All kinds of pets have visited Santa at the Fox Valley Mall.

Dog and cat owners always treat their furry friends as part of the family, so there’s no reason to leave them behind when the Christmas season rolls around.

On the last Monday in November, Raquel Morado of Elgin didn’t know when it was time to meet Santa at Aurora’s Fox Valley Mall.

“He’s part of the family,” Morado said as she stood at the mall with her 8-year-old dog Bella. “She’s a member of our family and she really loves all the lights and decorations and we’re big Christmas people. Anything to get her out of here and include her. It’s also her birthday month.”

Fox Valley Mall is once again offering pet owners a chance to meet Santa this year at the popular Peanuts Christmas Experience attraction, located in the far west end of the lower mall.

Another special pet photo session is scheduled for this year, Monday December 11th from 4-7pm.

Christina Arias, Fox Valley Mall’s marketing director, said the shopping center has “actually had this event for over 10 years.”

“We bring it back every year because it’s so popular,” he said.

During the holiday season, Arias said it’s not uncommon for sessions for pets to have “20 to 40 families per event” and there have been some surprising attendees.

“It’s mostly dogs but some cats, some reptiles, guinea pigs, ferrets, all kinds of pets,” she said. “As long as they’re on a leash they’re fine. We’ve had bearded dragons and rats too.

Arias said owners want their pets to come to the event because the animals are “part of their family and they want to have a family photo at the holidays.”

“It makes sense to include their pets,” he said.

At a recent photo event, pets received a free goody bag containing treats, a holiday bandana and some pet toys.

Morado said her dog was “excited and loves people,” something not seen with all pets the night she visited Santa at the mall.

Sue Lyon of Plainfield brought her 9-year-old Schnauzer, Ollie, to a picture session Nov. 27 and said it was his first time seeing Santa.

“We coached him a little bit. We talked to him before he got here and he was a little nervous,” Leon said as Ollie gave a little shake.

Levine said her dog was actually a new member of the family, who got it after losing their pet a year ago.

“We’ve had this since last December. We had a person in our subdivision who got a new job while traveling and couldn’t bring a dog with them,” Leon explained. “She knew we were grieving after losing our dog a month ago – another schnauzer too – so we got Ollie.”

The mall is offering photo packages with Santa that range from $39.99 to $49.99.

To reduce overall wait times, families are strongly encouraged to make reservations in advance of their visit. Mall officials said reservations are not required, while strongly encouraged.

David Sharos is a freelance reporter for The Beacon News.

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