Oklahoma Senate votes take teeth out of law on horse dentists

BY JULIE BISBEE Modified: May 15, 2009 at 4:20 am •  Published: May 15, 2009
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Lawmakers voted to decrease the penalty for the unlicensed practice of veterinary medicine on Thursday, going back on a law last session that made it a felony to do a number of procedures, including filing down a horse’s teeth.

The Senate passed Senate Bill 452 in a vote of 36-8. It now goes back to the House.

Opponents of the bill said the unauthorized practice of medicine needs to be a felony to help prevent drugs used in veterinary medicine from being sold or put in the wrong hands. Supporters of the bill say the penalty was extreme and has limited livestock owners.

The author of the bill, Sen. Mike Schulz, R-Altus, said additional study will be done on the unauthorized practice of veterinary medicine in the interim. Schulz said he proposed changing the penalty after a compromise could not be reached between the veterinary community and the horse community. Last session, lawmakers passed a bill making it a felony to practice veterinary medicine without a license. The bill took effect Nov. 1.

Horses’ teeth continually grow and need to be filed so the animals can chew their food properly. At times, horse floaters — those who file the teeth — work independently and use drugs to sedate the horses. Many get the drugs from veterinarians, who write a prescription. In some cases, drugs have been sold or used for other purposes.

Since equine dentists are not licensed, there is no oversight for their handling of the drugs, said Cathy Kirkpatrick, executive director of the Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners.

"This is about the drugs,” she said.



BACKGROUND
ONE CASE

Bobby Griswold, a well-known Oklahoma rodeo star, was the first person to be arrested and charged with a felony of doing dental work on horses without a veterinary license. It has been illegal to practice equine dentistry without a veterinary license since 1990. However, the violation was only a misdemeanor and rarely prosecuted, Kirkpatrick said.

In the Griswold case, the board had sent numerous letters to Griswold asking him to stop filing horses’ teeth. During an undercover investigation, Griswold was arrested. His case is pending in Oklahoma County. Scott Rowland, first assistant district attorney, said the possible change in the law won’t delay the case.

"What effect it has remains to be seen,” Rowland said.

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