Looks like Santa ought to be added to his own naughty list.
On Sunday, a Santa working at The Shops at Mission Viejo in California turned away a girl with autism because she brought along her pit bull service dog, ABC reports.
Abcde Santos, 7, waited in line for half an hour with her service dog Pup-Cake to see Mr. Claus, but was greeted with an upsetting surprise once she finally reached the front of the line. St. Nick refused to see Abcde – pronounced ab-suh-dee – because he was leery of the 5-year-old pit bull accompanying her. The Santos family offered to take Pup-Cake outside so Abcde could have her turn, but the Santa still refused.
“The fact that Abcde was able to wait in line for 30 minutes was something that was to be highly celebrated,” family friend Julie Miller told ABC. “Any person who has a child on the spectrum would look at that and think, ‘Wow.’ ”
“The dog is not a breed when it is a service animal,” Miller continued. “A service animal is a highly trained companion to an individual and the breed is secondary. The Americans with Disabilities Act gives an individual with a disability the right to have their companion and service animal with them to do the job that they’re trained to do.”
Pup-Cake has been trained to help Abcde feel more comfortable, and travels with her wherever she goes. Miller shared that the Santos family is refraining from interviews about the incident, but they are heartbroken by what happened and the effect it has had on their daughter.
The Santos family contacted The Shops at Mission Viejo shortly after being turned away, and posted on Facebook that the mall reacted quickly and supportively. Shortly after receiving the family’s complaint, The Shops issued a personal apology to Abcde and also posted one publicly to their own Facebook page.
“We do not condone the behavior displayed by Santa and have worked with our partners at Noerr, the company that hires our Santas, to replace this Santa with one that is more compassionate to our guests’ needs,” The Shops at Mission Viejo wrote. “We look forward to welcoming back the Santos family and Pup-Cake for a special Santa experience.”
Noerr also reached out to Abcde and her family to apologize and offer the little girl her own private visit with Santa, Pup-Cake included.
The Santa and elf involved in this upsetting incident have been fired, the Noerr company reports.
Overall the Santos family is thankful for the heartfelt responses they have received from the mall, the Noerr company and the countless strangers who have reached out via Facebook. However, they say that Abcde is still rattled by what happened.
“Right now Abcde does not want anything to do with anything Christmas. The family is working on reigniting that hope she had; if and when it happens she will visit Santa at The Shops,” Miller said. “She will have her 30 seconds with Santa so she can ask him what he wants for Christmas. If she wants to. Not until then.” By Kelli Bender [People]