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Saint Nick gets dogs to sit, say ‘cheese’

‘Santa Paws’ photos highlight Humane Society wellness fair

Dad Matt Disanto tries to position Charlie, who's headed for Santa (Cameron Keys), while baby Miles, 3 months, waits patiently for the holiday photo to be taken at “Santa Paws,” a pet photo opportunity at Maui Humane Society's annual Holiday Pet Adoption & Wellness Fair on Saturday in Puunene. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

PUUNENE — Kids staying still for Santa photos is one thing, but dogs sticking around for the perfect Saint Nick shot is quite another.

Santa and his Maui Humane Society helpers pulled out all the stops Saturday for “Santa Paws,” a holiday pet photo op at the Puunene animal shelter.

Nonprofit staff employed treats, pointing, noisemaking and more to retrieve the right photo. All while holiday reds, greens and other festive things became animal costumes and props.

Now in its third year, “Santa Paws” featured photos with Santa from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The popular event was part of nonprofit’s second annual Holiday Pet Adoption & Wellness Fair, which held a vaccine clinic for dogs and cats, license renewals, microchipping and nail trims, offered by donation or for a low cost.

Fair participants who brought a shelter donation had their pet adoption fee sponsored by Subaru Hawaii.

Santa gets some affection from Bloo, while owner Michelle Balala of Kihei tries to get Bloo's attention Saturday at “Santa Paws” in Puunene. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

Also, gourmet, all-natural dog and human treats were sold by Maui Cookie Lab.

“I was at home on Instagram and I was like, ‘I gotta go to this thing'” said Michelle Balala of Kihei.

She brought Bloo, her 5-year-old dog, for fair resources and photos with Santa.

Bloo, along with most other dogs, got decked out in holiday costumes donated by Petco. He willingly wore the elf outfit but it took a walk around the facility to warm up to the idea of pictures with Santa.

Meanwhile, Santa received lots of unsolicited affection from his canine co-stars on Saturday. Thankfully, Maui Humane Society’s Saint Nick, who showed videos of his cat during downtime, is an animal lover.

Ruby Hernandez, Maui Human Society pet marketing coordinator and photographer, uses a treat to get the attention of Adele and Kihei owners Alex Klein (left) and Nicole Gagnier. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

By end of day, 28 pets (15 cats and 13 dogs) had been adopted from the event, according to Nancy Willis, director of development and marketing.

In other adoption updates, 10 of 19 dogs impounded Oct. 24 from a single-property East Maui “hoarding situation” have found permanent homes, Willis said Saturday.

Five dogs were rescued from the same property the week prior to Oct. 24. In all, 47 dogs have been taken from the location since May in the largest effort of its kind for the nonprofit, according to the director.

Called “The Wilsons” and named after Maui Humane Society employees, the remaining nine dogs are being cared for by nonprofit staff.

“The hope is that all of them will get adopted out,” Willis said Saturday. “It is a sad situation but (the dogs) making it to us was the best thing that could’ve happened to them.”

Carole Willis, Maui Humane Society volunteer, helps dog owners pick out the right holiday attire before “Santa Paws” photos on Saturday at the Puunene nonprofit. “It's just so fun getting to put them on dogs,” she said. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

She credited neighbors for alerting the nonprofit and helping save the dogs.

“We were made aware of this by the community,” Willis said. “It’s really important: When people are seeing or hearing things that aren’t right, let us know.”

Pets leaving the shelter for their permanent homes is always welcome news, but when staff get to hear adoptees are doing well, that’s also reason to celebrate.

On Saturday, Willis and staff were reunited with Adele, a “sweet, little puppy” that the director named after the popular singer. Adele was on the radio about a year ago when Willis transported the dog to Central Maui Animal Clinic due to a leg problem.

Still named Adele, but often called “Dele” by Kihei owners Nicole Gagnier and Alex Klein, the dog, who now has three legs, returned to the shelter Saturday for Santa photos.

Shana Miguel helps a customer while Maui Cookie Lab owner Heidi Cramer looks on Saturday at the Maui Humane Society's annual Holiday Pet Adoption & Wellness Fair. Their table offered gourmet, natural pet and human treats. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

“They (nonprofit staff) put a lot of time into her,” Gagnier said. “She had to have a lot of surgeries.”

Willis said employees were glad to know that Adele is healthy and happy, and it’s a “full circle” feeling when they get to see how far the pets have come.

“Everybody here cares so much,” Willis said. “You’re never going to get rich working in a nonprofit or an animal shelter. People are here because they love it.”

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.