Fair season is springing up all across the country, and one of the favorite exhibits is the petting zoo. Petting zoos offer a wonderful way for children to get to know animals up close and personal, and when they are well run, it shows! These tips will make sure the whole family stays well while they enjoy some quality critter time!
Look for cleanliness. Most experienced petting zoo operators spend hours before exhibit opening thoroughly cleaning stalls, laying down fresh hay and beddings, and sanitizing stall railings and feed dispensers. At our local West Texas Fair and Rodeo, opening September 10th, the preparation process takes 4-5 hours daily, according to county extension agent Bob Buisman. There have been a few outbreaks of E-coli contamination associated with petting zoos, but most bacteria encountered during a visit is the kind that is normally found in the air and environment all the time, and poses no threat.
Look for posted permits and vaccinations. Locally, our petting zoos are operated as fundraisers and service projects for 4-H and Future Farmers of America during fair season, but whether service-based or for profit, operators must meet health requirements for your state for every animal. Normally, deer, goats, llamas, donkeys, miniature horses, and occasionally even a wallaby are featured furry friends. Operators can spend thousands to make sure animals’ health is maintained! When you have healthy animals, you don’t need to fret about so many little hands reaching and rubbing them!
Leave food and drinks put away. Children naturally want to share food or drink with animals, and when bacteria get ingested, there can be illness! E-coli is not absorbed through skin. It is only a danger when it enters the system. The youngest children are most vulnerable to illness, and leaving snacks and drinks out of the exhibit area protects them and makes sure the animals are eating the proper snacks available for feeding, too. We humans get into enough digestive dilemmas from fair foods without inflicting the same on them!
Look for hand sanitizers and wash stations. Besides keeping sanitizer handy in your personal backpack or bag, petting zoos should have hand sanitizers located near entrance and/or exits. Using these for every pair of hands, washing for 20 seconds on all surfaces, while you sing a verse of Old MacDonald, will keep kids smiling with happy fair memories long after the cotton candy is gone!
Happy petting, and enjoy those nosy nuzzles together!
Telephone interview with Taylor County Extension Office, August 20, 2010.
Personal teaching experiences.