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LAGUNA HILLS : ‘Pawsing’ to Picture a Meow-y Christmas

To the rest of the world, he’s jolly St. Nick. But for a fluffy little Pomeranian pooch named Joey, the big guy with the huge, flowing beard looked mighty scary.

With a few consoling words, the tiny animal, shivering and whining with fear, settled down long enough to sit on Santa’s lap and pose for pictures as his owner, Marsha Carone of Laguna Niguel, beamed with pleasure.

“He was a little scared of Santa,” said Valerie Mincheff, program director of Santa Claws and Paws, an annual event at the Laguna Hills Mall that benefits the San Clemente Animal Shelter. “He was shivering so much, I thought he would be one big blur in the picture.”

Several hundred pet owners are expected to visit the mall this weekend and plunk down $6 per snapshot. Many are return customers who come every year and go to great lengths to prepare their pets for the event.

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On Friday morning, one woman dressed her black cocker spaniel in a matching set of four red booties, complete with a matching bow and Santa hat. The dog shared the photo with the family cat, a black feline that also wore a red-and-white Santa cap.

“Maybe we humanize our pets a little too much, but pets are part of the family and they need to share in the holiday spirit as much as the two-legged members of the family,” Mincheff said. “It’s a nice indulgence and I don’t think it’s silly at all.”

Several other organizations feel the same way, judging from the number of similar events that are taking place in the county during the holiday season.

In addition to the Laguna Hills Mall program--which continues from 8 to 10 a.m. and 8 to 10 p.m. today and Sunday on a first-come, first-serve basis--picture days will be held at the Laguna Beach and Irvine animal shelters.

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At the Laguna Beach shelter, 20612 Laguna Canyon Road, snapshots will be taken today and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The cost is $5.

The Irvine shelter program will hold its Santa photo days on Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. and Dec. 14 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The cost is $6 per snapshot.

Any animal is welcome at each of the programs. Mincheff said that in the last three years, the San Clemente shelter’s Santa has posed with everything from pet opossums to pythons. This year, Santa Paws and Claws is expecting its first Vietnamese pot-bellied pig.

In the past, large crowds of people and pets have gathered to line up in front of Santa. But so far, no animals have escaped or gone to battle in the line, the program director said.

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