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Horse dentistry must be licensed, court rules

A Missouri appeals court upheld an injunction sought by the state’s veterinary board against a woman who been practicing tooth floating—the smoothing of horses’ teeth—without a license and upheld Missouri’s veterinary licensing system as compatible with the state’s constitution (Missouri Veterinary Board v. Brooke Rene Gray and B&B Equine Dentistry).

In 2007, the Missouri Veterinary Board sent a letter to Brooke Rene Gray informing Gray, who does not have a veterinary license, that her business, B&B Equine Dentistry, was operating in violation of the law.

Gray continued fixing horse teeth despite the letter and, in 2011, the board filed for an injunction against Gray with a circuit court. The injunction was granted and Gray appealed. The case went to the Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Special Division, which issued a ruling February 19 written by Judge Thomas Newton.

Taken to its logical end,” the judge said, “Ms. Gray asks us to conclude that anyone with competency should be able to publicly perform, on animals, invasive and complex surgical procedures, prescribe and administer drugs and anesthesia, etc. Yet, how is such competency to be proven so as to protect the public health and safety? Our legislature has chosen licensure as a means of regulating competency, and our courts have upheld the rationality of this choice.”

On appeal, Gray argued that the board could not have power to prevent her from practicing dentistry because to do so would be arbitrary and in violation of the Missouri constitution, which protects individuals’ rights to the “gains of their own industry.” Gray argued that the state had no legitimate interested in regulating equine dentistry, citing, among other things, the notion that her teeth-floating skills may exceed those of licensed veterinarians, evidence —to her—that the state’s veterinary licensure scheme was irrational.

Animal dentistry is statutorily-defined as veterinary practice in Missouri. And the Missouri legislature, wrote Judge Newton, citing Linton v. Missouri Veterinary Board, a Missouri Supreme Court case, “has a legitimate interest in establishing a high level of competence for veterinarians in Missouri because healthy domestic animals, a safe food supply, and a sound agricultural economy in this state are heavily dependent on veterinary services.”

When Gray also tried to defend her unlicensed activity by noting that the state would allow her to engage in the practice if she did not charge, Judge Newton corrected her, noting that although Missouri law does allow for some veterinary care to be performed free of charge by unlicensed individuals, the distinction was not whether those individuals accepted payment for their services but whether they held themselves out as publicly offering services.

“The remuneration exception,” he wrote, “may well be the distinction between a neighborly act of kindness and a public business that the state has more of an interest in regulating.”