MISSION VIEJO (KTLA) –
Two actors who portrayed Santa Claus and an elf at a shopping mall in Orange County have been fired after turning away a 7-year-old autistic girl and her service dog, officials said.
Abcde (pronounced Ab-Suh-Dee) Santos waited in line with her family and the dog, named Pup-Cake, for more than thirty minutes at the Shops at Mission Viejo before the incident occurred Sunday, according to Julie Marie Miller, a spokeswoman for the Santoses.
“To her dismay, Santa was afraid of her dog, a sweet pit bull with as patient a disposition as Abcde,” Miller said in a statement. Although the family offered to remove the animal from the area, “Santa still refused to see the child,” she said, attributing the decision to “what we can only assume is the influence of BSL (breed-specific legislation).”
Miller described the encounter in a news release that was published on social media. She also contacted the mall’s management group and the organization that had hired the Santa and elf actors.
The latter company, which provides Santas and Easter Bunnys annually to shopping malls throughout the U.S., issued a response on Monday.
“The entire team at The Noerr Programs sincerely apologizes for any distress caused by this situation, and truly regrets the incident,” said CEO Judy Noerr. “We have reached out to the girl’s family, in an effort to extend a private Santa visit with complimentary photos of both the child and her service dog.”
In a later news release, Miller thanked the management team at shopping center and its parent company, The Simon Property Group, “for swiftly responding to our concerns.”
“Santa and the elf have subsequently been fired,” she said.
The statement was shared by The Shops at Mission Viejo on its Facebook page, which added: “We look forward to welcoming back the Santos family and Pup-Cake for a special Santa experience.”