A family-run garden centre in Dartford has defended the use of reindeer in its Santa’s grotto after a campaigner accused them of animal cruelty.
Hawley Garden Centre, in the village of Hawley, will once again have its resident reindeer Dancer and Dazzler at the annual grotto from November 18.
But a petition, started by Rob De Silva, has called for the centre to stop “exploiting reindeer” this Christmas.
Mr De Silva wrote that they centre did “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, nevermind the fact that they’ll be stuck in a small space all day being prodded by children.”
However, garden centre director Janice East said the petition was unfair because it made generalising comments that did not apply to them, and that the reindeer enjoyed the public, and were not treated as props.
She said: “We are an animal-friendly garden centre, where all the staff love animals. We do not hire the reindeer in, they are our reindeer that we bought when they were just four months old.
“They are ours, and all the staff know and care for them. They have their own purpose built Christmas pen with a second fence so people can’t get too close. They come out of their pen themselves though, and they like people.”
Ms East said that they have had offers in the past to hire their reindeer out, but they have declined because they think changing their setting would be distressing.
Meanwhile, the petition has received over 440 signatures towards a 500 signature target.
The petition states: “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!”