The Horse occasionally fields a question from someone wanting information about what the veterinary practice act allows a non-veterinarian to do legally in the reader’s home state. That’s not a surprise. State statutes can be difficult to track down and clarity seldom is a hallmark of legislative language. Sometimes it is necessary to cross-reference several statutes and then plug in state-specific definitions. A personal favorite is the definition of "cattle" in Kentucky: "horse, mule, ass, cow, ox, sheep, hog, or goat of any age or sex." Who knew "cattle" meant more than cows!
We cannot interpret state statutes or answer specific questions about the law. That would be the unauthorized practice of law, which the Kentucky Bar Association and my malpractice carrier both frown upon. Readers who need advice about a legal question should consult a local attorney familiar with the state’s practice act. There are some shortcuts, though. The American Veterinary Medical Association compiles summaries of the veterinary practice acts in each state and updates them on a regular basis.
In Kentucky, for example, the AVMA summaries tell us that the practice of veterinary medicine includes artificial insemination, dentistry, acupuncture, manipulation, and the catch-all category of "all other branches or specialties of veterinary medicine." It is not at all clear what that phrase encompasses. Exceptions include an animal’s owner or the owner’s regular employees; trainers, agents, or herdsmen when there is a veterinarian-client-patient relationship; castration/dehorning of farm animals; and some embryo transfer procedures.
The AVMA summaries are a good place to start, but they do not include citations or links to the actual statutes. Anyone with an economic interest in a state's veterinary practice act should refer to the statutory language and consult an attorney. Websites for state legislatures or state veterinary medical associations are excellent gateways to the statutes.
A very good all-purpose animal law website is the Animal Legal and Historical Center maintained by Michigan State University College of Law. This site includes cases, statutes, and articles on a wide variety of animal law issues and is updated regularly.
A couple of useful animal law/advocacy websites are:
The Animal Legal Defense Fund ranks states’ animal protection laws each year. For 2010, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Oregon, and California were the states with the strongest animal protection laws; Iowa, Mississippi, Idaho, North Dakota, and Kentucky (the self-proclaimed "Horse Capital of the World") were the worst.
The web site of the Humane Society of the United States has a wealth of valuable information about animal welfare laws. Like the ALDF, HSUS does not limit itself to equine issues, but topics relating to horses receive regular attention. HSUS recently launched its own ranking of animal friendly states, with California, New Jersey, Illinois, and Massachusetts topping the list. At the bottom of the rankings were Idaho and South Dakota.
This list barely scratches the surface—there are many excellent other equine law, general animal law, and welfare advocacy websites on the Internet. Many other organizations, law firms, and attorneys specializing in equine law also have useful and informative websites. Some of the sponsoring organizations have agendas, obvious or hidden, and no information on the Internet should be accepted without further investigation.
Albert Harris, the man who trained Saddlebreds for our family when I was a kid, had little formal education but a lot of common sense. You could not believe the newspapers, he said, because "a piece of paper will let you write anything on it." The same is true of a website.
What Internet resources do you use to keep abreast of equine law issues?