MISSION VIEJO, Calif., Dec. 2 (UPI) -- The Shops at Mission Viejo, a shopping center in Orange County, Calif., fired Santa and an elf after they refused to visit with an autistic girl because her service dog is a pit bull.
Seven-year-old Abcde Santos and Pup-cake the service dog were turned away from getting their picture taken with Santa Claus after waiting in line for 30 minutes Sunday. The employees playing jolly old Saint Nick and a helper elf turned the girl away because they were "afraid of her service dog," said Julie Miller, a friend of the Santos family.
Miller detailed the visit on Pup-cake's Facebook page.
"A family should be celebrating tonight the accomplishment of a child who waited over thirty minutes today at The Shops in Mission Viejo to meet Santa," she wrote. "After the Santos family offered to remove the dog from the area, the building, Santa still refused to see the child; sending her away heartbroken leaving a family to comfort a child instead of celebrating her accomplishments."
Representatives from The Shops at Mission Viejo responded, also on Facebook, by saying both Santa and the elf were fired.
"We do not condone the behavior displayed by Santa and have worked with our partners at Noerr, the company that hires our Santas, to replace this Santa with one that is more compassionate to our guests' needs," the post read.
The shopping mall also said it plans to extend its Caring Santa program, which provides a sensory-friendly environment for families with children on the autism spectrum or who have other requirements.
"We are thankful that they reached out to us as soon as they learned of the incident and this was handled in a swift and appropriate manner," Miller said in response to the terminations.
The Americans With Disabilities Act says it is against the law for businesses to deny entry to individuals and their service dogs. Though these animals are specially trained to provide assistance, the ADA says no proof of certification has to be shown for such dogs to enter an establishment.
"If you are not certain that an animal is a service animal, you may ask the person who has the animal if it is a service animal required because of a disability," the ADA website says. "Although a number of states have programs to certify service animals, you may not insist on proof of state certification before permitting the service animal to accompany the person with a disability."