CLAUS, PAWS SANTA'S VISIT TO HELP KEEP MORE PETS ALIVE.
SANTA CLARITA - There's something endearing when youngsters - and some oldsters - bring their cherished pets to see Santa Claus, but a rather grim situation lies below the surface of this Santa Clarita tradition.
Santa Claus - aka Allan Cameron - takes dogs, cats and even a lizard or opossum upon his knee each year in a holiday fund-raiser for the Pet Assistance League, which provides discounted spaying and neutering.
``It is just tragic beyond comprehension, that so many animals are destroyed each year because of pet overpopulation,'' Cameron said. ``It's all so preventable.''
So in a mix of the happy and sad, Cameron will play Santa from noon to 4 p.m. today at Pet Stop, 16522 Soledad Canyon Road, Canyon Country. Donations will go toward reducing the numbers of unwanted dogs and cats.
In the Santa Clarita Valley, 1,567 dogs and 826 cats were destroyed in the 1999-2000 fiscal year at the Castaic Animal Shelter, said Judy Meraz, deputy director of Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control.
Fund-raisers such as the one this weekend are important in helping to make it affordable for pet owners to spay or neuter their dogs and cats, Meraz said.
``A lot of people just can't afford the cost of having their animal altered,'' Meraz said. ``It's an important thing to have done . . . to decrease pet overpopulation.''
Discounting the price of adopting animals from the shelter also has helped lower the number of animals destroyed, Meraz said, noting a county program called Spay Adopt Vaccinate and Educate. The program reduced to $27 the price of adopting pets from shelters and the results have been positive.
From February to August, SAVE has put 37 percent more dogs and cats - 2,723 pets - in new homes over the same period as the year before.
For Cameron, playing the jolly old elf to the four-legged set is a labor of love.
``I hold them, we take pictures,'' he said. ``It's great fun and it helps a good cause.''