Santa Paws is Coming to Town

by Mindy Naticchioni , Administrator of the Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter

Trying to get a pose out of my dog Zephyr Santa Paws, 2013

My dog Joplin kissing Santa directly on the mouth, 2013

Jingle jangle, woof woof, Ho Ho Ho…Santa Paws has once again visited the Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter (CCAS). The annual Santa Paws event pulled into the shelter and left everyone quite merry. Each year the shelter holds the holiday bonanza with photo stations, raffle baskets and of course cookies! The event is a fundraiser to benefit the extensive medical needs for the lost and stray dogs that come to call CCAS their temporary home. 

Over the years this event has continued to grow in both size and scope. We now offer the event dates all three weekends in December leading up to the holiday, as well as a special early bird weekend at the end of November that gives clients and their pets 20% off their photo shoot. Each weekend we operated two different photo stations with varying backgrounds for clients to choose from. Clients had multiple options on their picture packages, including a USB drive of all photos with outtakes. While clients waited for Santa in our lobby, they could participate in our 20-basket raffle, buy a mystery stocking for a chance to win a grill, grab their 2017 Paw-ject Runway calendar, get some tickets for our 50/50 or really drop some cash and spring for yearlong cage sponsor. 

We had fantastic volunteers that donated unbelievable amounts of time during this busy time of year. Additionally, the volunteer photographers had a true gift in capturing animals in photos. Folks that visited, love their experience and come back year after year to get their photos taken. But it is all isn’t as easy as it seems. “You better watch out, you better not” …bite? Santa Paws is less interested if you have been naughty or nice, or if you fit on his lap comfortably, because not every dog, cat, bunny or bird that comes to see the man in the big red suit, is jolly. Understandably, your pet lives in the comfy confines of your home, checks out your backyard and goes on the occasional trip to park. Coming to a shelter to see that white beard can be very scary! That’s not news for veteran volunteer Santa’s though. Similar to their counterparts in the mall, our Santa’s are aware that they can appear to be quite menacing for some pets and getting peed on, is an occupational hazard. They are armed with treats, squeaky toys, tennis balls and talented volunteer dog handlers to help assist and make it work to get the best photo of Santa and your pet for you; even if your beloved pet didn’t have the best time while visiting us. 

While everything was festive and fun, and the event ran like a machine – there was always a lot going on behind the scenes. Photo printers stop working, photography lights get knocked over and broken, there are poop accidents, pee accidents, vomit accidents, Santa is hot or might need a belly & belt adjustment, the dog toy squeaker’s hand is cramping, a guest sneezed on the brownies or gasp, we are out coffee!  No two weekends are the same, but each is full throttle for our staff and volunteers. However, somehow when it is over everyone is already plotting and planning for next year.

Lastly, no event would be complete without some healthy competition from our Santa’s. There is always an unspoken rivalry between our Santa’s to see the most pets, and have the biggest following. Choosing your Santa is a bigger deal than many realize.  We spend months planning and pairing Santa’s with their photographers, deciding on their room placement, and ensuring their backdrops are all set up correctly brings on a lot of discussion. Each Santa recruits their own friends and family to attend the event and support CCAS, and for a little bit of bragging rights we’ve noticed. It’s all in good fun and spirit! 

This year, we raised a total of $15,845.80 – a new record for Santa Paws! Last year we raised $15,360.55. Here is the 2016 breakdown: 

Santa Paws Totals:
Number Sold: Amount:
Photos: 375 $8,510.80
Raffle Tickets: --- $5,332.00
Stockings 40 $400.00
Calendars: 89 $950.00
50/50: --- $485.00
Donation Jar: --- $168.00
Total: $15,845.80

Where do all these Santa funds go?  Great question.  The funds from our photos go to benefit our Dick Goddard Best Friend’s Medical Relief Fund, which treats medical needs above the typical vaccinations and spay and neuter that all our dogs receive. It’s not uncommon for stray dogs to come in after being hit by car, have mange, broken bones, heartworm or other myriad of problems. These funds give us the ability to not only treat the dog, but give them a second chance at a happy, healthy life. The remaining fundraisers generate monies for the Friends of Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter, which is a separate 501c3 non-profit charity created to support CCAS.  This group can choose to donate directly to our medical relief fund or help us fund another project around the shelter, like our playgroups. Any which way you go, the dogs at CCAS benefit from attending Santa Paws. 



Carlos is a terrier puppy that was treated for a bacterial infection on his skin.  He has since healed and found a home thanks to the Dick Goddard Best Friends Medical Relief Fund.