Physical therapists could help animals in proposed bill

Current law requires a veterinarian to be present for animals’ physical therapy.
Wednesday, March 10, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:32 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — An effort to help pets brought a former manager of the St. Louis Cardinals to a committee of Missouri legislators Tuesday.

Whitey Herzog, who led the Cardinals to a World Series championship in 1982, testified in favor of a bill that would let licensed physical therapists provide rehabilitation to animals without requiring a veterinarian be present.

The issue has resurfaced this session after being vetoed as part of a broader agriculture bill by the governor last year.

The bill and Herzog’s appearance in the Capitol were prompted by the case of Gene Gieselmann — the Cardinals’ head trainer for 29 years who started a state-of-the-art animal rehabilitation facility after he retired.

Gieselmann closed his facility a year later after the state’s veterinary licensing board ruled that a licensed veterinarian had to be present at the facility.

“I saw him (Gene Gieselmann) get into this business for animal rehab, and I almost saw him go bankrupt and lose his home, everything else because of a rule that I consider is not a common-sense rule,” Herzog said to the House Professional Licensing Committee. “But I don’t understand: Why does a veterinarian have to be readily available on the premises 24 hours a day?”

The bill’s sponsor — Rep. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield — said her bill does not totally exclude veterinarian involvement.

“We are saying that docs don’t have to physically be on standard, but we are asking that above what humans require that the docs have to be able to be immediately contacted electronically by phone, by Net or something.”

Representing the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association, Ava Frick, a veterinary surgeon who also provides rehabilitation program for animals, was the lone person who testified against the bill.

She said that physical therapists in Missouri are only allowed to practice on humans, according the current law.

“It doesn’t give them the flexibility to practice on animals,” Frick said.

She also said that physical therapist training is limited to human subjects.

“Who is going to represent the public if there is an animal who has been neglected in its treatment of physical therapy?” Frick asked the committee. “This is the reason that, up until this point, veterinarians have had to been on the premises because in this medical field, there is nobody who was legally responsible because a physical therapist really are not even supposed to, within their license, do physical therapy on animals.”

The committee took no immediate vote on the measure.

A similar Senate bill is pending in the Senate Agriculture Committee.

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