By MAGGIE GEBHARDT
Santa's lap welcomed a few fluffy, wet-nosed visitors Monday evening at The Mall in Hays.
The Mall invited pet parents and their furry companions to visit Santa on his sleigh this year at the annual Santa photos pet session. Customers took home a 4-by-6-inch photo of their Santa visit for $5.
Cody Dale, Hays, marketing director for the mall, orchestrated the event.
"We've had more calls on the pet photos than we had on the kid photos," Dale said. "Pet parents are really excited."
Allyson Flax, a Hays High senior, was working the front desk and taking some of the Santa photos for the customers.
"My favorite part is seeing all of the unique animals come in," Flax said.
Amber Wellbrock, a Fort Hays State University sophomore, and Vashti Waldschmidt, a Hays High student, also were helping take photographs and greet customers. They also said their favorite part was just getting to see the different animals.
The Hays mall Santa of 12 years said the strangest pet he's seen come in through the years was a horse, but most commonly, families bring in dogs and cats for the visit.
"Pet lovers are as crazy as these crazy moms, if not crazier," Dale jokingly said of the pet parents.
"For some people, these are their kids," she said. "We, as parents, take pride in our children, and these are some people's children."
Melissa Seltmann, Hays, brought her 5-year-old daughter, Mallory, and their dog, Maki, to the photo event.
"Mallory is an only child, so including Maki is important to her," Seltmann said. "He is like her sibling."
One-by-one, families came through the mall doors with their furry best friends, some of which were dressed in Christmas sweaters.
Carol Michel and Tim Huck of Hays carried in four Chinese cresteds to visit with Santa.
"They are brothers and sisters, but they are all different," Michel said of her furry companions, Oliby, Teddy, Dannie and Honey. "They are our kids."
Traveling from WaKeeney, Lynn Stephenson toted in her 4-year-old Lhasa Apso, Stewart.
"We adopted him, and we wanted to make this Christmas special for him," Stephenson said. "I'm trying to give him better memories than the memories he has of being abandoned.
"I want him to know he's part of a family that loves him. He's not just a dog, he's our son."
The Mall will conduct Santa photos for children every weekend until Christmas. This weekend, photo sessions are from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.
"We will definitely do pet photos again next year," Dale said.