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Hawley Garden Centre defends use of reindeer after online campaign

A garden centre has defended the use of reindeer in its Christmas grotto after being condemned for "cruelty".

Hawley Garden Centre's Christmas grotto is one of four events to be targeted nationally by campaigners who say reindeers are not adapted to conditions outside their natural habitat and become stressed in small pens near loud crowds.

But the garden centre says its two reindeer, Dancer and Dazzler, were bought as young animals and are well cared for at the centre all year round.

Reindeer at Hawley Garden Centre
Reindeer at Hawley Garden Centre

Labelled "Hawley Garden Centre: Don't Exploit Reindeer This Christmas!" the petition was posted on the Change.org website by Rob De Silva, who wrote:

"Each year, as Christmas approaches, event organisers around the country begin to advertise live reindeer parades and shows.

"Often held in shopping centres, these animals which are perfectly adapted to live in huge herds in the cold arctic and sub arctic regions of the world are transported up and down the country to be placed in small pens under glaring lights, surrounded by people and noise for days on end. This needs to stop!

"Hawley Garden Centre in Dartford are planning to hold a Santa "Meet and Greet" which includes live reindeer. They do not seem to realise the utter cruelty involved in these events when live animals are used simply as props.

"Reindeer are extremely sensitive creatures that can be easily stressed out. Loud crowds and noises can be very stressful for them, never mind the fact that they'll be stuck in a small space all day being prodded by children.

"This event can still go ahead without exploiting live animals, and it will still be just as enjoyable for the children. Leave reindeer where they belong and out of Santa's grotto!"

Reindeer at Hawley Garden Centre in 2013
Reindeer at Hawley Garden Centre in 2013

Hawley Garden Centre director Jan East said the campaigners had got it wrong in pointing the finger at them.

She said: "These reindeer were just a few months old when we bought them. After the first year or so after they were born, we built a huge paddock for them to spend their time in.

"They have their own stable each, and are fed, cleaned, and watered on a daily basis. We regularly have them checked over by a top vet in the South East, who, on every occasion, has given them a full bill of good health.

"They recognise the Staff that regularly feed them, and go over to welcome them when they hear them coming. They have a lot of open space to run and play around in, which is away from the hustle and bustle of the Garden Centre.

"Reindeer are extremely sensitive creatures that can be easily stressed out" - Rob Da Silva

"As the festive Season approaches, we bring the reindeer over into a purpose built stable, and an outside but covered area, where everyone can enjoy them.

"The reindeer love visitors, and always come out of their stable when people arrive to see them. We do however, have a secondary rail to prevent our younger children from getting too close to them. This is purely for the safety of visitors, rather than keeping the reindeer distant from people. Our reindeer love to be petted.

"Our reindeer belong to us; we care for them like they're our pets. We do not, and would not, transport them up and down the country, nor would we hire them out. They are not stuck in a small space, but in fact have almost a whole field to themselves."

Santa's Grotto will be open at the garden centre in Hawley Road every weekend from Saturday November 18 until Christmas Eve.

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