PUTNEY -- Windham County Sheriff Cpl. Melissa Martin asked for a search warrant to seize the animals at Santa's Land early Sunday morning after finding the situation with the theme park's animals continuing to deteriorate.
Santa's Land owner Lillian Billewicz, and Brian Deistler, the caretaker at the roadside theme park, were cited for animal cruelty on March 1 after a Windham County Sheriff deputy discovered 18 dead animals inside the park. Billewicz and Deistler were released with conditions, which included maintaining a care plan for the animals and also allowing the Windham County Sheriff's Department access to the property to check on the animals.
Martin carried out an unannounced visit to Santa's Land at around 8 a.m.
The Windham County Sheriff's Department, assisted by the town of Putney and by the Humane Society of the United States and Windham County Humane Society, spent the next few days removing the animals and transporting them to caretakers.
The original press release, which was issued Monday, said some of the animals were removed, but Windham County State's Attorney Susan Cay, who is prosecuting the case, said every animal is now being cared for by someone other than Billewicz and Deistler. Cay would not say where the animals were taken.
According to the search warrant 20 animals were seized. The menagerie included nine goats, an emu, one fallow deer, a pheasant, two peacocks, three donkeys, two ponies and a llama. The herd of 23 fallow deer remained on the property "due to the complexity of moving and housing fallow deer," the search warrant said, and the town of Putney was providing care for the animals.
Martin had been visiting Santa's Land on-and-off during the summer, and according to an earlier affidavit, she discovered the animals there had dirty water in their bowls, little food to eat, and the stalls were dirty and unsafe.
When Martin entered Santa's Land this past weekend she found that Billewicz and Deistler were still not caring for the animals. The lone buck's water pail was dry and there were nails protruding from its stall, the llama's shelter was inaccessible because it had a piece of plywood tilted in the entryway, and the llama's shelter had feces piled approximately one foot high, according to Martin's last affidavit.
"At this time I ended my check of the property and informed Billewicz and Deistler that I was seizing the property in order to apply for a search warrant," Martin wrote.
Billewicz and Deistler were in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division on August 28. They faced five counts of violating their conditions of release after Martin reported the dirty and unsafe conditions at Santa's Land she found over the summer. During that hearing Cay asked Judge Michael Pratt, who was filling in for Suntag, to allow the state to seize the animals. Pratt said he wanted to schedule a hearing before the state could seize the animals.
Martin returned to Santa's Land three days later, discovered that conditions had not improved, and asked Suntag for the search warrant.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. Follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.