A shopping mall Santa Claus turned away a 7-year-old autistic girl because he was afraid of her service dog.
Abcde Santos and her service animal, Pup-Cake, a 5-year-old pit bull terrier, waited for about a half hour Sunday to meet the costumed Santa Claus at The Shops at Mission Viejo, a family friend told the Orange County Register.
But Santa, whose real name is unknown and was hired by the mall through an outside agency, refused to meet with Abcde, whose name is pronounced “ab-suh-dee.”
The man said he was concerned the dog was dangerous due to its breed, but the family tried to explain that Pup-Cake was a trained service animal and legally permitted to be there.
They offered to take the animal to another part of the mall while the girl sat on Santa’s lap, the friend said, but he still refused and claimed he was allergic to dogs.
The girl was “heartbroken,” the friend told the newspaper, and her family contacted the shopping mall’s operators, who responded immediately.
“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 mall said in a statement on its Facebook page. “We look forward to welcoming back the Santos family and Pup-Cake for a special Santa experience.”
Noerr offered a private meeting with Santa to the girl and her family, and the Santa who turned her away was fired, along with a costumed elf who was present during the incident.
The girl’s family said they were satisfied with the response, but they hope the incident reminds others that the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and their service dogs, regardless of breed.