Abuse of Authority

Arizona Will Put You in Jail and Fine You $3,500 for Massaging a Horse


Can the government take away someone’s job for no good reason? That is the question to be answered by a major constitutional lawsuit filed by three animal massage therapists and the Institute for Justice (IJ) in the Superior Court of Maricopa County, Arizona.

Celeste Kelly, Grace Granatelli, and Stacey Kollman, three entrepreneurs, are fighting back against an Arizona regulation requiring them to obtain a veterinary license before they can legally work as animal massage therapists. All of them are privately certified and none advertised or claimed to provide veterinary services. Indeed, each told their clients that they do not provide veterinary services and massage is a complement to, rather than a replacement for, veterinary services. But Arizona bureaucrats don’t care.

The Arizona State Veterinary Medical Examining Board (Vet Board) filed cease and desist letters against Celeste and Grace claiming that they are criminals for practicing their craft without a veterinary license. The consequences of failing to comply are severe, animal massage therapists face up to six months in jail and fines of $3,500 per violation.

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To get a veterinary license, the women would need to spend four years at an accredited school, costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars. Arizona doesn’t have a single accredited veterinary school, meaning they would need to move out-of-state. To add insult to injury, veterinary schools do not even require students to learn massage.

“Arizona’s outrageous licensing scheme puts individuals with experience and skill out of work, while forcing animal owners to pay more for extra care they don’t want,” said IJ Attorney Diana Simpson, lead counsel on the case. “The Arizona and U.S. constitutions protect the right to earn an honest living, and that right has been violated by a government protecting veterinary industry insiders.”

Celeste obtains clients for her horse massaging business, Hands to Wholeness, mostly from word-of-moth from a devoted client base, a testament to the quality of her services and her devotion to her craft. Her private certifications, including a course from Aspen Equine Studies, a 120-hour course from a school in Connecticut and a 20-hour seminar in Phoenix, mean nothing to the Vet Board. The Vet Board does not care if Celeste massages horses for free. The act of accepting a fee transforms her services from something that can be legally performed by anyone to something that requires a veterinary license, demonstrating that the Vet Board does not consider the practice of animal massage to be much of a health or safety risk.

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“The Vet Board’s licensing requirement is a lose, lose, lose for Arizona entrepreneurs, Arizona animal owners, and the animals themselves,” said Tim Keller, executive director of the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter. “There is no good reason to put these animal massage therapists out of work, which is why we are asking the courts to declare that the Vet Board’s actions violate Arizonans’ right to work in the occupation of their choice, free from unreasonable government regulation.”

Massage therapists do not need a medical degree to massage humans, so why are entrepreneurial animal masseurs stuck with such an enormous burden? The Vet Board’s actions demonstrate the outrageous extremes to which state licensing boards will go to protect their own financial interests. That is why the Institute for Justice filed suit on behalf of Celeste, Grace and Stacey, challenging Arizona’s animal massage regulation as an unconstitutional violation of animal massage entrepreneurs’ right to earn an honest living.


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