Despite producing some of the most heartless, insensitive and tacky advertising campaigns, I’m glad that the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) group is around. In a world where baby seals are still clubbed to death and rabbits are injected in the eyeballs, PETA’s radicalism keeps animal abuse issues in the public eye.
So I’m wondering, was I in any way exploiting dozens of lovable chin chins when I recently plunged my feet in their tank for a fish pedicure?
Nope, says Scott Dowd, a freshwater biologist at Boston’s New England Aquarium. These kind of fish would normally eat dead skin (of other fish) in the wild and are not in any danger of overeating.
“They’re pretty much on an all-protein Atkins Diet,” he told me during an interview for a Boston Herald story. “Fish bellies can expand quite a bit. Their digestive systems process the best stuff first. If new food comes along, they poop out the partially digested food to make room for the new food.”
Dowd maintains “there is nothing cruel or inhumane about using these fish in this way.”
“These fish are only limited by the amount of people willing to let themselves be grazed,” he says. “And it’s fair to say that if these fish are the lifeblood of a spa operation, then the owners will do everything they can to take care of them.”
I once experienced a similar revelation while on an extended dogsledding expedition with the Voyageur Outward Bound School in Minnesota.
My initial instincts told me that chaining dogs to hundreds of pounds of camping equipment was pretty heartless stuff. Until I met these dogs. They are like triathletes who feel unfulfilled if they are not pulling 15 times their weight. Trying to walk them on a leash posed significant challenges to avoid being dragged around like a rag doll.
And the law of the dogsledders is that the dogs always eat first.
PETA, of course, remains unconvinced. They’re not fans of leashes — and it’s only a matter of time before they start harnessing leather straps on random pedestrians to make their point (followed by the typical post-media buzz PETA apology).
The organization also considers fish tanks and aquariums to be a “death sentence” for the fish. That’s whether or not the fish are working as pedicurists or just hanging out.
ANIMAL RIGHTS POSTSCRIPT:The fact that the Rev. Al Sharpton, the shameless racial riot inciter, is endorsing PETA’s “Kentucky Fried Cruelty” campaign does not boost its credibility. They should stick with Pamela Anderson and Elizabeth Berkley’s lettuce bras.
Like heartwarming stories about animals who don’t consider dead skin to be a delicacy? Experience our “Dramatic sloth rescue in parking lot paradise.”
Love to contemplate the political clout of the nail care industry? Scrutinize our investigative report, “Did pro-Obama manicures sway the 2008 election?” or review the foreign impact: “The mysterious connection between Soviet spies and nail polish.”
What’s it like to be lunch? Read the gripping first-person account, “My First Fish Pedicure,” a story that may force you to re-evaluate your relationship with your feet — and the people you love the most.