LEOMINSTER, Mass. — A Massachusetts family was turned away Sunday from taking pictures with Santa at a Leominster mall because of their young son’s service dog.
Hunter is 9 years old and suffers from epilepsy, which is why his service dog, Angel, is always by his side. Christmas is also one of his all-time favorite things.
“Christmas is every day in Hunter’s world,” said Sarah Specht, his mother. “I have to bribe him to not wear his Santa hat all year round.”
Angel is more than just a cute and cuddly presence; she’s trained to sense when Hunter is about to have a seizure and ensure he’s safe.
“One of his seizures is a drop seizure and she has literally grabbed his shirt and pulled him to the couch right before he fell,” said Specht.
Diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy at the age of three, Hunter now brings Angel with him wherever he goes - even to the Mall at Whitney Field where he was excited to meet Santa on Sunday.
After waiting in line for two hours, however, the family says they were turned away because of Angel.
“Christmas is supposed to be a magical time and for that to happen last night and see my son crushed -- I hope that no parent ever has to face that,” said Specht.
The company hired to take the pictures with Santa, Cherry Hill Programs, told WFXT their protocol allows service dogs at their Santa experience.
“The employee involved in this incident did not follow our Cherry Hill Programs protocol," company officials said in a statement obtained by WFXT. “The individual has been suspended and we are investigating the matter. We have reached out to the family with an apology and invitation to return for a private visit with Santa at their earliest convenience.”
After hearing about what happened, the community in nearby Lunenberg felt the same way. In an effort to protect the magic of Christmas for Hunter, dozens of police officers and firefighters from neighboring towns joined forces to escort Santa himself to Hunter’s house on Monday.
“The fact that they heard the story and they want to fix this for Hunter, it means so much to me,” said Specht. “He’s at that age when he may start questioning Santa and I don’t want to see him lose that belief out of a bad experience."