Cats and dogs and pigs and spiders: Santa visits all at Kitsap Humane Society

SILVERDALE — Santa Claus spent some time with animals other than his loyal reindeer on Sunday, Dec. 11.

Kitsap Humane Society once again hosted its annual Santa Paws event, inviting families from all over the area to get their family’s photos taken with jolly old Saint Nick — and not just the human family members, but the pets, too.

“It’s kind of fun for me to get unique animals in the pictures,” said Santa Jeff Berger. “Over the years, I’ve had llamas, a horse — obviously the horse doesn’t sit in my lap.

“I’ve had various kinds of birds … This year I had my very first kunekune pig. Also, out at Bay Hay and Feed this year, I had my first tarantula, who sat on my arm, which was kind of fun.”

He said someone told him next year that they’re bringing their anaconda to get its photo with Santa.

Berger has been volunteering as Santa Claus at Kitsap Humane Society for 25 years, he said. He also volunteers as Santa for the Mason County Humane Society.

Berger said that working with kids is “always a lot of fun, but animals, after doing it for so long, I think I just know how to relate.”

Of course, the humans are more than welcome to join their pets for a family photo with Santa. Rebeka Johnson, outreach coordinator for Kitsap Humane Society, said many families use the Santa Paws photos for their Christmas cards.

“I love it,” Johnson said. “It’s a lot of fun to see people bringing their animals. Sometimes they’ll be dressed up.”

Johnson said all proceeds from the portrait sessions (it costs $20 per family), donations and merchandise sales go toward general shelter operation funds that pay for food, vet services, helping foster families have necessary materials to care for animals and various programs. Prior to the event, Johnson said the fundraising goal was $1,000-$1,200.

Kimberly Cizik Allen, assistant outreach coordinator, said that with 54 families participating, donating and buying merchandise, the shelter raised more than $1,400 dollars.

Families that participated received a digital file of photos taken by Mary Eklund of Four Foot Photography. Eklund is a veteran animal photographer who one volunteer said “really knows what she’s doing” when it comes to photographing animals. Eklund was prepared with a variety of attention-grabbing toys, treats and noises to ensure pets looked at the camera when photographed.

Getting the pet’s attention is not the biggest challenge he’s seen in events like these, Berger said.

“Oddly enough, the biggest challenge with pet photos is getting the people to look at the camera (instead of at) their pets,” he said.

Berger said people are often so focused on ensuring their dog or cat behaves and is facing the right way, they forget to look at the camera themselves.

“The animals behave most of the time very well,” Berger said, “and I’ve had folks come with their animal and are fearful that they’re not going to do well. They find things work out much better than expected.”

Michelle Beahm is a reporter with the Central Kitsap Reporter and Bremerton Patriot. She can be reached at mbeahm@soundpub