Last spring, at least 26 children and four adults contracted life-threatening E. coli infections after visiting petting zoos at the Central Florida Fair in Orlando, the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City, and the Florida State Fair in Tampa. The E. coli bacteria was traced to six animals -- two goats, two sheep, and two cows -- used by Ag-Venture Farm Shows, the company that supplied the animals at all three fairs. The outbreak put fear into parentsí hearts, caused a number of schools to cancel field trips to petting zoos, and prompted health officials to scrutinize barnyard exhibits more carefully.
But instead of shutting these exhibits down, health officials simply warned people to wash their hands after petting the animals, use hand sanitizer, and/or wear plastic gloves.
These measures simply arenít good enough when childrenís lives are at risk, particularly as they do nothing to prevent people from inhaling the bacteria. According to the Web site Fair and Petting Zoo Safety, ďingestion or perhaps even inhalation of contaminated dust particles may be how fair attendees become infected with the bacteria.Ē
And, of course, the lax regulations are designed only to protect people. There are scarcely any rules that help animals who languish in petting zoos. The federal Animal Welfare Act, which doesnít even cover birds, horses, and some other species, only requires petting zoos to give certain animals enough room to stand up and turn around.
Domestic animals are shipped from fair to fair from early spring to late fall. The animals are given little reprieve from the barrage of human contact. As soon as one exhibit is over, they are packed in cramped cages in tractor trailers, and shipped to another.
Setting up second-rate enclosures on a midway does nothing to foster respect for animals. Most children simply spend a minute or two oohing and aahing at the animals before moving on to the rides, games, and cotton candy booths. They are rarely taught that most domestic animals found in petting zoos and barnyard exhibits are eventually sent to livestock auctions and slaughtered for food.
Petting zoos are bad news -- they endanger public safety and exploit animals. Itís time to shut them down for good.
Heather Moore is a senior writer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in Norfolk, Va. where she lives with her rescued dog, Carly. Heather frequently writes on vegetarianism and health issues as a freelance writer and for PETA. Her work has appeared in IMPACT Press, Enlightened Practice Magazine, Animalís Agenda, I Love Cats, New Mobility, Satya, Wadi, Vivid, Writerís Post Journal, and many other publications. She can be reached at: HeatherM@PETA.org.