AUBURN — It took some coaxing, and more than a few treats, but Brynnlee finally decided that Santa Claus wasn’t such a bad guy.

Flanked by the human members of her family, the 9-month-old German shepherd cautiously sniffed Santa’s outstretched hand. Inched forward cautiously. Sniffed again. Then lightly licked Santa’s nose.

“Who’s a good girl?” Santa cooed. “Oh, what a good girl!”

A few minutes later — after a bit of barking at the camera flash and some calming — Brynnlee sat proudly beside Santa’s knee, her first Christmas immortalized with a photo.

Off to the side, Brynnlee’s “mom” beamed. 

“We love her. We love Santa. Christmas is special to all of us and we want her to be part of it,” Karen McBride said.

For years, the Auburn Mall has offered pet photos with Santa, letting furry, feathered and scaly family members in on the fun once reserved for human kids. For the past three years, Photo Finish has run Santa Moments in the center of the mall.

“I make a fool out of myself sometimes getting the pets’ attention, but I love it,” manager Ellie Gagnon said. “They’re part of the family.”

Although pets can have their photo taken with Santa any day, Photo Finish designated Mondays in particular as pet days.

“We have the ones that come every single year and as soon as they see Santa they get all excited because they know they’re going to get a treat. Just like kids, they remember and they know Santa’s a good thing,” Gagnon said. 

Dogs are most likely to visit Santa. Cats do, too, but not always so eagerly.

“Sometimes they’re really chill and other times they’re just like, ‘What is going on?'” Gagnon said. “We had one cat who didn’t even need to be held. He came in and sat down right beside Santa.”

Not every pet is furry. Santa once got a visit from a bearded dragon. And there have been snakes.

No animal is too strange for Santa — he’d like to see a potbellied pig sometime, or maybe a large spider — but sometimes Santa is too strange for the animal.

“If the snake is not comfortable with Santa, the parents — the owner — will be in the photo holding the snake for Santa,” Gagnon said.

But what’s the secret to a good pet photo, especially involving an easily distracted dog?

According to Santa, “It’s getting them comfortable with you.”

“And a squeaker toy,” Gagnon added.

Though a squeaker toy doesn’t always have the desired effect.

“Santa’s almost been ripped out of the chair at one point,” Gagnon said.

But when it all works, it’s magical.

“I remember a miniature collie decided I needed a kiss. And while I’m holding it, it turned around and gave me a kiss. They took the picture just as it happened,” Santa said.

It was magical for Brynnlee and her family last week. A service-dog-in-training, she’s protective of her family and wary around strangers. Santa was definitely a stranger. 

Kibble helped. So did the attention Santa gave her before they went in front of the camera. By the time the pair sat down, with Brynnlee’s family looking on, she was happy and calm.

McBride planned to frame Brynnlee’s photo with Santa and hang it up. She also planned to bring Brynnlee’s little sister, a younger puppy, over later that day.

“These are our babies,” McBride said. “Our (human) babies are almost 18 and almost 20. She’s my new baby.” 

Have an idea for Animal Tales? Call Lindsay Tice at 689-2854 or email her at [email protected].