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animal farm
putting the beasts to work
by lucy lediaev

Fish pedicures are creating something of a splash in the DC area…

It was just a few years ago that I splurged and had my first pedicure. Now, when I’m tired and feeling just a bit self-indulgent, I visit a local nail salon and get both a pedicure and a manicure. Here in Southern California, virtually every nail salon is owned and operated by Vietnamese immigrants and staffed by Vietnamese manicurists who laugh and chatter while they work—especially if the (usually) male manager is away from the salon.

Now, a salon in Virginia in the Washington, D.C., has installed a novel option for customers who want callus removal as part of a pedicure. Tiny “doctor fish” (or Garra Ruffa) are placed in warm foot baths where they nibble happily on customers’ feet. Apparently, these toothless fish, for lack of other food, are content to nibble on the dead skin on patrons’ feet. Originally, the salon owner placed the fish in communal tiled pools, but the State of Virginia stopped the practice because of concerns about sanitation. Now approximately 100 fish are put into individual warm water foot baths.The other problem with the communal pools was that the fish tended to flock to customers who had the flakiest feet—embarrassing them and leaving the rest of the clients with their calluses intact.

Although, somewhat reticent initially, apparently about 5,000 people in the D.C. area have had their feet doctored by some Garra Ruffa. Most report a tickling or tingling sensation as the fish effectively removed dry and dead skin from their feet.

Interestingly, the owner of the salon originally came up with the idea of Garra Ruffa, used in Turkey and some Asian countries for pedicures, to address state concerns about the use of razors to remove calluses. The Virginia authorities who regulate pedicures believed that razors were unsanitary.

Of course, the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has now gotten into the act. They are protesting the potential harm to the fish used this way. Apparently, they are concerned that the fish may be harmed by eating the human flesh, which may be infected with bacteria or other microbes. They are also concerned about the potential for overheating the fish, resulting in their demise. So, instead of worrying about the damage to human feet by unsanitary and dangerous razors, they are concerned about harm to these tiny fish.

I personally am a bit put off by the thought of putting my feet into a warm water bath where fish are pooping excrement from consuming meals consisting of someone else’s skin infected with athlete’s foot or other skin diseases. And, the fish would not chatter happily as they nibble on my feet.

Of course, my imagination has begun to stir and I’m wondering if we could put some of our other animal friends to work. I’ve always thought that my two cats should be able to use their tails to dust, rather than leave their fur behind on everything. Perhaps we could use catfish to clean our toilets. In India, I’m told, it’s not uncommon to let hogs clean up under the outhouses (maybe that’s why there are so many vegetarians in India!).

Goats are already trimming the brush on the hillsides here in SoCal as a fire prevention tactic. Maybe their sheep relatives could be used to clear a yard before the planting of sod or a vegetable garden. I wonder if we could train moles and gophers to pull only weeds from the garden. And, perhaps instead of digging up the flower garden, we could persuade Rover to dig up a plot for our vegetable garden.

Carrier pigeons can carry messages and return home without a map; maybe we could get whales or dolphins to carry mail to island locations—saving fossil fuel while they are at it. My dad rode to high school on a mule; maybe mules and horses could both trim the lawn and provide transportation for short jaunts between home and school or home and shopping. They’d need less parking space at the mall, but might have housing problems in most urban neighborhoods. Maybe neighborhood livery stables would solve the problem.

I have to think about this more. Maybe we can solve all sorts of domestic and transportation problems by exploiting our animal friends. I always wanted to have some goats and a donkey!


A freelance writer and full-time grandma, Lucy Lediaev retired recently from a position as web master, tech writer, and copy writer in a biotech firm. She is enjoying retirment more than she ever dreamed and is now writing about topics that are, for the most part, interesting and fun. She also has time to pursue some of her long-time interests, such as crafts, reading, sewing, baking, cooking, and the like.

more about lucy lediaev


from us to you
our annual holiday letter
by lucy lediaev
topic: humor
published: 12.3.07


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