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Despicable Santa: A Santa in Mission Viejo turns away autistic girl and service dog

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A Southern California shopping mall has apologized to the family of a young girl with autism after she and her service dog were turned away by a Santa who was either allergic to the dog, afraid of the dog, or just a most unjolly sort.

The Santa on duty during the incident at The Shops at Mission Viejo was fired, as was at least one elf, and the mall has invited both the girl and her dog back to visit with a more compassionate Santa.

The girl, Abcde (pronounced Ab-Suh-Dee) Santos, had waited in line for half an hour with her service dog Pup-Cake.  But before Abcde could take a seat on Santa’s lap,  she was turned away, apparently because the man playing Saint Nick was not a fan of Pup-Cake, a pit bull, ABC7 reported.

pupcakeFamily friend Julie Miller says Pup-Cake is a specially trained service animal that accompanies Abcde everywhere she goes.

“The dog is not a breed when it is a service animal,” Miller told ABC. “A service animal is a highly trained companion to an individual and the breed is secondary. The Americans with Disabilities Act gives an individual with a disability the right to have their companion and service animal with them to do the job that they’re trained to do.”

Friend say Abcde, rather than wanting to tell Santa what she wanted for Christmas, had hoped to ask him what he was wishing for this year.

Miller said even though Abcde was turned away by Santa and associates, the fact that she patiently waited 30 minutes to see him was something to celebrate.

“Any person who has a child on the spectrum would look at that and think ‘Wow,’” she said

Abcde’s mother wrote about the incident in a Facebook post. She said after Santa refused to meet with the girl and dog, the family offered to take Pup-Cake outside. They were told the visit would still not be allowed because Santa had dog allergies.

Miller said the shopping center responded quickly once they were told what happened.

“We do not condone the behavior displayed by Santa and have worked with our partners at Noerr, the company that hires our Santas, to replace this Santa with one that is more compassionate to our guests’ needs,” The Shops at Mission Viejo wrote on its Facebook page. “We look forward to welcoming back the Santos family and Pup-Cake for a special Santa experience.”

Noerr’s CEO also posted a statement to the mall’s Facebook page:

“For 26 years, The Noerr Programs has devoted itself to sharing the heart of Santa through the creation of magical Christmas experiences for all children and their families. The entire team at The Noerr Programs sincerely apologizes for any distress caused by this situation, and truly regrets the incident. We have reached out to the girl’s family, in an effort to extend a private Santa visit with complimentary photos of both the child and her service dog.”

Whether that happier ending will come to pass is questionable.

Abcde is still upset by what happened. ”Right now Abcde does not want anything to do with anything Christmas,” the family said in a statement.

“The family is working on reigniting that hope she had; if and when it happens she will visit Santa at The Shops. She will have her 30 seconds with Santa so she can ask him what he wants for Christmas. If she wants to. Not until then.”

(Photos: Facebook)

Supersize me: Americans turning to big dogs

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Big dogs — not that they ever left — are coming back.

In its annual report on breed popularity in the U.S., the American Kennel Club notes that, while the Labrador retriever is again the most popular dog breed, other large breeds are quickly moving up the list, including Dobermans, giant schnauzers and Great Danes.

According to the AKC, it could be a sign of an improving economy.

“Owning bigger breeds – an economic indicator of sorts – has been on the rise during the past five years,” said Lisa Peterson, AKC spokeswoman. “As the economy has improved, people are turning back to the big dogs they love, which cost more to feed and care for than the smaller breeds that saw a rise in popularity in 2007 and 2008.”

Labs took the top spot for the 23rd straight year, the longest consecutive reign of any dog in the annual ranking. The rankings are based on the number of AKC dog registrations across the country.

Here are the top 10, with links to their AKC profiles:

1. Labrador Retriever
2. German Shepherd Dog
3. Golden Retriever
4. Beagle
5. Bulldog
6. Yorkshire Terrier
7. Boxer
8. Poodle
9. Rottweiler
10. Dachshund

Comparing those rankings to the 2009 list, there’s evidence of a decline in small dog popularity — Yorkies dropped three places, from third, dachshunds dropped two, from eighth, and shih tzus fell out of the top 10 entirely.

Some smaller breeds saw a gain in popularity, like the French bulldog (now 11th). But far greater gains were made by greatly sized dogs: Doberman Pinschers rose from 22 to 12; Great Danes from 27 to 16; and Bernese Mountain Dogs from 47 to 32.

The AKC announced its rankings Friday, in advance of the upcoming Westminster Kennel Club dog show at Madison Square Garden.

Three new breeds will compete this year: rat terriers, Chinooks, and Portuguese Podengo Pequenos.

(Photo: Ash, a lab, or perhaps a lab mix (we didn’t ask for his papers), at play; by John Woestendiek)

Pig ears recalled amid Salmonella fears

 Jones Natural Chews Co of Rockford, Illinois,  is recalling 2,705 boxes of pig ears after random tests found some of the product contaminated with Salmonella, the Food and Drug Administration reports.

The recall was the result of a routine sampling program by Washington State Department of Agriculture which revealed that the finished products contained the bacteria.

No illnesses have been reported.

The pig ears in question — also sold under the Blain’s Farm and Fleet and Country Butcher brands — were distributed in Connecticut, Iowa, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine, Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin. They were shipped to distributors and retailers between September 15, 2010 and November 2, 2010

Consumers who have purchased any of these pig ears are urged to return them to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-877-481-2663

Salmonella can affect animals and there is risk to humans from handling contaminated pet products. People handling dry pet food and/or treats can become infected with Salmonella, especially if they have not thoroughly washed their hands after having contact with the chews or any surfaces exposed to these products.

Pets with Salmonella infections may be lethargic and have diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. Some pets will have only decreased appetite, fever and abdominal pain. If your pet consumed the recalled product and has these symptoms, please contact your veterinarian.

To see a full list of the recalled lots, keep reading. Read more »

Labs still tops; beagles, bulldogs rising

For the 20th year in a row, the Labrador retriever is America’s top dog.

While America’s three most popular dog breeds remained the same — Lab, German shepherd and Yorkshire terrier – the American Kennel Club’s annual list of most oft-registered purebreds had some surprises.

The beagle overtook the golden retriever for the No. 4 spot.

And the bulldog, who has been steadily rising up in rank, took 6th place away from the boxer.

“Not since the early 20th Century has the bulldog enjoyed such sustained popularity,” said AKC Spokesperson Lisa Peterson. “‘Bob’ was the first AKC registered bulldog in 1886, and today the breed enjoys its highest ranking in 100 years at number 6.”

The AKC numbers are based on the numbers of purebreds registered with the organization.

Baltimore’s top five breeds reflected the national averages, except for the presence of the Rottweiler at No. 5.

Chihuahuas, ranked 13th nationally, were the sixth most popular breed for Baltimore.

Some other national highlights from the AKC’s count:

  • The French bulldog made the largest leap in the past decade, jumping 50 places from 71st to 21st. Other breeds with the biggest increase in rankings over the last decade include the Havanese (from 86th to 31st) and the Cavalier King Charles spaniel (from 54th to 23rd).
  • Closing the gap this year, a couple of breeds that had been on the decline over the past decade made double digit increases over the past year — Keeshonden (from 102nd to 87th) and Anatolian shepherd dogs (from 115th to 109th).
  • Three new breeds entered AKC’s registry in 2010, and the larger the breed, the higher they appeared in the rankings. The Leonberger, the largest of the new breeds, was ranked 33rd; the Cane Corso ranked 51st; and the smallest of the new breeds, the Icelandic sheepdog, came in at 82nd.

Some kind of miracle

Was it an Internet miracle, or a Christmas one? Or does that even matter now that Willis, a Clumber spaniel who went missing just before Christmas last year, is back home?

Willis belonged to Karen Martin, of Portsmouth, Va. Four days before Christmas last year, she went out to her back yard to find him gone. After a year of posting fliers and searching, she’d all but given up hope of finding him.

Little did she know, he was hundreds of miles from home, and had a date with death, metro columnist Courtland Milloy of the Washington Post reported last week.

Picked up by animal control officers in Charles County more than a month ago, Willis had been taken to the Tri County Animal Shelter in Hughesville, Md.  Shelter workers scanned Willis for an identification chip, but, though he had one, it was not detected. Shelter workers put a photograph of the  7-year-old dog on the facility’s “at-risk” list, meaning euthanasia was ahead.

The at-risk list, including a photo of each dog, is e-mailed to animal rescue groups and other dog lovers around the country in hopes that someone might be willing to adopt the animals listed before they are euthanized.

Terry Walker, an office manager for a veterinary hospital in Calvert County, was one of those who received it and recognized the dog pictured as a Clumber spaniel.

After an Internet search, Walker found an organization called Clumber Spaniel Rescue of America, and forwarded the dog’s photograph to the three contacts whose names were listed.

One of them ended up in the spam folder of Sally Day, of Washington Crossing, Pa. — a friend of Willis’ owner, Karen Martin.

She said she was deleting her spam when something told her to open this one.

“A voice said, ‘Open it,’ and the hair stood up on the back of my neck,” Day recalled. “The e-mail was from a stranger, and there was a photograph attached. I instantly thought I recognized the dog. I said, ‘Oh, my God, that’s Karen’s boy.’ ”

Martin called her friend Day, then e-mailed her the photo, and Willis is back home now — a bit the worse for wear from his journey of more than 200 miles. He had an injured eye, a respiratory infection and a skin allergy that had resulted in scratching off patches of hair.

Martin, who now lives in Williamsburg, said she expected this Christmas to be a lot more joyful than last year’s.

(Photo: By Jay Paul / from the Washington Post)

Provincetown named dog-friendliest city

Dog Fancy magazine has named Provincetown, Massachusetts, America’s most dog-friendly city.

This year’s 2010 DogTown USA contest, sponsored by WAHL Clipper Corp., named the 40 dog-friendliest cities across the U.S. in honor of the magazine’s 40th anniversary.

The criteria used to select the winning city include dog-friendly open spaces and dog parks, events celebrating dogs and their owners, ample veterinary care, abundant pet supply and other services, and municipal laws that support and protect all pets.

“All dog owners know of a few local shops or restaurants that allow dogs, but it is remarkable to have an entire town where virtually every establishment opens its doors to dogs – even the bank,” says Ernie Slone, Dog Fancy editor.

“Where else can you take your dog along for a whale-watching or sunset cruise, walk miles of off-leash scenic beaches year-round and enjoy one of the nation’s finest dog parks? Provincetown nearly swept our major awards this year, with its Pilgrim Bark Park finishing at No. 2 in our national ratings of dog parks.”

Rounding out the top 10 cities, according to a press release, are:

•Carmel, Calif.
•Madison, Wis.
•Benicia, Calif.
•Fort Bragg, Calif.
•Lincoln City, Ore.
•San Diego, Calif.
•Virginia Beach, Va.
•Sioux Falls, S.D.
•Salem, Ore.

The complete list of all 40 cities is available in the September issue of Dog Fancy, on newsstands July 27, 2010.

Vick tops lists of most-hated athletes

For the second year in a row, Michael Vick has been rated the most hated man in sports, according to an annual Forbes magazine poll.

The NFL quarterback, who completed his sentence on dogfighting charges last year, was disliked– or worse — by 69 percent of respondents.

Vick, now with the Philadelphia Eagles, was one of five NFL figures on the 10 most-hated list.

Al Davis, owner of the Oakland Raiders, took second place on the list with a 66 percent disapproval rating. Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Rothlisberger, who was embroiled in a sexual assault investigation this spring, ranked third with a 57 percent rating.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones tied for fourth with Tiger Woods.