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Keep encounters safe between people, critters

Humans can unintentionally harm animals, as the recent case of the overfed goats demonstrates. But animals can unintentionally harm humans, who should take steps to protect themselves at petting zoos and fairs.

Published: Thursday, July 31, 2014 1:15 a.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014 8:12 a.m. CST

Four goats died at a farm in Whiteside County, and their saddened owner wants the public to know about their needless deaths.

The cause? Two visitors stopped at the farm on July 14 and dumped several bags of bread into the goats' pen, without asking permission.

According to the owner, Andrea Hensgen, the goats had already been fed, and soon afterward, some well-meaning children hand-fed them bread over the fence.

But the bags of bread proved to be too much. Goats will eat until they get sick, and in this case, four died because of the poisons that developed in their systems. Others got sick but recovered.

Hensgen had these words for the public: "Please don't assume you have the right to feed animals that aren't your own. A farm is not a petting zoo."

Even a farm with as many creatures – goats, chickens, ducks, turkeys, horses, and English shepherds – as Hensgen's farm has.

The episode is a cautionary tale.

We hope the public takes it to heart.

While a farm is not a petting zoo, other places, such as county fairs and festivals, have petting zoos this time of year.

In addition, livestock and poultry, lodged on the fairgrounds to compete in various shows, are available to be viewed up close in their stalls and pens.

This time, it can be the human visitors who are exposed to possible peril, not the animals on display.

The state departments of Agriculture and Public Health, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, urge people to wash their hands thoroughly after visiting the animals. Running water and soap are best.

While near the animals or in contact with them, avoid hand-to-mouth contact. You don't want to ingest germs.

For the same reason, remove pacifiers from babies.

Don't bring food or drink into animal areas; if hungry critters don't go for it, the germs might.

And don't share your food with the animals. (You already know the reason.)

Interactions between humans and animals can be fun, as long as bags of bread, or germs, teeth, beaks and hooves, don't get in the way.

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