John Grygiel struggled in his hairy padded Santa Claus costume to keep a slobbering pug on his lap.
“Two years without an accident,” he said through his strap-on beard. “Two years without a single bite. Don’t jinx me.”
Sunday afternoon was Grygiel’s second round as the Animal Protective Foundation’s pet Santa. Over four hours sitting in a dog-proof vinyl chair at Faddegon’s Nursery, he held 100 dogs on his lap, smiling for a picture with each, then on to the next.
“Good dog,” he said, letting the animal to the floor.
Dog lovers from all over the Capital Region paid $10 for a 5-by-7-inch portrait for their pets with Santa, with all proceeds going to the APF in Scotia. Though the dogs didn’t share their Christmas wishes with the big man, the event was surprisingly similar to any toy-store children’s event.
“They’re basically just like kids, only a little easier,” said Rick Chyczewski, as his 2-year-old collie Titan made a break for the koi pond.
He and his wife, Jeanna, brought their two collies from Scotia for the photo shoot. Jeanna explained they got the dogs to ease the transition of their own children moving away, but waiting for Santa, she was just as busy as any young parent.
Dogs of all shapes and sizes strained at leashes to sniff and nose each other. Owners of the more energetic breeds held them to the fringes of the crowd until their number was called, then it was into the greenhouse past rows of lighted Christmas trees to meet the man himself.
The event has been held for a score of years in the Scotia shelter. This year, the nursery offered their space, and according to shelter director of communications Marguerite Pearson, it worked much better.
“We’re really controlling the chaos this time,” she said.
In previous years, the dogs all hung out in a single room. It was hard enough keeping the parade of pugs, Labradors and schnauzers on Grygiel’s lap with only their owners watching. With 100 dogs watching, she said it was pretty hectic.
“I ran five miles with her this morning,” said Cynthia Southard, stroking the loose neck of her yellow Labrador Charlotte. “That’s why she’s calm.”
The dog in front of her in line wore a pair of tiny reindeer antlers.
“I used to laugh at people who did this sort of thing with their dogs,” she said, but since her husband passed away and her children grew up and moved out, Charlotte has become a steadfast companion. “When my kids see this picture, they’ll think I’ve gone over the edge.”
For one couple, the portraits were a bit more serious. Mike and Donna Micheli waited for more than an hour with their two schnauzers. Both dogs were dressed for the occasion in holiday sweaters — hair combed back and nicely trimmed.
“They’re our children,” Donna said, and they’re treated as such. For breakfast 12-year-old Kelsey and 7-year-old Sarah eat blueberry pancakes. They also get the best medical care.
When Kelsey was diagnosed with liver cancer two years ago, the Michelis brought her to an animal hospital in New York City.
“It’s one of the best in the country,” Mike said.
The little dog is still on her feet thanks to a total of $6,000 of medical treatment and a daily dose of liver supplements.
“She’s our little miracle,” Donna said.
They plan to send her portrait to the vet who initially gave Kelsey only six months to live.
As dogs were loaded into the backs of minivans, Pearson said the event was a great success. All aspects of the photography was donated by Red Cottage Studios, so the shelter netted roughly $1,000 to house their animals over the Christmas season.
“We see so many dogs dropped off with nothing,” she said, “so it’s nice to see people come out who would do anything for their dog.”
Even with the good turnout, APF can always use donations of both money and pet-related items such as canned dog food, leashes, chew toys and bathroom cleaners.
For more information or to donate, visit www.animalprotective.org.