Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Slithery snakes, chippy birds scare St. Nick

But the old elf managed to survive

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Santa was sweating like a dog.

Which was not entirely unexpected, because I tend to perspire like a Butterball turkey whenever I get dressed up as the Jolly Old Elf for the Pet Pics with Santa Paws fundraiser in support of the Winnipeg Humane Society.

When you're covered in a thick layer of dog drool and cat hair after having your photo taken with hundreds of jittery pets, the inside of a red-velvet suit is a lot like a sauna.

But the main reason I was drenched with sweat on Sunday in my seventh stint as Santa for the humane society was because I was expecting a s-s-s-s-special visitor.

Frank Adam of Adam York Photography -- the man behind the camera at Pet Pics for the last 19 years -- had warned Santa, along with dogs and cats, this year he was going to have his picture taken with a six-foot-long boa constrictor with fangs as long and sharp as steak knives.

At first, other than a few overexcited canines making the weewee of joy on Santa's lap and coating his eyeglasses with a thick layer of drool, things were going swimmingly in Santa's Village.

Then a lovely young red-haired woman arrived toting a medium-sized Rubbermaid container. When she reached inside, much to Santa's relief, Adrienne Pereles, a 23-year-old photographer and photo technician, did not pull out a six-foot boa constrictor.

Instead, she plucked out what looked to Santa like a gigantic black-and-white candy cane. "This is Bones," Adrienne chirped. "He's a two-year-old Honduran milk snake. He's only three feet long but he can grow up to eight feet."

What typically happens is pet owners plop their dogs and cats on Santa's lap, then Frank and the humane society elves entice the pet to look at the camera by squeaking toys, blowing whistles, dangling feathers on the end of sticks and barking like wild dogs.

In this case, however, Santa decided the wisest course of action was to have the snake AND its owner curl up on his lap. Now your typical snake in this situation wants to slither up Santa's fur-trimmed sleeves, but Bones was not your typical snake.

No, Bones was an upbeat, can-do reptile and, with Santa clutching his lower half and Adrienne holding him by what we assume was his neck, he pointed his tiny snake eyes directly into the camera lens and had a sweet smile on his tiny snake lips, assuming he had lips.

"Shoot the (naughty word) picture!" is what Santa snorted at Frank, who, being a photographer, refuses to take a photo until he is satisfied with the pose.

Once Bones was back in his box and Santa's heart rate had returned to normal, Adrienne could not have been happier. "Bones loved Santa!" she declared. "It went better than I thought. I thought he'd be more squeamish.

"I made sure to feed him last night. I gave him mice-icles."

For the record, Santa kept his cool. As Adrienne put it: "Santa was very brave considering he doesn't like snakes."

After the young snake owner walked out with her pet wrapped around her neck like a slithering scarf, things returned to normal, until another young woman walked in with something fluttering in a big steel cage.

The thing in the cage turned out to be a Moluccan cockatoo named "Georgie," a bird the size of a canned ham with a beak that resembles a nutcracker.

"He's not hand-trained so you have to hold this stick and he'll sit on the end of the stick," the woman warned Santa. "If you keep the stick tilted up, he'll just sit there."

Naturally, Santa asked what would happen if he tilted the stick down. "Then he'll walk onto your arm and might bite you, which would hurt," she replied. To which a man who'd arrived with her added: "Yes, his beak can break bones!"

So Santa kept that (naughty word) stick tilted towards the sky as though his life depended on it, and everyone survived and had a swell time.

But to be safe, on Christmas Eve, when Santa slides down your chimney, there had better not be anything stirring, not even a mouse... because Santa is bringing Bones and Georgie along for the ride.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 18, 2013 A12


Updated on Monday, November 18, 2013 at 11:40 AM CST: Tweaks headline

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