Christmas has come early to the Carbon County Animal Shelter.

Santa made a quick stop at the shelter this weekend, posing for photos with willing children and pets. In return, parents and pet owners gifted the shelter with large bags of pet food, paper towels, laundry soap, and other donations that will support the shelter's daily operations.

Visitors also had a chance to meet the dogs waiting for adoption because what these dogs really need for Christmas (and all year long) is a forever home and loving owners.

"We're working really hard to see that happen," said Tom Connors, the shelter director, who also posed as St. Nick for the day. "We're very grateful for the support."

This is the second year that the shelter has invited Santa to visit, although it is the first year that pet owners were also encouraged to bring dogs, cats, and other pets for photos with Santa and the shelter's mascot, Chance.

Helping with this year's event was Sara Martz, a 10th grade student at Lehighton Area High School who is working with the shelter for her senior project. In addition to volunteering with the animals, she has also updated the shelter's website and posted pictures online of each dog available for adoption.

"I love animals," said Martz, who does not have any pets because of a family member's allergies. "Even though I'm not allowed to have any pets, I want these animals to have a great home."

Dogs visiting the shelter were quite happy to see Santa, given that he had a large bowl of treats at his feet. Martz was herself delighted to see a recently adopted dog, Kahlua, return to the shelter this weekend with his owner, Norman Weigand of Weatherly. Kahlua is the second dog Weigand has adopted; he also brought adopted Bailey for photos. Martz noted that owners seemed happy for the opportunity to take holiday photos of their pets.

"There aren't a lot of opportunities to take pictures with Santa and dogs. A lot of people treat their pets like kids," she added.

Jean Smith, Martz's grandmother, was on site to help with the event and support her granddaughter's efforts.

"This shelter is all about the dogs," said Smith. "She picked a good project. It's important that these dogs get adopted, because they deserve a good home."