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Dog Fight : Groomers Protest State Curbs on Dental Cleaning


SACRAMENTO — As a remarkably well-behaved group of dogs looked on, groomers and their supporters gathered on the Capitol steps Monday to protest new state regulations that would allow only professional veterinarians or their technicians to clean animals' teeth.

The new regulations, promulgated by the Board of Examiners in Veterinary Medicine, will take effect in three weeks and will allow non-veterinarians to use only such devices as "doggy tooth brushes," while the use of metal scrapers would be limited to vets and their assistants. The groomers say this would take them out of the tooth-cleaning business.

A dozen or so canines, ranging in size from Yorkshire terriers to golden retrievers, listened quietly as Assemblyman Bruce Bronzan (D-Fresno) denounced the proposed rules as "nothing more than a special-interest grab at a monopoly in a particular market that should not be tolerated."

Bronzan has introduced legislation that would undo the veterinary board's rules.

This is the latest skirmish in a bureaucratic struggle that has continued for more than two years, involving several state agencies, a Superior Court judge, various lawyers and lobbyists and even the governor's office.

The Board of Examiners in Veterinary Medicine contends that only veterinarians are able to clean animal teeth properly (though the work is usually done by a technician working under a vet's supervision).

Vets usually anesthetize the animal to work below the gum line, and charge $60 to $100 for a service that includes cleaning, polishing and an oral examination.

Dog groomers claim that they can do just as good a cleaning job, without anesthetic, charging $20 to $40. "Dozens and dozens of animals have died as a result of anesthesia" for tooth cleaning, said Cindy Collins, a Costa Mesa groomer.

But Gary Hill, executive officer for the Board of Examiners in Veterinary Medicine, said in an interview, "Deaths of animals caused by anesthesia are much less than those caused by peridontal disease."

A year ago, the veterinary board approved similar rules but they were vetoed by Michael A. Kelley, director of the state Department of Consumer Affairs, who said they would "preclude the public from being able to obtain a legitimate service at an affordable cost."

This year, after meeting with Gov. George Deukmejian and members of the veterinary board, Kelley withdrew his opposition. "I decided to defer to the professional opinion of the five veterinarians on the board," Kelley said Monday.

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