Marler Clark is calling on legislators nation-wide to put into law requirements for the protection of petting zoo visitors. Proposed requirements include increasing signage and warnings about health risks associated with human-animal contact, providing adequate handwashing facilities at strategic locations throughout petting zoos, and designing petting zoos with the intent of reducing the risks of human contact with animal feces.
At this time, petting zoos must follow guidelines set out in the Code of Federal Regulations. Few states have laws governing human-animal contact at petting zoos; however, under Pennsylvania law:
• An operator shall promote public awareness of the risk of contracting a zoonotic disease at the animal exhibition and of the measures necessary to minimize the risk of contraction by posting appropriate notices at the animal exhibition.
• An adequate hand-cleansing facility for adults and children shall be conveniently located on the animal exhibition grounds. The operator shall post appropriate notices which designate the location of the hand-cleansing facility . . . and encourage the cleansing of hands after touching animals, using the restroom, and before eating.
I realize the measures we are proposing might seem extreme. But we’re looking at this from the standpoint of having represented dozens of children who visited petting zoos and ended up with kidney failure and life-long medical conditions.
Pennsylvania has a start. The CDC released its Recommendations for Human-Animal Contact in 2001, but petting zoo operators haven’t been paying any attention to those, so it’s time the government stepped in and made actual laws that govern this, instead of relying on petting zoo operators to police themselves. Our kids’ health is at stake. The longer politicians and the fair industry resist changes, the longer our children’s health and the health of the fair industry will be at risk. If we can’t make fairs be financially responsible through legislation, at least we can make them morally responsible.