Not true. In a survey of veterinarians doing equine dentistry we found the cost to be the same or even less than what these unsupervised laymen would charge.
Veterinarians have a doctor’s degree and eight years of graduate and post-graduate education in addition to state and national board exams and the requirement to continue the education every year.
Lay people, who operate illegally, are not regulated or licensed by any state agency. That means the owners have no recourse in the frequent case of mistakes or even death of the animal. Consumer protection aside, these unlicensed people also obtain and use drugs illegally and those consequences have veterinarians especially concerned.
Proponents of non-veterinarians doing specific animal care claim that a lack of veterinarians forces them to help these animals. But that is simply not true. There are enough veterinarians to properly handle both equine and small animal medical and surgical needs for the animals in this country.
Dr. Tom Johnson of the Iowa Veterinary Medical Association, recently helped defeat a bill allowing “livestock technicians” to do everything from castration and dehorning to embryo transfer, pregnancy diagnosis and bloat surgeries, all without any guidance from a veterinarian. “But,” says Johnson, “this bill will be back, in some form, very soon.” And this is the case in many states.
Texas is another battle ground over who should be allowed to do horse dental work. Instead of engaging in a political fight, the Texas Veterinary Medical Association is proposing legislation that will allow non-veterinarians to continue this work with supervision by a veterinarian and continuing education requirements. This will ensure the safety of the public and their animals in addition to allowing these individuals to operate within the law.
While times are tough we should not allow unscrupulous and unlicensed non-veterinarians to perform medical procedures illegally. Veterinarians have dedicated their lives, and gone through all educational and legal steps, to the proper care for your animals.