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Petting zoos are renting out animals, like goats and sheep, at an increasing rate as farm animal entertainment is gaining popularity at birthdays, graduations and other celebrations, according to the Associated Press via ABC News. Sure, these animals may provide a source of fun for an hour or two but what are they really teaching people about animals?

Well not that much, it seems.

Sky Shivers, the superintendent of Fairview Farms at the Los Angeles County Fair told the Associated Press (AP) that a good zoo is as “educational as it is entertaining,” citing facts like “baseballs have wool in their cores” and “doctors use the intestinal lining from some animals to graft serious burns.”

These may be “fun facts,” but they certainly can’t be considered “educational.” They in no way actually educate people about the animals themselves. If petting zoos were to effectively serve as educational bodies, people should be provided with the real facts, not just a few selected points of interest. Information should include how farm animals are meant to live, eat and survive as well as our impact on their lives.

To claim petting zoos are “educational” is quite a stretch. At their core, what they intend to do is entertain and even provide a certain level of comfort.

Sheep and goats in particular have become popular “party animals” because they only have a bottom set of teeth and are therefore safer for children, reports AP. A whole range of other animals can be found at parities though, from tortoises and hares to exotic animals like wallabies and llamas.

While these animals are increasingly found at parties, they also visit places like hospices, city neighborhoods and rodeos. Rental fees can range from $200 to $325 per hour, depending on the number of animals.

“You can see the absolute joy as [people] are sitting there stroking some animal, particularly if it’s the first time in their life they have touched one,” said Shivers to AP.”There is tranquility, an exchange of emotion that’s amazing to watch.”

Anyone can of course see this exchange happen before their eyes if you visit a petting zoo (or attend a party with farm animals) and watch as both children and adults enjoy the animals’ company. The experience reveals our fascination with animals and perhaps even tugs at our more innate need for connection.

Yet, while smiles may abound at a petting zoo, this encounter is ultimately fleeting and leaves people knowing little more than they did before about farm animals — a set who endure some of the world’s most unseen and cruel abuses.

“We think [petting zoos are] a bad idea,” said Meredith Turner, a spokesperson for Farm Sanctuary, to AP. “Animals are often not in good health, they’re kept in an unnatural environment, and they teach kids that animals exist for our entertainment, when in actuality, they exist for their own reasons.”

The animals are indeed kept in unnatural conditions — constantly being loaded up into trailers then let out to spend a few hours at the hands of people. This experience offers these animals very little opportunity to truly engage in their natural behaviors.

As a result, people are not given the chance see animals be well, animals. And so, the goats, sheep, donkeys, hares, llamas and other animals rented out become little more than a thing to pet, feed and take a photo with for a few hours.

How do you feel about petting zoos and farm animals at parties? Tell us by leaving a comment below!

Image source: Natural Resources Conservation Service / Wikipedia Commons