Toddler’s Death Tied to Animals From a Petting Zoo for Kids

What comes to mind when you think of a kids' petting zoo? Do you picture a wholesome afternoon of family fun? Giggling kids and animals that get a little too curious and lick outstretched hands? 

While those images of the stereotypical petting farm may be true, unfortunately, there may also be a hidden danger lurking at your local petting zoo. According to local reports, a toddler contracted an infection from E. Coli that eventually took her young life and her brother was left fighting for his life. And the suspected source of the infection? 

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The local petting zoo. 

petting zoo
Image via Flickr/ Valerie Hinojosa

The toddler, two-year-old Kallan Maresh, from Minnesota, was exposed to a bacteria called E. Coli (it sounds pretty common, right?) that caused toxins in the body that then led her organs to fail. The bacterium prompted Hemolyic Uremic Syndrome or HUS, which led to Mareshs' kidneys shutting down and tragically, it was just too much for her little body to withstand. “Our sweet sweet little girl lost the battle and went to heaven last night,” her parents wrote to update their loved ones. 

According to the family's fundraising page, both Kallan and her older brother Kade, started vomiting and having diarrhea within a day of each other and when the family took them to the hospital, they were both diagnosed with acute kidney failure. Although Kallan was not able to withstand the fight against the bacteria, Kade's body is still fighting the toxins. Unlike his sister, whose neurological system was attacked, Kade's other systems have remained intact and the family is hopeful he will be able to fight it off. Currently, it has attacked his kidneys and he needs dialysis in order to stay alive. 

At the moment, the Minnesota State Health Department is investigating thoroughly to pinpoint the exact source of the infection. But early reports have said that they suspect the petting zoo may be the culprit. And an official from the Health Department warned that as cute as those cuddly farm animals may be, they can still be the source of lethal infections, even if they look normal. 

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“Normal, healthy well-cared for animals can carry germs that can make people sick … You can't tell by looking at animals, which one may be shedding a germ and which one isn't,” State Public Health Veterinarian Joni Scheftel told a local news station

The family has a GoFundMe page that has helped to raise over $70,000 for the grieving family. It will help them cover the astronomical medical costs. It will also provide for their son, who may even need dialysis for the rest of his life. “Please pray for my baby boy to stay strong and keep fighting,” the children's parents wrote on the page. “Joe and I are so deeply hurt from sadness. It is absolutely heart breaking watching your babies in so much pain and being so helpless.”

Of course, we can assume that this is an extreme and very rare case of tragedy. But it is also an important reminder to exercise caution when visiting petting zoos or being around animals. If you have a young child or baby, be sure to :

  • Keep anything that can in your child's mouth away from animals or animal spaces, including pacifiers, bottles, and snacks. 
  • Always wash your hands as soon as possible after touching or being around animal spaces. 
  • Take extra care to ensure your child does not come into contact with animal feces. 
  • Wear closed-toe shoes when visiting a farm. 

What do you think?

Toddler’s Death Tied to Animals From a Petting Zoo for Kids

Chaunie Brusie is a coffee mug addict, a labor and delivery nurse turned freelance writer, and a young(ish) mom of four. She is the author of "Tiny Blue Lines: Preparing For Your Baby, Moving Forward In Faith, & Reclaiming Your Life In An Unplanned Pregnancy" and "The Moments That Made You A Mother". She also runs Passion Meets Practicality, a community of tips + inspiration for work-at-home mothers. ... More

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3 comments

  1. Profile photo of Alicia Alicia says:

    Not to be rude to the family, but I would think a website as large as yours would get the facts a little straighter/sooner. I am from the area in MN where these poor kids got sick. My kids even went to the same daycare. It was disproven that the E. Coli came from the petting zoo. It has actually been about a month since this information has been publicly released. Yes, these children got sick. Yes, this is a horrible tragedy. No, I am not defending that “petting zoo” (more like puppy mill). All I am saying is I read the articles posted on this website regularly, and to find one with information that I know has been publicly proven wrong, makes me second guess other articles that have been published here. I am very sorry to the family that lost an angel and is continuing to fight for the health of another. God bless.

    • Profile photo of Katran Katran says:

      Alicia, thank you for the update. I was also looking for newer information but everything seems to be a month old. I’m sure the family themselves are too distraught to deal with an update on the source, but Everyday Family should have updated the article with accurate information. Thank you for taking the time to do so.

      • Profile photo of Katran Katran says:

        To clarify, the email I received about this article is only 4 days old and the title specifically says that the girl’s death is TIED to the petting zoo. Very inaccurate, misleading and even defamatory, if you ask me.

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