Preventing Petting Zoo Problems

By  | 

For 13 years, Producer's Cooperative and the Bryan and College Station Future Farmers of America have held their county fair to bring farm life to those who don't get to experience it.

"It lets these young people know that there are places other than the store where their products are coming from, that there's a grassroots level." said Terry Hausenfluck, an agriculture teacher at Bryan High School. "So that hands-on experience of getting to see live animals and talk to people that work with them on a daily basis is important."

But hands-on may have been a bad experience for children in Florida. An investigation is underway there, with five children in critical condition after picking up a rare disease from E. coli that may have come from a petting zoo.

"That is almost invariably related to either undercooked beef in the form of hamburger patties, or it can be from cattle," according to Orange County Health Department official Bill Toth.

"If this came from the petting zoo, touching the animals, feeding them, many of the younger kids do feed animals and touch animals and they put their own fingers in their mouth," said Florida doctor Mehul Dixit.

Wayne Cotter and his family frequent the county fair. "Every year, our family gets together and we come out to the petting zoo and pet all the animals, and it gives them a little exposure to farm life," he said.

And this year, their parade from pen to pen includes a pump of hand sanitizer and a pull of a paper towel.

"Anytime you're working outside and you're around animals, you've got the opportunity, possibly, to run across bacteria and things," said Hausenfluck. "We're not certain about all of the details, but we have stations at every petting zoo area just as a preventative.

"We want them to have a good experience. We want them to get an education. We want them to have fun. We want them to come out there and work with those animals," he said. "But we also want them to make sure they're safe."

"I haven't been exposed to a lot of animals," said Cotter, "but I like to clean up after every petting."

It's an education in farming organizers are shooting for, not a health lesson the hard way.