WEST CHARLESTON, VT. — Pauline Broe’s cheeks are bright as she feeds Dasher, Cupid, and Prancer from plastic buckets filled with apples, carrots, and pumpkin pieces. It’s a chilly six degrees on the Vermont Reindeer Farm, a stone’s throw from the Canadian border, and she’s wearing a red knit hat decorated with reindeer.
Pauline, 56, is an elementary-school art teacher known locally as “The Reindeer Lady.” Her husband, John, 58, is a farmer who is off to work every morning at 4:30. They are owners of the only reindeer in the state of Vermont.
“I grew up dirt-poor, but we always had a barn and a farm in the family,” Pauline says while chopping carrots inside a barn on the property. The Broes have three sons — John Jr., Jeremy, and Justin — all in their thirties. At one point, Pauline became intrigued about owning a reindeer. “I love Christmas. Let’s get some reindeer!” she said to her husband.
Working with the Reindeer Owners and Breeders Association, Pauline found Prancer in Indiana and Dasher and Cupid in New York.
“They are beautiful animals. Some days I’m outside here and I think of how I’m the only one in Vermont feeding reindeer,” she says. Private reindeer ownership is strictly regulated, and the northwestern United States is home to the last reindeer still living in the wild in the lower 48 states.
The Broes have taken in many other animals, all of them rescued. But Pauline is most excited about their recent adoption of a baby Sika deer that they named Maple Annie. Knowing that the Broes already had some deer and reindeer, Vermont state wildlife officials let her know they had a baby Silka deer in need of a home.
Maple Annie now roams freely around the living room with the Broes’ two golden retrievers. It might occasionally get a lick in the face from one of the dogs. “I’m really afraid she’ll get loose outside,” Pauline says as she sits on chair near a wood stove, feeding warm goat milk to the deer from a baby bottle. “Sometimes it’s hard to go to work in the morning, ’cause she’s my baby.”
The Broes bring their three reindeer in trailers to events throughout the state, and Christmastime is especially busy for them. They open the Reindeer Farm to visitors on Saturdays. “Kids can connect to reindeer,” she says.
Pauline, who has long white hair and sometimes wears a red cape to school around Christmastime, says she was asked by one of her second-graders if she is really Mrs. Claus. “I tell the kids that we’re the reindeer keepers. We get them ready for Santa,” she says as Maple Annie curls up on a red blanket between the two sleeping dogs.
The Vermont Reindeer Farm is at 3108 Chilafoux Road, West Charleston, Vt.