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Pooches pose with Santa to benefit retriever rescue group
By Vince Pierri | Daily Herald Columnist

Dozens of dogs and their owners posed with Santa at the Vernon Hills Petco recently. The photo sessions were a fundraiser for As Good as Gold Golden Retriever Rescue.


Vincent Pierri | Staff Photographer

As Good as Gold volunteers Janet Gedville, front, and Mary Hastings work to get the dog's attention for the photo.


Vincent Pierri | Staff Photographer

A couple of jumpy Goldens pose with John Montzingo of Mundelein, who played Santa.


Vincent Pierri | Staff Photographer

The white fur of this Standard Poodle matches Santa's beard.


Vincent Pierri | Staff Photographer

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Published: 12/23/200 12:15 AM

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Kids aren't the only ones who get to snuggle up on Santa's oversize lap.

If you happened to be at the Vernon Hills Petco last week, you would have seen a few dozen dogs visiting with the jolly old guy. It wasn't clear what gifts the pooches had on their lists, but surely Santa promised to deliver.

And for $8.95, the pet moms and dads went home with a photo of their darlings posing with St. Nick.

Before you complain about the crass commercialism of the holiday, most of the cash is going to a good cause, not Mr. Claus.

The photo sessions benefited As Good as Gold Golden Retriever Rescue of Northern Illinois. The Woodridge-based group works to rescue, care for and adopt mistreated and unwanted Golden Retrievers.

This was the fifth year John Montzingo volunteered to don the red suit and white beard. The Mundelein man says five hours of wrangling dogs can be exhausting, but he loves the role.

He's dealt with some dogs that lack manners, but Montzingo says he's never failed to calm the pups down long enough for a quick digital shot.

"Some of them can be squirmy," he said.

Ninety percent of the clients are dogs, but Montzingo said he's had his share of other domesticated critters.

"Let's see. I've sat with cats, of course. I've posed with one ferret, one lizard and a two pregnant rabbits," he said.

Montzingo said he'll never forget that session.

"I was sitting with the little bunny on my lap and I look over to see who else was waiting in line," he explained. "Wouldn't you know it. There was at least a half dozen hunting dogs. You should have seen them staring at those bunnies. I never felt more like a piece of meat in my life."

A steady stream of photogenic dogs, tongues wagging, paws slipping across the tile floor, kept Santa busy. Golden retrievers Charlie and Josie of Gurnee posed wearing antlers.

Eva and Baloo, a couple of 60-pound Standard Poodles from Libertyville, were a little feisty.

"They are such big dogs, but just big babies too," said owner Barb Beckman.

Undaunted by the challenge, Montzingo says he'll be back next year.

Like so many other rescue groups, officials at As Good as Gold say the number of surrendered dogs in on the increase because of the recession. Those interested in fostering Goldens or wanting to help in other ways can call (630) 588-0115 or visit