Another animal is missing and presumed dead at Rustic Retreat Deer Park near Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
The missing animal is a 15-month old rottweiler named Harley who disappeared around January 5, 2023, according to a social media post by Rustic Retreat owner Tom Mueller.
Harley was kept outside without supervision or an enclosure and apparently wandered away from the property. With a large pond at the site and a road nearby, it’s suspected that Harley is dead.
“He loves people (and) must have left the property,” Mueller posted on social media. “Unfortunately, if someone stopped on the road he would be quick to jump in a car.”
Allowing an animal to have unsupervised access to a roadway and a frozen pond is extremely unsafe. Mueller knows this, as a puppy named Captain was struck and killed in the roadway by a vehicle at Rustic Retreat Deer Park in the past year and a half.
Despite the inherent risks, Mueller and his followers are claiming that Harley may have been stolen or intentionally killed. Mueller is offering a $1,000 reward for information on Harley’s disappearance.
Blaming his neglectful animal care practices on others is a common theme with Mueller. In late 2020 through Oct. 2021, a dozen deer escaped from Rustic Retreat Deer Park on three separate occasions, according to Department of Natural Resources (DNR) records. All of the deer were later recaptured or were found deceased.
Mueller blamed the deer escape on “a member of PETA” or one of his neighbors.
DNR records indicate the deer enclosure door was unsecured and was held shut with only a bungee cord that could be pushed open. The DNR fined Mueller for failing to report the three deer escape incidents.
In May 2022, DNR records indicate two sick and starving deer were spotted near Rustic Retreat Deer Park.
In January 2022, two trumpeter swans escaped from Rustic Retreat Deer Park. The swans were captured by a neighboring landowner who brought them to Wildlife of Wisconsin (WOW), a wildlife rehabilitator.
A WOW representative said the swans were starving to death and one of them was in such bad shape that it had to be tube fed.
Mueller called WOW and spoke with the representative. During that call, Mueller threatened to “sue her [expletive]” if she did not immediately return the animals.
DNR officials facilitated the transfer of the swans from WOW back to Mueller due to his aggressive behavior.
Mueller’s roadside zoo has previously violated a number of laws. Read more about Rustic Retreat Deer Park:
Dangerous and illegal wolf encounters offered at Rustic Retreat Deer Park
DNR tickets Rustic Retreat Deer Park for failing to obtain a license for wolfdogs
Rustic Retreat Deer Park pays citation; still non-compliant with local, state and federal law
DNR notifies Rustic Retreat Deer Park that wolfdog encounters must cease
Rustic Retreat Deer Park cited with six animal welfare violations
Rustic Retreat Deer Park ordered to stop public wolfdog sessions or be fined $500 per day
Harley has been missing for nearly a week. It is unclear how many more animals will be put at risk before local, state and federal officials take meaningful action to shut down Rustic Retreat Deer Park.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect new information that a puppy named Captain was struck and killed by a vehicle at Rustic Retreat Deer Park in the past year and a half.