As petting zoo season approaches (along with petting zoo-associated disease outbreak season, unfortunately), it’s important for people who run petting zoos and other animal contact events to think about what they do to reduce the risk of infecting visitors. No petting zoo will ever be 100% safe, because any person-animal contact (just like any person-person contact) carries some degree of risk. However, the risks can be greatly minimized by some basic measures, such that the benefits of animal contact can greatly outweigh the risks for most people.
One of the standard guideline documents for managing public person-animal contact is the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians (NASPHV) Compendium of Measures to Prevent Disease Associated With Animals in Public Settings, which has just be updated again for 2011. Anyone planning a petting zoo or similar event should know this document well and ensure that their event fulfills all the recommendations within it.
Hopefully, petting zoo operators will pay attention to these guidelines out of a desire to safeguard the health of their visitors. If that’s not enough motivation, the liability aspect should be considered. Since there are well established and readily available guidelines, failing to use them could certainly increase the legal liability risk.