Owners' 'friends' primp for photos


November 23, 1992|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

It might have been a bit early for Santa, but then dogs are terrible at keeping track of dates.

Pet owners lined up yesterday at the Coventry School for Dogs and Their People in Columbia for a picture of their pooch with a jolly looking, red-suited and false-bearded St. Nick.

Eager for their turn, many of the queued-up canines tried to scramble over flimsy wooden gates, earning reproach from their masters and a recruitment pitch from Ruth Chase, the dean of the obedience school.

Some dogs were dressed for the occasion, sporting ribbons or red hats with fake fur linings.

And when the big moment arrived, each was led by its owner to an upholstered armchair underneath a green wreath to meet Santa, a.k.a. Dan Barclay, a CIA electronic engineer who lives in Gaithersburg.

"I've taken animal pictures before," he said knowingly.

Despite tradition, few of the animals were photographed on Santa's knee. This may have had something to do with the fact that few of the dogs, including German shepherds, black Labradors and a Siberian husky, could be considered lapdogs.

Yesterday everything went smoothly, which has not always been the case for this annual photo session.

The event is a fund-raiser that each year benefits the Ellicott City-based Golden Retriever Rescue, Education & Training (GRREAT) Inc. The group rescues Golden Retrievers from pounds in several states. They ask a $10 to $20 donation for each photograph, and raised about $750 yesterday.

In earlier years, the sessions were open to any kind of animal.

"We just said bring your pets and we didn't qualify it, and somebody came with a boa constrictor," said Ms. Chase. "The photographer was fussing about glare from the snake . . . then it started doing its snake-like thing."

The boa slid off of Santa's shoulders and wrapped itself around his neck, prompting a rather worried smile, she said. "It was a big snake -- nobody cut in line in front of it."

After the snake incident, it was "no reptiles, please." Next came the ferret incident: despite concerned queries from Santa, the ferret's owner had insisted it was a gentle creature. As promised, it sat quietly for the photo . . . then bit Santa and "watered on his knee," recalled Ms. Chase.

"The old Santa Claus didn't want to work with birds and stuff," said Kathy Carbone, president of GRREAT.

But yesterday the most exotic animal to be found was a Siamese cat that retreated quietly inside a pet carrier, unnoticed by the large dogs.

The photos have become popular as Christmas cards for many dog owners, Ms. Carbone said.

And, she added, some owners even carry them in their wallet.

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