Missouri Appeals Court Rules Against Floating Horse Teeth

Almost 18 months ago, I shared the news:   Floating Horse Teeth Goes on Trial in Missouri.  Admittedly one of the strangest headlines I’ve ever written, the story had to do with Brooke Gray’s desire to continue practicing her profession of caring for horse teeth (i.e., “floating horse teeth”) in the state of Missouri.  Yesterday, I learned from the folks at the Freedom Center of Missouri that Gray appears to have lost her right to practice her profession in the Show-Me State.

In early January 2012, the Clinton County Circuit Court in Plattsburg, Mo., ruled that it can and will enforce a state law that forbids any non-veterinarian to accept payment for providing basic animal husbandry services.  The judgment allowed Gray, a young woman with eight years’ training and experience at removing sharp enamel points from horses’ teeth, to continue assisting Missouri’s animal owners—but if she gets paid for her efforts, she will be fined and possibly sent to jail.  The Freedom Center of Missouri, which represents Gray, had argued that the U.S. and Missouri Constitutions protect a citizen’s right to earn a living providing basic animal husbandry services.

Now, fast forward to present.  According to the Center‘s Dave Roland, the Missouri’s Western District Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the state can make it a criminal offense for non-veterinarians to provide basic animal husbandry services to Missouri’s livestock owners.

Noting that the Missouri Veterinary Medical Board had threatened criminal prosecution against a wide range of animal husbandry workers, including those engaged in such common, basic tasks as castrating or dehorning cattle, Roland explained, the court ruled the government may impose criminal penalties if these non-veterinarian workers are paid for their labor, despite long-recognized constitutional rights to earn a living in a common occupation and to enjoy the gains of one’s industry.

The decision came despite the fact that non-veterinarians have performed this task for hundreds of years in order to improve horses’ comfort and ability to perform for their owners.

“The court’s ruling effectively strips the right to enjoy the gains of your own industry clean out of the Missouri Constitution,” Roland said.  “What good is a constitutional right if the government can simply declare that it no longer applies?”

Gray was baffled by the court’s decision.

“I’m still trying to wrap my head around it,” she said.  “I’m helping horses and horse owners, not hurting them.  The court seemed to confirm that literally anyone is lawfully permitted to do this kind of work and that it is the sort of ‘industry’ addressed in the Missouri Constitution.  So why is it a criminal offense if a grateful horse owner pays me for doing that work?  It just doesn’t make sense.”

The appellate opinion also stated that while the work itself might be legal, it would be illegal for Gray to tell anyone else about her skills – despite the fact that this issue was not raised as part of the appeal.  The trial court had concluded that the government was not seeking to prevent Gray from sharing any information about her knowledge and ability, and the trial court expressly declined to include any such prohibition in its injunction.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has made abundantly clear that the government has no power to prevent citizens from sharing truthful information,” Roland explained.  “Brooke is very good at what she does and she has every right to tell other people about it, especially when the work that she’s talking about is perfectly legal.”

The Freedom Center of Missouri intends to seek further judicial review of Gray’s case.

“Missouri is home to thousands of workers who have for decades safely and affordably helped farmers and ranchers manage their livestock,” Roland said.  “Their services are essential to this state’s animal agriculture industry and both our state and federal constitutions guarantee these folks the right to get paid for their work.  We’re going to keep fighting to make sure that those constitutional guarantees have real meaning.”

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About BobMcCarty

A native of Enid, Oklahoma, Bob McCarty graduated from Oklahoma State University with a degree in journalism in 1984. During the next two decades, he served stints as an Air Force public affairs officer, a political campaign manager, a technology sales consultant and a public relations professional. Today, Bob spends most of his time researching topics, writing about them and publishing those writings. When he’s not writing online, he’s working as an author. Bob’s first published book, Three Days In August: A U.S. Army Special Forces Soldier’s Fight For Military Justice (October 2011), chronicles the life story and wrongful conviction of Sgt. 1st Class Kelly A. Stewart, a highly-decorated Green Beret combat veteran. In his second book, THE CLAPPER MEMO (May 2013), Bob connects the dots between a memo signed by James R. Clapper Jr. — the man now serving as our nation’s top intelligence official — and the deaths of dozens of Americans in Afghanistan at the hands of our so-called Afghan “allies” wearing the uniforms of their nation’s military, police and security forces. Bob is married, has three sons and lives in the St. Louis area. Bob is available for media and blogger interviews. Simply drop a comment here, leaving your name, organization, phone number, e-mail address and area of interest. He’ll try to respond as soon as possible.

4 thoughts on “Missouri Appeals Court Rules Against Floating Horse Teeth

  1. I do not understand how you are avoiding the fact that Mrs. Gray was using dangerous sedatives to sedate the horses she was working on. I varified with Lloyd Labs in Iowa, a producer of Xylazine, the sedative Mrs. Gray used many times can only be sold to veterinarians. This means a veterinarian was diverting this dangerous sedative to her or she was obtaining it illegally through a secondary market. Her source was not discoverred. The vial of xylazine and needles and syringes found in the trash at a stable was not able to be traced to a veterinarian. You can not use the equipment she used without sedation. She is a non-veterinarian using a drug that is only to be dispensed and injected by veterinarians (please check the label). This is endangering the animal. Would you have a non-anesthatist sedating your child for any surgical procedure? Using the equipment that Mrs. Gray used in not simple animal husbandry. Maybe the old floating system I grew up with is considerred simple but the procedure she was performing was not and is not simple. It is a major dental procedure with potential for numerous complications that Mrs. Gray is not qualified to treat. The mouth can be a source of disease for every organ in the body thus the potential for prescription medication may be needed. Again, Mrs. Gray can not dispense that needed medication and therefore is not qualified to practice this technique on her own.

    I am a veterinarian that owns horses. I have not practiced equine medicine for 20 years and when I have serious problems I have my equine veterinarian out to work on my horses. I did have my 32 year old gelding have the procudure the Mrs. Gray used done on him. We did sedate him with a safer sedative than xylazine. In observing my colleague and asking him about the continuing education he takes to know aobut the equine mouth and teeth I was impressed and pleased to know he was qualified medically and surgically. I also observed that this is not basic animal husbandry.

    Dr. Kovac

  2. Respectfully, Dr. Kovac, it appears that you do not understand the legal questions presented by this case, nor do you understand the trial court’s findings of fact.

    The unlawful use of drugs is a completely separate offense, and one that was neither leveled – nor proven – against Brooke Gray in this case. In fact, the evidence at trial showed that she relies on licensed veterinarians (including the official veterinarian for the Kansas City Mounted Police, among others) to sedate horses that she works with. And, merely to correct your incorrect statement regarding the legality of the use of Xylazine, I’ll point out that it is perfectly legal for a non-veterinarian to use the drug if given permission by a licensed veterinarian. As you said, check the label.

    Rather, the government’s argument in this case has always been that it is illegal to get paid to float teeth. Not to do the work, mind you, because the law allows literally ANYONE to float teeth, regardless of training or the tools they choose to use. It’s only unlawful for a non-veterinarian if they get paid. If you’re concerned about the health and safety of horses, why does the law allow Brooke Gray or anyone else to do the work? The short answer is that the restriction on getting paid for this lawful work has everything to do with protecting vets from economic competition, and NOTHING to do with “protecting” horses from these trusted service providers.

    I’d also be interested to know the basis of your opinion that non-veterinarians are unqualified to float teeth. Do you have personal knowledge of a lay teeth floater injuring horses while floating their teeth? Because NONE of the government’s expert witnesses (who had, combined, many decades of experience) could name even ONE example they had personally observed in which a lay floater had injured a horse while floating its teeth. The ONLY identifiable person that anyone at trial could name who had injured a horse while attempting to float its teeth… was Dr. David Leighr, the very licensed veterinarian who filed the complaint against Brooke Gray. How’s that for irony?

    The fact of the matter is that many lay floaters are extremely well-trained because they’ve attended special schools that focus entirely on teeth floating. There they spend weeks learning the practice and working with dozens of horses under the careful supervision of both veterinarian and non-veterinarian instructors. Once they complete a course, many of these students go on to apprentice for several months, honing their skills under the tutelage of extremely experienced floaters. This explains why (as is reflected in a 1998 USDA study) horseracing operations rely heavily on non-veterinarian teeth floaters – because the non-vets tend to be better at this job and the results are reflected in the horses’ performance.

    Compare the lay floaters’ training with the training offered at veterinary school. One of the state’s expert witnesses was a professor at the University of Missouri’s Vet School, and he testified that out of 3400 classroom hours of training, only one half-hour was spent on floating horses’ teeth. Every single veterinarian witness at trial – including all the state’s experts! – testified that NO ONE leaves vet school prepared to safely float horses’ teeth without supervision.

    Every veterinarian witness who has personally observed Brooke Gray’s work said that she does an exemplary job – and one of those vets not only refers her own clients to Gray when their horses’ teeth need floating, the vet relies on Gray to float the vet’s own horses’ teeth! The vets also testified that Brooke recognizes when a horse has problems beyond her skill and that she never hesitates to refer such problems to a veterinarian capable of addressing them.

    To be certain, these are facts, established under oath. If you have some personal experience that suggests that Brooke Gray is anything other than a skilled horse teeth floater with an impeccable safety record and a satisfied group of horse owners eager for her assistance, you probably should have talked to the Attorney General’s office prior to trial because the best they could come up with were veterinarians who had never observed an injury caused by Gray or any other non-veterinarian floater.

  3. With all due respect Mr. Roland, while the legality of her actions are at question, the real and most important issue is the safety of the animal. I am both an attorney and a physician, and own multiple horses. I love the industry and the individuals in this industry. However, while you are clearly focused on her right to earn a living, the focus is, and should remain, the rights and protection of the animal. Just because she has watched this done several times, and then suddenly decided she was qualified to start doing it, does NOT make it right. Would you let a lay person do a dental procedure on your child just because they declared they could? I would hope your answer is a resounding NO! Further, would you let a lay person sedate a loved one because they self-proclaimed they knew how and had done it for several years? HELL TO THE NO! A few messed up teeth might not be a big deal to you, but a dead horse certainly is.

    We used to pour booze over a wound and in the mouth of the patient before taking out a bullet too. We clearly have moved beyond that. However, at that time in history, it was the only option available in the field. Can we still do that now? Sure, we “can”, but there would be some serious explaining to do and it better be an absolute, no options available, life-saving situation. The standard of care has evolved. This is the 21st Century now and we have trained licensed professionals to perform medical and dental procedures on humans AND our equine friends. Our government, of the people and for the people, has required that. We aren’t talking about apprenticing a plumber here. These are living breathing beings. The standard of care for our equine friends should be nothing less than it is for the humans who love them. Apparently the law, created by our nation’s own citizens, believes the same. Why should our animals be subjected to any lesser standard of care just because someone is fighting for their right to do a job they never expended the time, money, energy or determination to pursue?? If she wanted to practice equine dentistry, then she should have gone to school to obtain the proper education and training to do so safely as a legitimately licensed professional. There is always someone looking for a quick fix to the money of a licensed professional without the HARD WORK and intense investment that goes into it.

    She has every right to earn a living – just not practicing veterinary dentistry!! Perhaps the solution to this is similar to what we do in human medicine. We have licensed Physician Assistants and Advanced Practice Nurse Practitioners as well as Dental Hygienists and certified Dental Assistants. That would require Ms. Gray to stop practicing as a physician, to go through the proper training and licensing or certification, and to work UNDER the direction and supervision of a DOCTOR of verterinary medicine. And, in extremely remote areas of great need, if the law permits, she could possible practice without supervision – but at least she would be formally trained, educated, and LICENSED. The purpose of licensing is to ensure proper education and training and to hold the professionals to a legal and accountable standard of care. My guess is she isn’t inerested in pursuing that. I would say she’s gottten away with pracitcing medicine without a license for over 7 years now. SHAME on her and you for not understanding the true nature of this case. It’s not about HER, it is about the ANIMAL!!

  4. Concerned Citizen,

    One would hope that an attorney and a physician would take the time to be sure they understood an issue before they presumed to expound upon it. You have plainly failed in that regard. In fact, it appears you have not even read my comment (above) responding to Dr. Kovac, or else you would have avoided putting your ignorance on full display.

    Floating teeth is a centuries-old task that veterinarians largely avoided until about twenty years ago. It is barely touched on in veterinary school, and the testimony of the government’s own expert witnesses in Brooke Gray’s case make clear that NO ONE graduates from veterinary school prepared to float horse teeth competently. Many lay floaters, including Brooke Gray, dedicate months (and sometimes years) studying and training with an exclusive focus on teeth floating before embarking on their careers. The evidence in this case showed that lay floaters routinely provide a higher quality of work than is provided by veterinarians who attempt this task – and, in fact, the complaint against Brooke Gray (who the record shows has a perfect safety record and the full confidence of numerous licensed veterinarians) was filed by a licensed vet who proved to be the ONLY identifiable person to have actually injured a horse while attempting to float its teeth. And, by his own admission, he’d actually injured several. Any fair-minded person looking at the evidence in this case would have to conclude that the physical well-being of the horses (as well as the financial well-being of their owners) is much better served if the owners are able to choose for themselves who will serve their horses in this capacity.

    You also plainly do not understand the relevant constitutional provisions applicable to this case. The government cannot create whatever barriers it wants to prevent someone from practicing an occupation – the restriction has to be related to the government’s purported interest in imposing those barriers. Thus, to require someone to obtain a license before they may get paid for floating horses’ teeth, at a bare minimum the education required for the license should teach one how to float horses’ teeth. There are now at least a half-dozen federal cases striking down occupational licensing requirements because the educational elements of those requirements were not sufficiently connected to the work by which the plaintiffs wished to earn a living. The two most relevant cases dealt with Boards of Cosmetology insisting that African hair braiders could not earn any money unless they obtained cosmetology licenses – even though only 6%-10% of the required curriculum had ANYTHING to do with African-style hair braiding. The courts struck down those laws because it is simply irrational to force someone to dedicate the time and resources necessary to obtain a license that does not substantially teach them how to perform the work they want to do. As I pointed out above, only a fraction of a fraction of ONE PERCENT of veterinary school addresses equine dentistry, and only ONE-SIXTH of THAT addresses floating teeth. EVERYONE agrees that veterinary school does not prepare graduates to float teeth competently. Under such circumstances, it is fundamentally irrational to require someone to obtain a veterinarian’s license before they can get paid to do work that they could already lawfully do for free – especially when that person actually HAS undergone extensive training in the practice of teeth floating.

    To sum up: If your argument is that the government should be able to impose whatever restrictions it wants, and that it has no obligation to see that those restrictions make sense or prepare one to perform the work one intends to do, then you are certainly justified in saying that Brooke Gray has no right to complain about being treated as a criminal. But you can only take that position if you are willing to throw the U.S. and Missouri Constitutions out the window. Given that, as an officer of the court, you swore an oath to uphold at least the U.S. Constitution (and the Missouri Constitution as well, if you’re licensed in Missouri), that shouldn’t really be an option.

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