The holiday season is almost here, so today I'm going to do something completely out of character, by which I mean talk about someone other than myself.
I'm doing this because on Sunday I'll be spending four hours -- noon to 4 p.m. -- dressed in a red velvet suit and sweating like a Saskatchewan Roughriders fan trying to count to 13 while having my picture taken with hundreds of jittery dogs and cats.
It will be the sixth consecutive year that, instead of watching my beloved B.C. Lions in the CFL's West Division final on TV, I'll be playing Santa Claus and getting coated in dog drool and cat hair at the first of two Pet Pics with Santa Paws fundraisers in support of the Winnipeg Humane Society.
Six years is an impressive Santa streak until you consider that on Sunday, the guy behind the camera, Frank Adam of Adam York Photography, will have been donating his services for 18 straight years.
A professional photographer for the last 23 years, this married father of a seven-year-old daughter has taken thousands of heartwarming holiday photos of Winnipeggers and their pets. In Santa's opinion, he is the Wayne Gretzky of pet photography.
"It (18 years) is a huge amount of time," chirped Aileen White, the humane society's public relations manger. "Talk about steadfast and dedicated. Frank is just so fantastic.
"It can be a frustrating job, but Frank never gets flustered or impatient. He is outrageously kind and patient."
If you think it's easy to get a dog or a cat or a weasel or a guinea pig wearing reindeer antlers to look into a camera and create a memorable holiday moment for their owner, then Santa is extremely disappointed in you.
But, armed with a camera, squeaky toys, a whistle, a feather on a string and a positive attitude, Frank NEVER fails to get just the right photo of pets who'd rather make the "weewee of joy" on the floor than climb on Santa's lap.
This year, before slipping into his sweltering suit, Santa asked Frank why he volunteers his time year after year.
"I've always had a love for animals so I wanted to help animals that needed help," Frank, 51, explained. "And I enjoy it, especially the day you're there. Once I get my butt on that stool and the camera in my hand, it's like 'OK, this is good!' And it's literally non-stop."
Even though the lineup is out the door every year, Frank is never satisfied until he captures just the right pose. Being a photographer, he's a perfectionist, which means when someone brings their pet python to see Santa (yes, this actually happened) Frank couldn't be happier.
"OK, Santa," he'll squeal with delight, "could you move its fangs just a little bit closer to your eyeballs?"
Or Santa will be perched on his couch, eyes bugging out of his head, tendons screaming in agony as he tries to make five rambunctious hounds sit still by keeping a vise-like grip on their collars, begging Frank to take the picture, but Frank will refuse to do this because, in his opinion, Dog No. 3 isn't wearing a festive expression.
"It's anything for the shot," Frank reminded me, laughing.
Frank believes pets are easier to photograph than kids and dogs are easier than cats, but he insists he doesn't have any horror stories from his 18 years as Santa's camera-toting elf.
"It's been rather smooth sailing," he said, thoughtfully. "We've never really had a biting incident. We did have one Santa who got kind of snippy because it was getting close to kickoff on Grey Cup Sunday."
Along with the time an owner brought her snake to see Santa, his favourite memory was the woman toting a mystery box.
"We were all scratching our heads, wondering what was in the box," he recalled. "She hopped up on Santa's lap and pulled out a goldfish bowl with her fish in it. If you've ever tried to take a photo of a fish in a bowl -- how do you get them to look at the camera? You wait and you wait and you wait. It was an ordeal."
But Frank has loved every minute, possibly because he met his wife, Amanda, at Pet Pics. "She worked at the humane society and brought her dog in for a picture with Santa. I actually fell in love with her dog first. She thought that was kind of cute."
His favourite moment? "At the end of the day, when they tell me how much money we raised for the shelter, that's the best thing of all," he beamed.
Thanks, Frank. Santa is very proud of you. Now take the (bad word) picture!
Here comes Santa Paws...
WANT Fluffy's picture taken with Santa, as portrayed by me? Of course you do.
First, make an appointment online (www.winnipeghumanesociety.ca or www.adamyork.ca) and then bring your pet to the society's shelter at 45 Hurst Way on Sunday between noon and 4 p.m.
You get one photo for $12 and three for $25. You can also book times for Hanukkah Pet Pics this Sunday from 11 a.m. to noon. A second Pet Pics event is set for Grey Cup Sunday (Nov. 25) from noon to 4 p.m.
Whatever you do, don't tell Santa the score, because he's recording it on his PVR. You wouldn't like Santa when he's angry!