Hamming it up on Santa's knee

18:43, Dec 23 2012
Bruce the kunekune pig was among the scores of animals snapped on Santa’s lap this Christmas. His  owner is Cat Henderson, right. PICTURE BY JOHN FOSTER
HEAVE HO HO HO: Bruce the kunekune pig was among the scores of animals snapped on Santa’s lap this Christmas. His owner is Cat Henderson, right.

Usually it is just young children who sit on Father Christmas' lap, but one brave Santa and his photographer embrace the entire animal kingdom - even if it is a 50kg kunekune pig.

Each year scores of besotted Christchurch pet owners queue up to secure a snap of their beloved pet snuggling up on Santa's lap at Animates pet stores in the city.

Photographer John Foster has been snapping pets with Santa for the past 17 years and said he had the skill honed to a fine art.

In that time he has shot dogs, cats, deer, turtles, rabbits, ferrets, rats, goats and sheep. Two shetland ponies have even trotted into a store to have their turn with Saint Nicholas, he said.

A stuffed morepork owl was one of the oddest animals he had photographed but 2-year-old kunekune Bruce, at 50kg, could have claimed the prize of the heftiest to sit on Santa's knee yet.

His owner, Cat Henderson, said when Bruce arrived at Animates Tower Junction for his photo-shoot with Santa this year, he "pushed his way up to the front" and waited patiently to be lifted on to his knee.


With her partner serving with the Defence Force in Afghanistan, Henderson decided to post him a photo of her and the pet pig with Santa for Christmas.

She thought he would find the picture "hilarious - until he realises I had to put the pig in his car to get it there".

Trying to coax Bruce to look at the camera had been no small feat.

Foster said one of his main tricks was to tell the owners not to try to help because "that always creates an uphill battle for me".

Another was to take the pet by surprise by bouncing a ball.

So far, nothing had gone wrong and the only dog that had bitten Santa was, fortunately, a miniature schnauzer.

Some owners brought their pets in every year and Foster had seen some wearing reindeer antlers, polo shirts, Santa suits and even tutus.

"Some dogs get scared of Santa and they just sit there and shake; I think it's because of the beard. I've seen a rottweiler shaking in its boots at Santa," he laughed.

Phil Thompson, 65, has been Animal Santa for the past three years but is working with children this year. He has been pictured with dogs, cats, a deer and a fawn and even a tadpole in a plastic bag. In one photo, he had a cockatoo, rabbit and dog all on his knee.

One of the joys of being Santa was making people smile, he said.

"I'm a hard sort of bugger but it's really softening being involved in keeping that belief going. But you have to believe in yourself before the kids or the dogs believe in you."

The Press