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Santa Claus waves as he rides on his float down Central Park West during the 87th Macy Santa Claus waves as he rides on his float down Central Park West during the 87th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York Nov. 28, 2013. (REUTERS/Gary Hershorn)  

PETA to Santa: Don’t bring your reindeer to the mall

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has complained about a fake Santa’s use of a real reindeer during a holiday lighting ceremony in Dillon, Colo.

“Reindeer are no more suited to take part in the Lighting of Dillon than they are to pull a sleigh through the sky,” Delcianna Winders, PETA’s foundation director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement, said in a press release. “The holiday season is supposed to be about joy and peace, not causing a frightened animal to flee in terror.”

The reindeer is domesticated and owned by rancher Bill Lee, who has played Santa Claus in the town for years, according to the Summit Daily News. But the paper also points out that Lee has a history of being investigated for animal neglect and he was charged in 2012 with 16 counts of animal cruelty. One hundred animals were seized from his ranch and, in a plea deal, Lee pled guilty to one count and was sentenced to two years of unsupervised probation.

During the holiday lighting ceremony at a local mall last week, the reindeer got spooked by the noise and commotion, jumped over its enclosure and was on the loose for more than a day. Dillon police chief Brian Brady told the Summit Daily News that his department pulled out all the stops to locate the animal, including slowing traffic on a nearby highway so it wouldn’t get hit by a car, and patrolling the shore of a nearby reservoir so that it wouldn’t fall through the ice and drown.

He thinks PETA should be thanking rescuers for the care they took to eventually locate the reindeer and return it to Lee.

“Had we not done a full investigation and the reindeer drowned or got hit by a car, [PETA] would have crucified me,” Brady told the newspaper. “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.”

In its letter to Dillon Mayor Ron Holland, PETA asked for the town to stop using wildlife in town events in the future.

“We hope you’ll agree that there’s no place during the holiday season or at any time of the year for compromising the well-being of an animal and public safety,” wrote PETA’s Special Projects Division Manager Alicia Woempner. “Please make the humane decision not to use live animals at any future events held in the town of Dillon.”

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