The Veterinary Medical Center Europe got in to the holiday spirit last week as they invited service members, their families and furry friends to the clinic for photos with "Santa Paws."

The event provided an opportunity for families to get keepsake pictures of their pets during the holidays. More than 50 people had pictures of their pet -- no matter how small or tall, dwarf hamster or Great Dane -- with Santa taken.

The community turned out and received the event well.

"This is the first time that I have ever been able to attend an event like this," said Holly Prieto, who attended the Santa Paws event with one of her daughters, Halle, and their two pets. "When I had pets before, there weren't options for events like this where we were stationed."

She went on to say, "we have a pet hamster and a new puppy, and we see them as a part of our family. This event allowed us to have them photographed with Santa just as I do with my children. As soon as I walked in the facility, I immediately felt that we were welcomed and were greeted with smiles and treats."

This is exactly why Animal Care Specialist Christl Despois came up with the idea for the event.

"I don't have children but I have a dog so when I saw the pictures of my family and friends' children and Santa pop up each year for Christmas, I thought 'why not get pictures taken of your four-legged friend and Santa?' she said. "Also, it's a great way to give back to our clients who trust us with taking care of their pets."

The event was free, but visitors brought donations of blankets, food and toys that VMCE took to the local animal shelter in Kaiserslautern -- which typically sees an increased number of pets after the holidays.

"It is important that people understand that animals, especially puppies and kittens, might look cute under the Christmas tree but they are by no means a gift that can be returned or not cared for," said Capt. Kristine Moss, Officer in Charge of Outpatient Services at VMCE.

"It is not okay to give pets as gifts if you are not okay with taking on the responsibilities they bring."

Moss said it is important for people to remember the commitment that comes with owning a pet.

"An animal is a huge time, financial and health care commitment for the next ten to fifteen years," she said. "Please think about it thoroughly before you get yourself a puppy or kitten. If you don't have the time for an animal, you can volunteer at a local shelter."

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