Celeste Kelly, a massage therapist, gives a massage to one of her horse clients. Photo Courtesy of the Institute for Justice.

By practicing animal massage, a profession she loved and in which she had been trained, Grace Granatelli of Scottsdale, Arizona, was breaking the law.

More than three years ago, in 2013, Granatelli received a cease-and-desist letter regarding her canine massage practice, Pawsitive Touch. State law dictated that she was prohibited from massaging animals unless she also had a license to practice veterinary medicine—a credential that generally takes four years to earn, at a cost of $150,000 or more—or practiced animal massage only under the direct supervision of a licensed veterinarian.

Until she received notice she was in violation of the law, “They never really enforced it,” said Granatelli. For most practitioners in Arizona, the known lack of enforcement made it possible for equine, canine and other animal massage therapists to practice anyway.

Faced with the threat of prosecution, fines and jail time, Granatelli felt she had no choice but to cease practicing animal massage. “I didn’t work for three years,” she said.

Deprived of a way to make a living in her chosen profession, she then joined a lawsuit being brought against the state’s veterinary board, along with Celeste Kelly and Stacey Kollman, both equine massage therapists.

In March, the three women and all other animal massage therapists in Arizona won a victory when this suit was settled, allowing them to practice legally.

Now, animal massage therapists can “do the work they were trained to do—without having to face the enormous obstacle of getting a veterinary license,” said the women’s attorney, Diana Simpson. “We’re very excited that we have a victory now.”



The Lawsuit

As reported by MASSAGE Magazine in March of 2014, Granatelli was contacted by Institute for Justice attorney Simpson, who was already handling a lawsuit brought by Kelly, who had also received a cease-and-desist notice. Kollman was also a plaintiff, though she had not personally had a complaint lodged against her for practicing illegally.

The lawsuit sought to make it legal in Arizona for licensed animal massage therapists to practice without veterinary medical training or veterinarian supervision, in much the same way massage therapists for humans may practice without having a medical degree or the supervision of a physician.

Simpson’s original complaint, filed by the Institute for Justice, stated: “This civil rights lawsuit seeks to vindicate the constitutional right of plaintiffs Celeste Kelly, Grace Granatelli and Stacey Kollman to earn an honest living in the occupation of their choice, free from arbitrary, excessive and unreasonable government regulations.”



Animal Massage Therapy

Massage is a treatment that complements traditional health care, and is not meant as a replacement for the services of a veterinarian.

“It wasn’t like I was taking business away from [veterinarians],” Granatelli said. Massage for animals is not typically taught in veterinary school; and at 60 to 90 minutes per session, is not something the average veterinarian has the time to perform.

“There’s a lack of knowledge about animal massage,” added Simpson. Prior to the lawsuit, Simpson said, most procedures done to animals were legally lumped together as veterinary medicine, without any differentiation for procedures such as massage therapy.

While little formal research has been done about the effects of massage on animals, anecdotal evidence suggests it has many of the same benefits for animals as it does for humans. Decreased stress, pain relief, improved digestion and increase in range of motion have been observed in equine, canine and other animals post-massage, notes the website of the Institute for Integrative Healthcare.

Back when she started, Granatelli said, it was possible for practitioners to launch animal massage businesses despite a very small amount of specialized training.

“People were going to a weekend seminar,” she said. Now, massage for horses and other animals is its own specialty, though laws dictating its practice vary state by state.


The Settlement

In settling the suit, the Arizona State Veterinary Medical Board agreed, as detailed in the case’s official settlement document, “to refrain from (1) requiring any license from the Board for the practice of animal massage as described herein; (2) requiring animal massage be done only under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian; (3) imposing fines and/or civil penalties regarding animal massage; (4) pursuing criminal penalties regarding animal massage; (5) pursuing injunctions regarding animal massage; (6) mailing letters to unlicensed animal massage practitioners threatening fines and/or criminal penalties regarding animal massage; or (7) otherwise subjecting animal massage practitioners who practice animal massage as described herein, including Plaintiffs, to regulation for engaging in the practice of animal massage without a license from the Board, operating a legitimate animal massage business, or employing or being employed as an animal massage practitioner when they are practicing animal massage in the manner described herein unless there is a legislative change.”

As of press time, the Arizona State Veterinary Medical Board has not responded to MASSAGE Magazine’s request for a comment on the outcome of this case.



Animal Massage Therapists Look to the Future

Since the settlement, Granatelli has been contacting former clients and letting them know the barrier to her practice has been lifted, and her client list has been increasing in length. She says she enjoys “being able to help animals, and help people through helping their animals.”

And after three years away from the career she loves, “It was really nice to get back to working on a dog,” she said.


allisonAbout the Author

Allison Payne is a freelance writer and editor based in central Florida. She has written many articles for MASSAGE Magazine and, including “Reconnecting with Life: The Power of Healthy Touch in Addiction Recovery” (December 2016) and “Sitting or Standing, Office Workers Need Massage” (Mar. 23, 2016).