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Santa and the dogs to the rescue!

By Linda Petty, CNN
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Santa pet pictures: For a good 'paws'
  • Santa and pet photos are great fundraisers for animal charities
  • Nikko gets his photo taken every year so his owner can send it to her mother
  • One Santa had a 10-foot boa constrictor draped over him for a photo
  • Doguroo owners' pit bull mix, Lottie, was a patient "loaner dog for petless people
  • Pets
  • Christmas

Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) -- Whether they've been good or bad, some dogs visited Santa this holiday season to get their photos taken with the jolly but unfamiliar bearded man in a red suit.

It's 1-year-old Max's first time, owner Janice Sims said of her Australian shepherd, "but he's not afraid of Santa like my kids were." She planned to hang his photo on her Christmas tree.

It was also a first Santa visit for Gizmo. The 11-month-old puppy arrived a little after the holidays last year as a gift for 4-year-old Naomi.

"I never wanted a dog," remembered mom Jewel Washington. "But I guess I swallowed the Kool-Aid," she laughingly said as she and her daughter Naomi tried to get their dog to look the camera. They are giving Gizmo a lighted leash for Christmas.

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There is a lot of laughter and fun in the whole process. Dogs greeted and played with each other while they waited for their turn with Santa. Owners -- some of whom were shopping when they just happened upon the photo session -- helped volunteers pose the dogs with Santa.

Nikko has gotten his holiday photo taken for eight years in a row. Owner Sophia Henry said she does it because her own mother enjoys getting the pooch's picture as a gift every holiday.

Avoid holiday pitfalls with pets

But before anyone gets all "Scroogey" about a waste of money in hard times, many of the pet and St. Nick pictures taken across the country raise money to help not-so-lucky animals.

FurKids, a no-kill animal rescue organization, provides a Santa and photographers at PetSmart stores around Atlanta. The organization sponsored several "Santa Claws" events in Tucker, Georgia, this month.

A $5 donation bought a framed digital photo of the owner's choice with as many critters that can squeeze into Santa's lap or on his bench.

Santa "Mike" has volunteered his lap every December for a half a dozen years to raise money for FurKids so the charity can save abandoned cats and dogs and get them adopted.

He's experienced only one "damp" visit, when a dog last year watered his boots. But he also put his foot down when faced with a 170-pound Rottweiler. He told the owners, "I'll sit in his lap, but you're not setting him on my lap." However, his most unusual pet picture over the years was with a 10-foot boa constrictor draped over him.

Doguroo, a doggie day care and grooming center, sponsored several Santa photo sessions in front of a huge sparkling tree at Central Park in Atlanta's Atlantic Station's this December. Any critter -- including two-legged ones -- could get their photo taken with Santa for a $10 donation to the Atlanta Humane Society.

Doguroo owners Eileen Kelly and Jean Finney brought along their very sweet pit bull mix, Lottie, wearing a colorful collar with bells, who patiently sat on the sofa with dogless humans who wanted a critter in their photo with Santa. Lottie also submitted to petting by happy children. All she demanded was an occasional treat.

Santa "Jimmy" visited with children all day at Dillard's at Atlantic Station, before taking up his post out in front of the tree in the park, as he does on weekend evenings. His most memorable experience this year was having the front legs of 170-pound Great Dane draped over his lap.

Sherie and Britt Layman brought their 1½-year-old canine cocktail, Loretta (aka Mrs. Santa Paws), for a photo.

Katie Fisher had a double challenge for Santa -- Simon and Gigi, both dogs around 2 years old. She said the two pups will be getting lots of treats, tennis balls and sweaters for Christmas.

And one pet owner brought her three dogs decked out in their festive red and white outfits.

The Humane Society of New York held a Toys for Dogs event this year, where pets could get their photo taken with Santa in exchange for donated toys for homeless dogs.

Director Sandra DeFeo says it's less of a "fund raiser" and more of a "fun raiser" with "good cheer, sweets and holiday drinks."

"We always bring dogs available for adoption," DeFeo said. Donations go to support the animal shelter and free clinic.

Pet owners bring mostly dogs, but an occasional cat or bird drops in to join the festivities.

But DeFeo says it's not only small creatures sniffing around at these parties. She has seen some single pet owners checking each other out. And, she says, a particularly handsome Santa was a big attraction one year.

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