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Rustic Retreat Deer Park cited with six animal welfare violations

Tom Mueller is facing fines of up to $500/day for operating illegally. Photo credit: Rustic Retreat Deer Park.

Rustic Retreat Deer Park in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, has been cited with six violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

On April 19, Rustic Retreat Deer Park owner Tom Mueller posted a video on social media showing his wolfdog dragging his domestic dog around the enclosure by a leash.

Mueller deleted the video after receiving backlash from his followers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture inspected Rustic Retreat Deer Park on May 17 and cited Mueller for allowing his wolfdogs to pull his domestic dog around by the leash.

“The licensee must immediately discontinue the practice of allowing any of the dogs to pull any of the dogs while leashed and ensure handling of dogs doesn’t cause behavioral stress,” the inspector wrote in the report.

The USDA found wire panels in the wolfdog enclosure that were sticking up into the enclosure which could injure the animals if they stepped on them or rubbed against them.

The USDA found the acquisition records for 10 sheep were missing and Mueller had failed to add his domestic dog to his records.

Mueller had obtained a bison without consulting with his veterinarian. The bison was estimated to weigh around 500 pounds and Mueller was allowing the public to directly interact with the animal without any barriers in place.

June 11, 2022 social media post.

“Lack of distance or barriers could allow an accident to take place before the licensee could gain control of it,” the inspector wrote. “Ensure that the bison does not have public contact without adequate barriers or distance in place to protect the public.”

The USDA also found that Mueller was bottle feeding a fawn and lambs at his facility using store-bought whole milk rather than using a species-appropriate milk replacement.

“The attending veterinarian expressed that a more appropriate milk replacer needs to be fed to the fawn,” the inspector wrote. “Feeding an inappropriate milk diet to the fawns can cause health problems.”

Mueller was cited with six violations of the Animal Welfare Act. (Download the USDA violation report here.)

In January, Mueller was notified by the Department of Natural Resources that the wolfdog petting encounters he offers at his roadside zoo violate state law. He continues offering them.

In April, the Town of Russell filed a lawsuit against Mueller for continuing to operate Rustic Retreat Deer Park without a conditional use permit.

The town is asking for Mueller to be fined up to $500 a day starting August 3, 2021, through the date of judgement. The town is also asking the judge to enjoin Mueller from continuing to operate Rustic Retreat Deer Park or any agritourism business on his property.


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