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Home / News / Local / Court to horse dentist: You must be licensed to get paid

Court to horse dentist: You must be licensed to get paid

A state judge cited a court decision from 1900 in ruling that the professional licensing requirement is constitutional and covers Brooke Gray, who files horses' teeth. File photo by Matt Frye

A state judge ruled that a woman who cares for horses’ teeth isn’t allowed to charge for her work because she lacks a veterinary license. But the woman’s lawyer says he will appeal the judgment.

Brooke Gray had operated B&B Equine Dentistry in Holt and made her living “floating” horses’ teeth. The procedure involves filing down the sharp points on a horse’s teeth to keep the animal healthy.

The sharp edges can poke the horse’s cheek and make it hard for the animal to chew. But if you miss a critical spot, a sharp tooth could grow long enough to puncture a horse’s artery and cause severe bleeding.

The state Veterinary Medical Board pursued — and, late last month, won — an injunction to keep Gray from charging people to smooth down their horses’ teeth. Her attorney, Dave Roland, of the Freedom Center of Missouri, says Gray still floats horses’ teeth but no longer gets paid for it. Rather, she has found other ways to earn money, he said, including cleaning out animal stalls.

Roland said he’s still determining how many issues to raise on appeal in hopes of focusing his arguments and not overwhelming the higher court.

But there are two main points he plans to pursue. First, he argues the veterinary licensing law violates Gray’s federal due-process rights by infringing on her ability to earn a living.

“The government has to establish there’s a legitimate interest in prohibiting people from getting paid for services they otherwise could provide,” he said.

Secondly, he argues the trial court ignored a 1912 precedent interpreting a state constitutional provision that people have the right to enjoy the gains of their industry. In that case, Moler v. Whisman, the court upheld a state board’s authority to regulate barbers, but also said prohibiting an apprentice or the mentor from charging customers to cut hair wasn’t acceptable, he explained.

Clinton County Circuit Judge Thomas Chapman pointed to a 1900 decision, City of St. Louis v. McCann, that he said found a professional licensing requirement didn’t violate the constitutional right to enjoy the gains of a chosen industry.

The judge in his Dec. 21 ruling said the state has a legitimate interest in ensuring that people in certain professions are properly trained, qualified and can be held accountable for their actions.

“The state has a legitimate purpose in promoting sound animal husbandry,” he wrote.

Addressing the woman’s equal-protection claim that those who perform other tasks such as horseshoeing aren’t being taken to court, he said if any rational basis can be found, a court won’t overturn a law, and one can be found here.

The judge also wrote that the defendant raised a good point about the costs to require only veterinarians to perform such services, but said that’s an issue for legislators to consider.

“Defendant offered sound evidence that requiring vet licensure is not necessarily the best means to ensure floating is done well, or affordably — but it is not up to the court to determine the best means to serve that legitimate state interest,” he said in his ruling.

Nanci Gonder, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, which represented the veterinary board in the case, declined to comment on the ruling. She said she believes Gray’s case marks the only time the board has pursued an injunction against a horse dentist who’s not a vet.

As the legal process continues, Gray also will continue pushing for a change in state law to allow nonveterinarians to perform horse teeth floating, which her court case argues isn’t that different from animal husbandry tasks such as branding cattle.  A bill to remove her profession from the veterinary license requirement was filed last year, but a legislative committee never held a hearing on it.

The case is Missouri Veterinary Medical Board v. Brooke Rene Gray and B&B Equine Dentistry, 10CN-CV00842.