The Columbian | Friday, January 26, 2007 | By KATHIE DURBIN Columbian staff writer

OLYMPIA — Vaughn Brown traveled from Vancouver to a Washington Senate hearing room Thursday to ask lawmakers for a little help becoming a self-sufficient member of society.

He dressed in a smart navy jacket and yellow tie. He brought his guide dog, Sprocket, copies of his testimony and a textbook on horse anatomy five volumes thick. He told members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Rural Economic Development that he’d paid out of his own pocket to get the textbook translated — into Braille.

Despite the fact that he is both blind and deaf, the young man, who uses coch-lear implants, spoke clearly. If he was nervous, he didn’t show it.

Brown, a 19-year-old student at the Washington State School for the Blind, dreams of making his living as an animal massage therapist. He’s been massaging horses for years — for free. He is certified in equine massage by a nationally accredited program. He has been a rider since the age of 3.

To earn a living as an animal massage therapist under Washington law, however, he would have to first obtain a license as a human massage therapist, which requires 500 hours of training, and then take an additional 100 hours of training in animal massage.

Not only isn’t that fair, he said, it makes no sense. And Washington is one of only two states that require it.

“I feel that animal massage and human massage are two very different fields,” Brown said as he sat at the witness table with Sprocket, a leggy 18-month-old golden retriever, curled up underneath. “The anatomy of a two-legged human is far different from a four-legged animal.

“Illnesses and diseases addressed in a human massage course are, for the most part, not relevant to animals. Animal massage therapy is meant to loosen muscles and ease discomfort.”

Massage is used by horse trainers to help animals compete in equestrian events and by owners to bond with their horses, he said.

“As a deaf and blind adult, I am hoping to grow my equine massage business and develop my skills in horse training in order to be financially self-sufficient and not rely on government assistance,” he said.

What brought Vaughn Brown to Olympia was a chance encounter with state Sen. Dale Brandland. The Bellingham Republican was touring the School for the Blind in Vancouver last year when he passed by a music room and heard someone playing the drums. He stepped inside and met Vaughn Brown, who among his other talents is a drummer in the school band.

“He asked me, ‘I wonder if you could help me with a bill,'” Brandland said. The senator did some research and learned that a bill to change the certification requirements had been introduced previously but had failed to pass.

Brandland revived that bill as Senate Bill 5403 and introduced it last week. It would allow someone who wants to make a living practicing animal massage to obtain certification from the Department of Health by taking training as prescribed by department rules.

But he let Vaughn Brown do the talking Thursday.

School for the Blind Principal Craig Meador and two classmates, Chelsea Armstrong and Stephanie Bair, accompanied Brown to Olympia.

“He’s a phenomenal kid,” Meador said. “How he’s managed to do it all, I don’t know.”

Brown himself had an answer to that as he waited to testify: “My family always told me to do what I love to do.”