Today Darla Carter of the Courier-Journal said petting zoos are loosely regulated. Under the Animal Welfare Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has some say-so over petting zoo and animal exhibits.

“If you’re exhibiting an animal, you’re going to have to be licensed with us,” said Jim Rogers, a spokesman for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

But the act doesn’t include testing for E. coli and other infectious diseases that affect humans – it’s set up to protect the animals from inhumane care. So the Department is trying to do its part to help raise awareness about the bacteria by handing out materials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to remind facilities of things like the importance of providing a place for people to wash their hands.
The CDC recently endorsed recommendations from the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians to help protect the public. Among the recommendations:
• that venue operators, exhibitors, staff and visitors be educated about reducing the risk of disease transmission;
• that proper cleaning and disinfecting take place;
• that children be adequately supervised;
• that there be transition areas, between animal areas and nonanimal areas, where signs should be posted to tell people to wash their hands.
Since these are tips and not rules, organizations such as local, state, public health, agricultural, environmental and wildlife agencies are allowed to establish their own guidelines or regulations for reducing disease risk when animals and people come in contact at places and events, such as petting zoos, carnivals and farm tours.
Even with the tips outlined for them, Kentucky and Indiana state public health departments still do not regulate petting zoos, and feel that they would only become involved if an E. coli outbreak were to occur. Indiana’s State Board of Animal Health doesn’t regulate petting zoos, though they may be covered by a local or county ordinance, spokeswoman Denise Derrer said. Neither the Indiana Department of Natural Resources nor the Clark County Health Department is involved either. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture requires a certificate of veterinary inspection indicating that the animal is in good health and free from any reportable diseases, but that does not include E. coli, spokesman Bill Clary said.

“That’s not something that by statute we have the authority to do; it kind of falls into the realm of suggestion and prevailing on people’s sense of good citizenship,” Louisvile Metro Health Department spokesman Dave Langdon said.