Last week, Summit County Animal Control and Dillon Police Department officers rescued a domesticated reindeer that escaped from the Lighting of Dillon ceremony.
Although the incident has been touted locally as a holiday miracle, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals isn’t having any of Dillon’s reindeer games.
In a letter sent Wednesday to Dillon Mayor Ron Holland, PETA representatives urged town officials to ban live wildlife at all Dillon events in the future, saying their use as props deprives animals of everything that’s natural.
“Reindeer are no more suited to take part in the Lighting of Dillon than they are to pull a sleigh through the sky,” said Delcianna Winders, PETA’s foundation director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement, in a news release. “The holiday season is supposed to be about joy and peace, not causing a frightened animal to flee in terror.”
The reindeer in question belongs to Bill Lee, Laughing Valley Ranch owner and character actor from Idaho Springs, who annually makes appearances as Santa Claus during holiday events in Summit, Eagle and Clear Creek counties. Lee could not be reached for comment.
The PETA letter also questions Dillon’s decision to contract with Lee and Laughing Valley Ranch, despite Lee’s being beloved locally for his appearances as jolly old St. Nick. PETA contends the ranch has received numerous citations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for failing to provide his animals with sufficient veterinary care and for maintaining insufficient facilities, among others.
In 2012, Lee was charged in Clear Creek County Court with 16 counts of animal cruelty, a Class 1 misdemeanor, and more than 100 animals were seized from his ranch by officers from 13 cooperating agencies, according to a March 2012 article by the Clear Creek Courant. Lee ultimately pleaded guilty to one count of animal cruelty and was ordered to serve two years of unsupervised probation.
Lee, Holland and town of Dillon manager Joe Wray were not available for comment Wednesday. Dillon’s interim police chief Brian Brady said that Lee has been traveling with his reindeer to holiday events in the area for years and that until last week there had never been an incident. He also questioned why, considering PETA’s concern for the health and welfare of the animal, the organization failed to recognize all of the people who participated in the rescue effort.
In addition to dispatching Dillon Police Department and Summit County Animal Control officers on a search, Brady called in assistance from the Silverthorne Police Department to slow traffic on U.S. Highway 6 to ensure the reindeer wasn’t struck by a car. He also organized a team of volunteers to comb the Lake Dillon shoreline for clues and to search for signs of the animal struggling in the reservoir.
“Had we not done a full investigation and the reindeer drowned or got hit by a car, they (PETA) would have crucified me,” Brady said. “We treated this like we treat a missing child. There was no way I wanted to be responsible for losing one of Santa’s reindeer and ruining Christmas.”
“Had we not done a full investigation and the reindeer drowned or got hit by a car, they (PETA) would have crucified me. We treated this like we treat a missing child. There was no way I wanted to be responsible for losing one of Santa’s reindeer and ruining Christmas.”
Dillon’s interim police chief