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At a Holiday Photo Event, a Dog Plays Naughty with Santa, 
Putting the Boutique Owners in a Difficult Situation

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A’S PET BOUTIQUE was just coming up on its first year of business, and owner Aaron was excited to be hosting the business’s first Santa Paws photo event — where pet parents could bring in their pets for pictures with Santa. In addition, the store planned hot chocolate and nibbles for the humans, special Santa dog treats and discounts on holiday merchandise. A lot of marketing and pre-promotion were going into the event and seemed to be creating a buzz both online and in the community.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy E. Hassel is founder and president of American Pet Professionals (APP), an award-winning networking and educational organization dedicated to helping pet entrepreneurs, businesses and animal rescues to grow, work together and unite the pet industry. Contact her at . nancy@americanpetprofessionals.com

“Hey, it looks like we are up to 115 people who plan on coming to the event, but only about 25 people have actually pre-scheduled their appointments,” said store manager Anita, who has 15 years pet retail experience. “Do you think we should cap it at 50, 25 each day just for the photos?”

“Let’s just let anyone come,” said Aaron, still a relative newbie to the pet space. “If they want to wait or get squeezed into a photo session, let them.”

“OK, but it could get out of control if all those people actually show up,” Anita warned.

“A problem I would love to have,” quipped Aaron as he flashed a big smile. Anita frowned: This weekend could be amazing or a nightmare.

As the Santa Paws weekend drew closer, they were close to 50 paid-for and scheduled photo appointments. They hired a professional to play Santa and a pet photographer to take the photos.

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Two hours into the event, everything was going seamlessly, people were having their pets’ photos taken with Santa and sticking around for some holiday cheer while the photos were printed and sent to their phones. As the holiday music played in the background, the sounds of laughter, dogs barking and the cha-ching of the register were music to Aaron’s ears.

This is exactly what he was envisioning when they were planning the event, until suddenly he heard a very loud, “Oooowwwww!” and then the growls and yap of a small dog.

“Your dog … your dog just bit me!” exclaimed Santa to the dog’s parent.

Aaron ran over to see what was happening, and just then Santa pulled off his glove to reveal a punctured bloody hand. There was an audible gasp from people nearby. “Anita, get the first aid kit! Can you guys give us some room?” Aaron then turned to Santa: “Joe, are you OK?”

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“Well, no! I was just bit!” Joe said. “I have been doing these gigs a long time, never have been bitten this bad before.”

Aaron handed him paper towels. “Let’s go into the bathroom and wash off your hand to see how bad it is.”

“I am so sorry.She has never done anything like that before!” the dog’s owner said.

Anita asked everyone to be patient, and she would let them know what would be happening the rest of the day soon — but to stay and enjoy themselves.

Aaron, said to Anita, “It doesn’t look that bad — but he is shaken up. Did you get the information from the dog owner?”

“Yes, the dog is up to date on all shots,” Anita said, “and we already have all her contact info from her consent form. I feel terrible for Joe.”

“He doesn’t know if he will stay,” Aaron said. “He may go to urgent care. We have all these people, appointments lined up. If he leaves, to go to the ER or urgent care, I understand completely, but what are we going to do about the rest of the event?”

The Big Questions

  • What would you do without a backup Santa?
  • How would you handle all those pre-paid appointments for photos with Santa?
  • Should the dog owner be responsible for the medical expenses, or the store, or both?
Pattie B.
Charlottesville, VA

We’ve had Santa before — he got piddled on, but never bitten! My ex was Santa, and he left and went home. So I got to be Santa for a day! When we have photo sessions, it’s by appointment in our indoor photo area, or if it’s by drop-in, we have a tent with panels outside the front door. This helps to reduce stress in a crowded situation. If we have outside people come in to help with an in-store event where dogs are welcome, they sign a release. But if there was a bite, we would pay for the medical expenses. Most owners whose dogs bite never really think it’s their fault and take no responsibility for bad training. They’re the ones who would be most likely to complain about the situation online, which takes too much time and effort on my part to diffuse.

Dawn T.
Vero Beach, FL

First, never schedule such an event without a backup Santa. Considering they don’t have one, see if the Santa suit will fit the owner or possibly the other employee in the store. To handle all the prepaid appointments for photos with Santa, Aaron could reschedule the appointments or offer a refund. It is an unfortunate circumstance that the dog bit the Santa. However, dogs are dogs. The dog owner she should offer to pay — or at least split — the cost with the store for the responsibility for any medical expenses.

Frank F.
Farmingdale, NJ

We’ve been holding a pictures-with-Santa event for 26 years. (Last year, we had more than 600 dogs have their pictures taken with Santa, with the proceeds going to local rescue groups.) Knock on wood, we’ve never had an incident where Santa was bitten (especially since I’m Santa …). We do not book prepaid appointments for pictures. We have a backup plan for Santa should I get sick/lame/lazy or die! We have a dog trainer/behaviorist on-site during the event to help set up the dogs for their pictures. Last, my business insurance would be on the hook for the liability, since it is a company event.

Debbie K.
St. Augustine, FL

Get an employee to get on the costume and continue on. If not, refund the appointments along with a free bag of food or something else. Unfortunately, the store is responsible. Maybe split the cost with the dog owner if they feel an obligation.

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Angela P.
Stratford, CT

The health and safety of Santa is of most importance, so of course he should go to urgent care. I would quickly compose a text or email message to all of the participants: “An overeager elf pup showed Santa his displeasure by giving him a little nip. Santa is OK, but needs to get some first aid. We will be continuing to take photos with our fun backdrop and have Santa’s costume here should you as an owner want to use it with your dog. While we’re sure the photos will still come out cute, if you’d like to reschedule, we will let you know when Santa is available! Thanks for understanding!” Honesty, willingness to still show that the event and store are open and ready for celebration, as well as offering an alternative, will still gain points with customers. Most reasonable people would be fine with this.

Ramie G.
Evanston, IL

We do free Santa photos every Saturday in December (we suggest a donation to the shelters we sponsor), and it’s my biggest nightmare scenario. One year our Santa who did this for 10 years was ill and went into the hospital after one Saturday. We chose our backup based more on personality than anything else, and it worked just fine. There were people who expected our regular Santa, but they were more concerned about his health than their photo. I would hope that by having a photographer setting this up, that they would have language in their form explaining that there could be an emergency like this and how they would compensate those paying for photos. I would also think they would have a backup plan. The store insurance should cover Santa’s injuries, and our state does hold pet owners responsible for bites.

Greg G.
Cody, WY

Do you have workmans comp? I do on everybody! I would be out of business if I didn’t. Had an employee fall, hurt her shoulder. She had $57,000 in medical bills. Worth every penny to have coverage. No comp? Split the bills between customer and store. Replay video if you have to see what actually happened.

What’s the Brain Squad?

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Nancy E. Hassel is founder and president of American Pet Professionals (APP), an award-winning networking and educational organization dedicated to helping pet entrepreneurs, businesses and animal rescues to grow, work together and unite the pet industry. Contact her at nancy@americanpetprofessionals.com.

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