By William Thomas

Full disclosure:  I hate Christmas more than brussel sprouts, homemade wine and Michael Vick.  Shopping like it’s roller derby, needless gift giving, fighting over parking spots— Christmas for me is best described as Black Friday, Black Saturday, Black Sunday, right through to Black Boxing Day.

I wouldn’t say the spirit of Christmas has been buried by materialism, but the only clue children today have of when it all began with the birth of Christ in Bethlehem is that the Travelodge hotel chain is offering couples named Mary and Joseph one free night on Dec. 25.  I am not making that up.  I’m waiting for Joe Camel to offer kids free Three Wise Men action figures with the purchase of every carton of cigarettes.

The single thought that gets me through Christmas is that there’s some poor bugger out there that hates the yuletide season more than me.  And that has to be Pet Santa down at the mall.

Can you imagine that interview at the local temporary employment office?

“Sorry Bob, but with no licence, no trade skills and no experience … oh wait a minute … the mall needs a Pet Santa at ten bucks an hour.”

“What do I hafta do?”

“Just sit there in a Santa Claus outfit and have your picture taken with pets!”

“Well, I do like dogs.  I am overweight.  Red is my favourite colour.  What could possibly go wrong?”

Answer:  everything from frightened dogs to grumpy cats, rabbits bearing raisins and ferrets which tend to burrow down into areas that are dark and warm. If you’re ever at the mall when Santa is screaming like he just sat on a Cactus Chia Pet, chances are the ferret’s gone missing again.

Calmness at the mall is paramount, so Pet Santas let the dogs walk around and get comfortable before they haul them up onto their laps for the photos.  And we all know how dogs get to know you.  Yeah, half way through his shift, Pet Santa is on his way into Guinness Book of Records in the category of Crotch Sniffing.

And now that everybody has a cell phone, people are no longer satisfied with just colour photos of Buster and Calico Sal.  With iPhones containing scads of gigabytes, many people are taking videos of the event and acting like Hollywood directors.  “Lights!  Camera!  Action!  Oops!  Poop!  Cut!  Clean up at the North Pole.”

Pet Santas use a set of props including high-pitched whistles and squeaky toys to get the animals’ attention for the camera.  You have to hope one of these videos doesn’t surface at Pet Santa’s next high school reunion.

“So Bob, I see you carved out quite the career of a man who gets paid to be peed on.  When you retire, do you get a gold watch or a choke collar?”

And cats being dragged to the mall for a photo shoot?!?  A cat napping on his back in the window still gets cranky when a cloud gets between him and the sun.  Imagine how happy Big Ears Curtis is going to be after being crated, uncrated and then held against his will by a fat stranger whose clothes are covered in dog hair!?!  Which is why you’ll often hear Pet Santa say:  “ I really ho, ho, hope this little fella is declawed.”  If not, Santa and Mrs. Claus can pretty much forget about adding to their elf collection.  Yes, nothing says Christmas better than a cat with a grudge kneading your lap followed closely by an overweight Rottweiler with gas.

Let’s be honest, Pet Santa photos are not for the pets.  Generally speaking, they hate the whole experience. Pet Santa photos are vanity ventures by the owners of the pets that end up as family gifts, framed mementos, Christmas card pictures and t-shirt highlights.  So in order to even things out, if every pet had his way, after he spent ten embarrassing minutes posing with Santa, the owner would have to head over to the south side of the North Pole display and spend a half hour strapped to Santa’s Mechanical Reindeer. Do not eat before mounting.

I actually have a photograph of my late dog, Jake, with Santa at the local mall which I did not authorize or approve.  It was a gift.  But to be perfectly honest, it’s a great photo with both my exceedingly handsome dog and jolly Old Saint Nick appearing as happy as two kids at camp.  I know why Jake is smiling.  If you told that dog there was a treat involved he’d have volunteered to go down into the mines of Sudbury to work as a “gas sniffer.”  But Santa, with a great big grin on his face and a big slobbering dog on his lap?!?  He had to be packing a flask.

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