The owner of Santa’s land in Putney and the park’s caretaker appeared in Brattleboro District Court Tuesday. Lillian Billewicz and Brian Deistler pled not guilty to charges of animal cruelty. Earlier this winter 16 fallow deer, a pot-bellied pig and a pheasant were found dead at the once-popular theme park. Court documents say other animals were found in stalls with frozen water and insufficient hay.
Billewicz bought Santa’s Land last spring. She told investigators she and Deistler had followed the previous owners’ instructions for the animals’ care. She said a veterinarian they had called in blamed the deaths in part on the exceptionally harsh winter. But veterinarian Stephen Major, who examined the deer, said they died from "hypothermia secondary to inadequate feed intake." He recommended that the surviving animals should be removed from Billewicz’s care.
Judge David Suntag allowed the animals to remain under the owner’s care for now -- under supervision by a veterinarian and local authorities.
"The other condition I’m going to order," he said, "is that Ms Billewicz complies with a written care plan and that she permit authorities to enter the premises of Santa’s land to insure compliance with that care plan."
In addition to the animal cruelty charge, Deistler pled innocent to two charges of heroin possession and a charge of Grand Larceny. The state alleges he stole, and tried to sell, antiques that were stored in a building behind the park and belonged to previous Santa's Land owners.