By SUSAN SMALLHEER
PUTNEY — Local animal rights activists are planning a protest outside Santa’s Land on Saturday morning and are organizing a boycott of the amusement park over what they say is the continuing neglect and mistreatment of the animals at the park.
The park is planning to open Memorial Day weekend, with full-time operation resuming next month.
The owner of the park and the main animal caregiver were arraigned last month on charges of animal cruelty. They pleaded innocent and were released on conditions that they allow access to the park to law enforcement officials to check on the condition of the animals, which include the remaining fallow deer, ponies, goats, a llama and some exotic birds.
Sue Frazer-Stebbins of Saxtons River said Thursday the protest and boycott are being organized to bring attention to what she said were the continuing poor conditions at the park. She said the 10 a.m. protest is going to be held across Route 5 from Santa’s Land.
She said she and about a dozen other people have been trying to feed the animals — hay, carrots and apples — because of what she said was continuing neglect.
Stebbins said the group of concerned citizens have been working with neighbors of the holiday-theme park. She said that they had been threatened with arrest for trespassing, but that no charges have been brought. She said the group visits the animals between two and four times a week, and never alone.
“We have visible proof of lack of food and care,” she said. “The deer are just racks of bones.”
Animals have been found in recent weeks without food or water or access to the outside, she said. And until recently, the fallow deer that had died over the winter had not been buried and were still stored in a barn on the Santa’s Land property.
Stebbins said the protest will target out-of-state patrons visiting Santa’s Land, who she said have no idea of the conditions at the park and the treatment of the animals.
Windham County Deputy State’s Attorney Susan Cay said that Santa’s Land owner Lillian Billewicz, 55, who lives in both Fair Haven and Putney, and her caretaker, Brian Deistler, 24, of Westminster, have finally hired attorneys to represent them in the animal cruelty cases.
Deistler has also been charged with two counts of possession of heroin, unrelated to the animal cruelty case.
She noted conditions of release sought by her office regarding ownership of animals was not granted by the judge.
Stebbins said the group had started a Facebook page, “Neglect at Santa’s Land,” to try and bring attention to the situation.
Billewicz couldn’t be reached Thursday, and the published telephone number for Santa’s Land was not in service.
But on the official Facebook page for Santa’s Land, Billewicz, a lawyer, had recently posted an update on the court case.
“Today was Court and we are pleased to announce all our animals are still with us. Our animals have, and always had, hay, grain and water.
They had routine vet care as well as vet care as needed. We thank everyone for your support. As the legal process takes time, we will update as the process proceeds. Thank you all again and we look forward to putting this behind us for everyone’s sake and going forward for a great season! Lillian (owner).”
The deputy sheriff assigned to the case could not be reached for comment Thursday.