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Gilbert salon owner loses fish pedicure suit

A state court ruled Monday that a Gilbert spa owner does not have the right to use fish as a pedicure treatment. But it might not be the end of the legal battle.

When Cindy Vong opened a fish spa inside her nail salon in 2008, it took about a year for state regulators put a stop to the practice. The treatment used tiny toothless fish to nibble dead skin off customers' feet. 

Spa fish are popular in other parts of the world. But the Arizona Board of Cosmetology decided the fish pedicure process was unsanitary. The board said salons must disinfect all equipment used in pedicures, and the fish just can’t be disinfected.

"The board believes there is a risk that infections can happen, and transmission of bacterias and disease," said Donna Aune, who heads the state cosmetology board. "This is consumer protection."

Aune said that in with the threat of superbugs like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), it's the board's job to make sure salons are using safety procedures.

But Vong's lawyer Christina Sandefur of the Goldwater Institute says the board’s decision violated her client’s rights.

"What the board did here was violate Cindy’s right to earn an honest living. It is a constitutional right protected both by the Arizona and the United States constitutions," Sandefur said.

Sandefur says the board failed to look at the way the practice was regulated in other countries where spa fish are popular and fish pedicures are considered safe. She also says that while a pedicurist’s tools can be disinfected, their hands can’t be.

Sandefur says Vong is deciding whether to challenge the decision in state appeals court.

EDITOR'S NOTE (3/18/2013): This article has been modified to reflect the correct spelling of Christina Sandefur's name.