A Southern California mall has apologized to a 7-year-old girl with autism whose Christmas wish was crushed after Santa Claus and elf impersonators rejected her because of her service pit bull named Pup-Cake.
Abcde Santos, whose name is pronounced ab-suh-dee, and her family waited in line for 30 minutes at The Shops in Mission Viejo on Sunday to meet Santa. When it was her turn, Santa turned her away because he was afraid of Pup-Cake, family spokeswoman Julie Marie Miller said via Facebook.
"Autism is accompanied by many sensory issues, included self-harm behaviors and feeling overwhelmed at times by lights, sounds, especially when waiting," Miller said. "Pup-Cake the service dog’s job is to intervene in those moments."
A post on the Pup-Cake the Service Dog Facebook page showed a picture of the girl upset after the incident and described Santa saying that he wouldn't see her because "those dogs eat people."
Santa then said he had allergies after learning that it was illegal to deny the girl under the Americans with Disabilites Act, the post read. But he refused again to see the girl despite the family's offer to remove 5-year-old Pup-Cake, described as a sweet dog with a patient disposition, from the mall.
"Santa still refused to see the child; sending her away heartbroken leaving a family to comfort a child instead of celebrating her accomplishments," Miller said.
Abcde wanted to ask Santa what he wanted for Christmas so she could make it for him, the post stated. She left the mall in tears.
Mall management and the company behind "The Santa Photo Experience" issued a public apology and has offered the family a private visit with Santa — Pup-Cake included.
"The entire team at The Noerr Programs sincerely apologizes for any distress caused by this situation, and truly regrets the incident," Noerr Programs CEO Judy Noerr said in a statement. "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."
Miller said the Santos family's "goal is primarily and always to educate and inform those ignorant of the American Disabilities Act to ensure there are no more victims."
The Santa and elf have been reassigned to a different mall, mall spokesman Charles Russell told NBC4 on Wednesday.