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Dog Rehabilitation: Your choice is in jeopardy

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As a certified professional dog trainer, I find Karen Atlas of HydroPaws, an animal rehabilitation and performance center, amazing. Karen is a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist (CCRT) and an experienced and licensed human Physical Therapist (PT), as well. Along with her work as Director of Rehabilitation at HydroPaws, Karen is the President of the California Association of Animal Physical Therapists, and the CAAPT is on a mission.
CAAPT seeks toplay a leading role in making recommendations to lawmakers on how to protect consumers while keeping access open for rehab services by allowing humans to choose qualified, safe, and competent non-vet rehabilitation therapists for their pets.

Sophie Laser PicCAAPT’s tagline says it all: “We exist to protect your right to choose your own qualified non-vet rehabilitation therapist and to ensure consumer protection through mandatory educational standards for all who practice in the specialty field of animal rehabilitation.”

Why is this so important? Here are a few reasons:
  • The California Veterinary Medical Board (CVMB) has a history of taking prior action which would have resulted in the loss of consumer choice of qualified non-vet practitioners.
  • The CVMB has indicated they will continue their efforts to mandate direct supervision of all persons, including qualified licensed physical therapists with advanced training in animal rehab, under the premise of “consumer protection and safety.”
  • The CVMB’s approach, if anything like their attempt in 2015, will likely drive up costs, limit consumer access to qualified professionals, and potentially reduce the quality of services provided to pets since, historically, the CVMB has not included any minimum education standards in this specialty niche of animal healthcare. It is important to know that rehabilitation is not currently mandated or even part of most veterinary curricula, so competency of the veterinarians themselves is not ensured, which could pose risks of harm to animals.
I think you’ll agree with me when I say I find being able to make health care decisions for my pets is of extreme importance. I want choice.


Of course, the issue is complex and layered. In an interview, Karen reduced the issue to its basic points, illustrating the importance of it.
Q: How does your situation compare to the world of human medicine — primary physicians and their relationship with PTs?
A: It parallels quite nicely with the human medical model, except that MDs are accustomed to working in collaboration with other allied healthcare professionals, while veterinarians are not. So it is taking quite a bit of education to have veterinarians fully understand our scope of practice, what we are trained to do, and how to incorporate our work for the benefit of our mutual patients. In my community, we have a fabulous, collaborative network of veterinarians. They understand my unique skill set and our working relationships are founded in mutual respect for one another’s expertise. The benefits of an improved quality of life for our mutual patients are clearly seen when this spirit of true collaboration exists between the two professions.
Q: I see it as doctors refer, but PTs work independently. I don’t need to see my PT out of my doctor’s office.
A: Correct. In the human medical model, it used to be that a person would see a doctor, get a diagnosis, and be sent to a PT, who worked by referral but without direct supervision of that doctor. MDs are not required to be on the same premises as the PT in human practice. Animal rehabilitation should be no different. We do not feel we need a veterinarian directly supervising a properly trained and licensed PT, as that would likely increase the costs to consumers to necessitate two high level professionals on the same premises. And since there is no evidence to support that properly trained PTs pose harm to our patients, it is not reasonable to mandate that a veterinarian be on the same premises to directly supervise the PT for safety reasons. It comes down to competency. If a practitioner is able to meet certain criteria to demonstrate competency, then they should be allowed to practice in an indirect supervision format without the need for a DVM to be on the same premises. We are not proposing taking the veterinarian out of the plan of care. On the contrary, we believe the veterinarian plays a vital role in making medical diagnoses and a veterinary medical clearance or referral should be required to ensure safety of the pet.
Q: Why do we need to regulate animal rehabilitation and how can it be accomplished here in California?
A: Regulation of this emerging specialty field is necessary to ensure consumer protection and maintain safety for pets. But since this area of animal healthcare lands directly between the purview of two boards, the Physical Therapy Board (PTB) and the Veterinary Medical Board (VMB), it appears that a legislative remedy will be needed to give one of the boards the authority to oversee the professionals. Through statute, other states have successfully either added animals to their PT Practice Act or granted their VMB the authority to oversee another licensed professional (in this case, qualified PTs) to enable the board to discipline, inspect premises, or  handle consumer complaints and concerns as needed. We believe this can and should happen in California.
Q: The laws vary state by state, right?
A: Yes, other states have been very effective with their regulatory language to allow for indirect supervision of properly trained PTs, and there have been no formal complaints of harm or neglect by a properly trained PT in California (or in any state that I am aware of) that would warrant a mandate of having a veterinarian be on the same premises. So it already has been proven to be a safe and effective way to regulate. Remember, in California, there is direct access for human PTs. People can go see a PT now without having to see a doctor initially for a referral. We are NOT, however, seeking direct access for veterinary PT. We believe a vet medical clearance and/or referral is appropriate to ensure safety of the pets.
Q: What state models are being run like you want or structured like the vets want?
A: We wish to model California either after Colorado, Nevada, or Nebraska, to name a few. The leading trend is to structure PTs under INDIRECT supervision of a veterinarian, meaning a vet does NOT need to be on the same premises. An animal would need a veterinary medical clearance or referral to see a qualified PT.  
Q: How can people help the cause?
A: First, they can learn more at the California Association of Animal Physical Therapists Web site. They can like and share HydroPaws’ already viral Facebook video and follow us on Facebook at California Association of Animal Physical TherapistsAnd, of course, due to the nature of political activity, we are seeking donations of any size. We have a Go Fund Me site or checks can be made out to Animal Physical Therapy Coalition and sent to: CAAPT/APTC – ATTN: Karen Atlas, P.O. Box 4422, Santa Barbara, CA 93140. 
I.C. HydroPaws_021916In addition to my professional opinion, I’d like to say something from a dog-mom point of view. Karen and the HydroPaws team took such good care of Poncho, as they do all the animals in their care. (Poncho was the original Inquisitive Canine and he left the Earth July 2015.) HydroPaws is the rare place where the science of medicine and art of compassion are in perfect balance. In the spirit of a picture is worth a thousand words, I invite you to watch the amazing work HydroPaws did with Rocky 3, who was hit by a car.

The CAAPT’s vision under Karen’s leadership is worthy of your attention and help to ensure consumer choice of qualified practitioners in California. I hope you’ll join me in supporting the cause.

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Wanna share pics and videos of your inquisitive canine? We invite you to post on our Facebook page.

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