Mall Santa Bill Lee has gotten sixteen more of his seized animals back. That number doesn't include any reindeer, though. Not yet.
As we explained in our cover story, "Santa is Grounded," Clear Creek County animal-control officers seized about one hundred of Lee's animals last year and slapped him with 32 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty. But some -- including Lee -- believe the seizure was wrong and the animals should be returned.
In all, Lee faced charges in four different court cases related to four separate animal seizures from his ranch in Idaho Springs. Now, court documents show that two of those cases have been dismissed as part of a deal with prosecutors. As for the other two cases, Lee is due back in court on February 20 to discuss what's next.
In the meantime, Lee is enjoying the animals he does have. Those returned include six llamas, four alpacas, two sheep, two dogs, one mare and one donkey. They join two reindeer that were returned to Lee in November thanks to a generous friend. "It's a joy to hear the noises again," Lee says of the animals on his ranch.
However, he notes that the animals he needs returned the most are those that he uses to make his living -- namely, the reindeer he uses to portray Santa, the dogs he uses for his mountain-man storytelling and the trained burros he uses for children's donkey rides. And getting those back may be harder or even impossible; since they were seized, the county has either sold or adopted out many of Lee's animals. Even if he were to regain custody of those animals, he says some have been permanently altered. For example, Lee says that a prize male burro he hoped to use for breeding has since been castrated.
Some of his female reindeer have undergone changes, as well -- though not permanently. Five females are reportedly pregnant, Lee says. Rudolph is gonna be a mama!
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Check out a picture of Lee and his deer below -- and stay tuned for updates on his case.
More from our Follow That Story archive: "Fetuses-aren't-people argument was 'morally wrong,' says Catholic hospital."Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org