By Dominick DiRienzo -
Saturday, December 8, 2001
Blitzen's overnight flight of freedom ended tragically
Friday. The reindeer that had dashed away from a holiday display in
Franklin Park was shot and killed by a hunter who mistook it for a
whitetail deer. Matt Hough, law enforcement supervisor for the southwest
regional office of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, said Blitzen -
named after one of the reindeer said to pull Santa's sleigh - was shot
in a thicket of brush about a half-mile from the garden center. Hough
would not identify the hunter, but said no charges are pending.
"This is pretty rare," he said. "But it does happen."
Hough said he had not seen the animal but that it weighed about 125
pounds and could "easily be mistaken for a whitetail." Reindeer average
34 to 55 inches at the shoulder and have a brown coat similar to a
whitetail deer. Jennifer Smith, who co-owns Tee Pees Garden Center where
Blitzen was displayed, initially thought Blitzen had been recovered
unhurt, but a game commission official later broke the bad news. "We're
all absolutely heartbroken.
We have grown so attached to these animals. We have had
them for the last few years and taken care of them," Smith said. "I
don't want little kids to get upset - hearing something like this." Two
other reindeer, Donner and Jingles, and a llama, Abraham, also were part
of the display. Blitzen escaped at 5:30 p.m. Thursday when a worker
entered the pen to feed the animals.
Donner also escaped, but several workers and some
passers-by were able to corral Donner. Smith said she did not know if
Tee Pees would continue the holiday display. "We are just nervous now
that (the animals) know they can get out. We don't want it to happen
again." The regular deer-hunting season ends today.
Dominick DiRienzo can be reached at
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