18 dead animals found at Santa's Land

Santa's Land in Putney. (Reformer file photo)

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PUTNEY -- Following the discovery by Windham County Sheriff's Department of 18 dead animals at Santa's Land, owner, Lillian Billewicz, 55, and Brian Deistler, animal caretaker, were both cited for animal cruelty.

They are scheduled to appear in court on April 29 to answer to the charge.

Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark said his deputies found 16 dead deer, as well as a dead pheasant and a pot-bellied pig when they arrived at the theme park on Route 5 Saturday.

There were also four deer unaccounted for, Clark said, adding all of the deer carcasses were found in one area.

The Windham County Sheriff's Department conducted a search of Santa's Land after Deputy Trevor Dickerman went there Friday to look for Deistler, who had lost his license plate in a minor traffic accident. Dickerman went to Santa's Land looking for Deistler to return the plate.

"When he was there Friday things just didn't look right," Clark said.

Windham County Sheriff deputies arrived at around 5 p.m. Saturday, assisted by Putney Animal Control Officer Henry Farnum and Putney Health Officer Tom Goddard.

Farnum declined to comment on the case Monday.

A veterinarian was also called in to assess the situation. The vet established a feeding and care plan and Billewicz will be allowed to continue housing the rest of the surviving animals, which include donkeys, ponies and goats.

"A care and feeding plan has been developed. At this point we are comfortable allowing the owner to keep the animals if the proper care is provided," Clark said. "There will be additional follow up to make sure the animals are cared for from this point forward."

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Clark said Billewicz and Deistler will also likely receive civil tickets for animal cruelty and it will be up to the Windham County State's Attorney office to decide what charges will be filed.

Billewicz, who lives in Fairhaven, was not on the premises Saturday, but she did arrive at Santa's Land Sunday and is addressing the situation. She did not respond to an e-mail message from the Reformer on Monday morning.

On the Santa's Land Facebook page Billewicz said staff at the park knew about the dead deer and called in a veterinarian. She also said following the raid that the vet only recommended that the donkeys and ponies should have their hooves checked, and that the ponies should have a dental exam.

"The harshness of the winter has taken its toll but please be assured all animals are being fed, watered and sheltered appropriately," Billewicz wrote on Facebook. "We will continue to keep everyone informed about what transpires."

Billewicz purchased the Putney roadside animal and theme park this summer and opened it in July. Santa's Land was open, mostly on weekends, up until Christmas. Billewicz filed a permit application with the Putney Development Review Board this winter to re-open the Igloo Restaurant, which had been closed for a number of years. Billewicz announced earlier this year that Santa's Land would open for the season on May 24.

Santa's Land opened in 1957 and has had a number of different owners through the years.

The Windham County Sheriff's Department is looking for additional information on the conditions of the animals at Santa's Land. Anyone who can offer information is asked to call the department at 802-365-4942.

In an unrelated case, Deistler was arrested on Feb. 4 by the Bellows Falls Police Department, allegedly in possession of 20 bags of heroin. He has not yet been arraigned.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or hwtisman@reformer.com. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.