Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters


Petting zoos: a potentially fatal attraction

September 15, 2009 Peter Fricker for the Vancouver Sun, Community of Interest  

This week's news that 13 people contracted E.coli from animals at the PNE petting zoo call into question the safety of such attractions. The outbreak sent three people to hospital and one, a child, reportedly remains there.  This incident has coincided with a national uproar in Britain over a major outbreak of E.coli at a petting zoo there.  Thirty-seven people were infected, including 13 children, four of whom were seriously ill.

These are not isolated incidents.  In the Lower Mainland in 2004, six children contracted E.coli at petting zoos in North Vancouver and Abbotsford. Similar cases happen across the continent.  Bill Marler, an American food safety advocate and attorney specializing in food poisoning cases, told Reuters news agency: "Unfortunately, we keep seeing outbreaks of E.coli O157:H7 at petting zoos and animal exhibits," adding that "In the U.S there have more than two dozen outbreaks of E. coli traced to such events in the last 20 years. As with this outbreak, the victims are primarily children."

Operators of petting zoos will argue that such cases are relatively rare, given the numbers of visitors to the zoos.  This may be true, but here's what Professor Hugh Pennington, a U.K. expert on E.Coli, said about the British outbreak this week: “The risk is very low - millions visit these farms every year, but the consequences of taking the risk can be catastrophic."  He said the safest way for the farms to maintain their business would be for them to remove ruminants (i.e. sheep, goats, calves).  Another way would be to close them altogether.

Animal advocacy groups have long criticized petting zoos for being poor educational resources about animals for children and for being inappropriate environments for the animals themselves.  They can be noisy, stressful places for young animals, who have no place to escape from constant human attention. Conditions are often poor.  They also fail to provide any real understanding of the animals and perpetuate the notion that they exist for our amusement, to be exploited and not respected as sentient beings.

Moreover, they give a completely misleading picture of the real life of farm animals. Ironically, today's modern livestock operations are probably too horrific to show most children.  Imagine taking kids inside a modern battery hen operation with thousands of hens confined in cages, the stench of ammonia from tons of manure burning in their nostrils.  Or to a hog farm to watch sows immobilized in pens for hours on end.  Sadly, showing children what happens on a real, modern factory farm would likely result in more cases of post-traumatic stress disorder than E.coli infections.

It's a difficult dilemma for any parent who wants their children to gain an appreciation of animals and to provide a fun day out. Unfortunately, today's farm animals are either hidden away in inhumane factory farms or languishing in petting zoos that aren't much fun for animals and offer a poor - and potentially dangerous - educational experience for kids.

More information: Fair and petting zoo safety (U.S. resource for legal cases and outbreak prevention)

Comment: The Independent (UK) reported on September 20, 2009 that the Public Health Act may upgrade E.coli to a "notifiable disease," on a par with infections like smallpox and measles, in an effort to speed up the detection of outbreaks.  This news comes in the wake of 57 cases of E.coli 0157 linked to the Gadstone Farm in Surrey.  Meanwhile, a personal injury lawyer is preparing for a class action suit against the owners.

November 25, 2009 The Vancouver Park Board voted 4-3 to shut down the Children's Farmyard in Stanley Park last night in order to deal with a City budget shortfall of 2.8-million.  Emotions ran high as taxpayers and commissioners argued over what community programs would see cutbacks or outright closures.  The "petting zoo" has been a contentious issue for many years, with reports of animals like rabbits kept in filthy cages, dirty barns, a male pygmy goat and a sheep, both isolated in separate areas, and used for breeding purposes only, and an overall low standard of animal care.  Additionally, the zoo provides no meaningful education and understanding of animals, it perpetuates outdated ideas that animals are ours to exploit for entertainment, it's hard on the animals, and there are human health risks like contracting E.coli.  An ecology centre is supported by groups like Rabbit Advocacy BC, Lifeforce Fdn., and VHS.  Attitudes have evolved, with the recognition of animals as sentient beings, whom we do not have the right to imprison or otherwise use for our selfish wants. 

However, corporate sponsors could keep the petting zoo, with about 200 animals, operational.  Joseph Wosk, of the philanthropic Wosk family of Vancouver, has pledged $100,000 over four years toward "saving" the farmyard.  For those who want to put it out to pasture join the Facebook group "Stop the Stanley Park Petting Zoo - Support an Ecology Centre."  

Carmina Gooch, RAG BC wrote to the Vancouver Park Board, Mayor and Council, and Vancouver's City Manager 

The Rabbit Advocacy Group of BC supports the staff report that the Children's Farmyard at Stanley Park be closed.  

Over the years there have been many concerns regarding the low standard of care provided for the wide assortment of animals being kept in what is essentially a "petting zoo."  On a number of occasions we noticed rabbits displayed in a small window area.  Year after year baby rabbits are bred by Aldor Acres in Langley and loaned out for the season to places like the Children's Farmyard, in order to attract visitors.  Once done, they are returned to the 'owners', who in turn, bring them to Fraser Valley Auction to be killed for meat.  How would the kids react if they knew that? 

Certainly we're past the point of exploiting animals for profit or entertainment.  Keeping them in cages only perpetuates outdated attitudes, and wrongly teaches kids that this is somehow okay.  Animals are best left in their natural habitat without human interference. 

Additionally, there is the risk of visitors becoming ill after being exposed to bacterial infections like E.coli.  Just this summer eleven children and two adults were hospitalized after their visit to the PNE's petting zoo. 

In keeping with societal attitudes regarding animal use, the Farmyard's time is up.  The existing buildings could be used by the Stanley Park Ecological Society to expand programs that promote awareness and respect for the natural world.  A centre focusing on coexisting with wildlife, protecting habitat, and other related issues would be invaluable lessons.  

In closing, we ask that the animals be adopted to individuals or rescue groups that are knowledgeable and who can provide the proper care for the lifetime of the various species.  Rabbit Advocacy would be pleased to assist in this area.

December 4, 2009 Carmina Gooch attended the public meeting at Vancouver City Hall last night regarding the 2010 budget and the cuts recommended by the Park Board.  Union and Board members had the floor, for the most part, with only about 9 out of the 90 people who signed up, speaking.  This prompted another letter from Carmina with this excerpt: 

With regard to the CUPE 1004 speaker, I have to say that the interest in keeping the farmyard open has everything to do with the employees keeping their jobs, and not with the welfare of the animals.  A petition that garnered roughly two thousand signatures probably included a number of children.  I would venture to say that these kids do not know the hard realities of the animals who are exploited for the entertainment, pet, and the factory farming business.  Are they told about the unwanted, the mistreated, and the thousands upon thousands of goats, sheep, pigs, and other farm animals brought to Fraser Valley Auctions, where they are sold to 'kill buyers?'  

Conversely, I'm sure you have all seen the "Children's Farmyard - A Special Place" 14-page colour propaganda pamphlet put out by CUPE 1004, that paints a glowing, albeit inaccurate picture of the farmyard and the nine people who don't want to work anyplace else.  I wonder how much that cost. 

The dictionary definition of a zoo is "a park or an institution in which living animals are kept and usually exhibited to the public."  A "petting zoo" is defined as "a collection of docile animals for children to pet and feed."  The "Children's Farmyard" is a "petting zoo," and the animals are kept in captivity.  Nowadays, this is becoming increasingly unacceptable, and therefore we once again request that a centre focusing on ecological issues and education pertaining to humane and respectful interactions with other species and nature be expanded.

December 15, 2009 Vancouver Park Board commissioners voted 4-3 last night to give interested applicants (Request for Expressions of Interest) until April 30, 2010 to submit their business plans to keep the Bloedel Conservatory and the Stanley Park Farmyard operational and open. (or in a similar or new capacity)

September 9, 2010 Philip Josephs, Vancouver Park Board’s Manager of Revenue Services, has announced that the Children’s Farmyard will close early in January 2011. Both proponents who had expressed interest in saving the zoo withdrew their applications. Organizations and hobby farms have expressed interest in receiving the over 120 animals, which include larger mammals like donkeys and smaller animals like rabbits. The reptiles were placed earlier this year. 

September 21, 2010 Scheduled closure of the ‘Farmyard’ is January 2, 2011. This is the news we’ve been waiting for. Rabbit Advocacy has been in contact with Park Board officials with regard to providing a retirement home for some of the rabbits. Lifeforce obtained the Stanley Park Children’s Farmyard List of Acquisitions and Dispositions, revealing that over the years “homes” are not forever and that “families” have been split up, contrary to news reported to the public.  During 2000 - 2009 the “Farmyard” acquired 42 animals, plus six bunnies in 2008 that were not on the inventory list provided to Lifeforce. It disposed of 65 animals. The rabbits came from Aldor Acres, a family-run business of Albert and Dorothy Anderson in Langley. Rabbits and other animals, who have outgrown their usefulness, have been routinely sold to Fraser Valley Auctions, where more than likely they were bought for slaughter, ending up on somebody’s dinner plate.

January 2, 2011 The Children’s Farmyard in Stanley Park has closed for good. We have received the Animal Inventory and the Adoption Application from the Vancouver Parks Board. Twelve rabbits need rehoming. 

February 2, 2011 There were numerous applications to receive the animals and all have been placed in good, new homes.

February 13, 2012 Stanley Park's petting-zoo goats are missing, sent to Fraser Valley Auction, may have been slaughtered

February 14, 2012 Internal email reveals Vancouver Park Board fretted about its missing goats

March 26, 2012 Please attend Vancouver Park Board meeting to speak for animals of Stanley Park Farmyard March 26, 7 pm at the Park Board office, 2099 Beach Ave. Non-Partisan Association commissioner, Melissa De Genova, wants staff to perform site visits and recheck references on all individuals and/or farms who adopted animals, as well as regular checks to be carried out every six months on all remaining animals for the rest of their lives. Peter Hamilton, of Lifeforce, says it is commendable that the City is pursuing legal action against the person who sold “Petting Zoo” animals for food slaughter.

Lifeforce will continue to conduct a full investigation of the Park Board Staff and Management who were responsible for the care and well being of animals. If the reports of neglect and poor treatment of animals, who were in the former petting zoo are substantiated, then criminal charges should be pursued, Hamilton adds. Lifeforce made an FOI request of health records of the animals under the  control of the City of Vancouver after failing to receive them from the Park Board. One sick and emaciated sheep could barely stand when transported to her new home and had to be euthanized the next day. Birds also suffered. 

Update: Predictably, the motion did not pass. The Park Board does not have the legal authority to do rechecks on the animals it placed. Four of the homes had informed City staff they would not allow for rechecks. Rabbit Advocacy has reiterated its willingness to accept rabbits if the occasion arises. We were very disappointed in some of the opinions and statements expressed by commissioners and speakers during the discussion, as it indicated the issue was not entirely understood and/or people were more interested in their personal agenda. Will there be any lesson learned from this mess? It's doubtful.

June 20, 2012 Case of the missing goats is closed 

Stock Show Eliminates Problem Exhibit

Jan 09, 2010 by Dan Flynn, Food Safety News -Foodborne Illness Outbreaks

Cowboys will be herding longhorns through the streets of downtown Denver today, and that means the 105th running of the National Western Stock Show is underway, today through Jan. 24th. Not appearing at the Stock Show this year, however, is the "Feed the Animals" attraction.   It was a free exhibit where children could feed $3 "ice cream cones of feed" to farm animals.

Last year 30 children from Colorado's Front Range who attended the 2009 Stock Show left with E. coli O157:H7 infections.  The investigation by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment traced the outbreak to the "Feed the Animals" exhibit. Eliminating that problem area does not mean the 2010 Stock Show will be without areas for children to come into contact with animals.  A petting farm and livestock exhibits will be available for visiting children.

The petting farm, sponsored by the Denver Post, is according to the Stock Show " the perfect place for children and parents to actively interact with animals, but we must also stress the importance of washing hands after petting the animals. " Sheep shearing and wool spinning in a daily changing livestock exhibit will also feature Llamas, Alpacas, Yaks, Pigs, Goats, Poultry and Rabbits.

Warnings about E. coli
are now placed on the Stock Show's website and there will more signage and facilities for hand washing.

An estimated 20,000 school children will visit the 2010 Stock Show, which continues to have its well-known programs for school tours and school buses in place.  Thousands of other children attend with parents.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was not able to pinpoint the 2009 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak to an exact animal.  "We hypothesize that an animal (or animals) in the "Feed the Animals" area was likely shedding E. coli O157:H7 in its feces and contaminated the pen enclosure, pen bedding materials, floor, and/or other environmental surfaces," the state's final report on the outbreak said.

Investigators suspected that from there, the contamination was spread over a wide area by show bottoms and stroller wheels.  Health officials blamed the Stock Show for having only hand sanitizers in the area, not hand washing facilities with hot water, soap, and paper towers.  Nor did last year's signs warn people that animals can spread diseases.

Two of the largest western shows in Canada last year also were responsible for outbreaks as urban children were exposed to farm animals.

Read more: E.coli infects visitors to PNE, 2009; update 2018, trial faces delay

Fair and Petting Zoo Safety

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