By Morgan Herbert
Local parents and pet owners who attended a recent fundraiser in my small Virginia town — Wytheville — received quite a shock just before Christmas. Petco, a chain pet store, hosts a “pictures with Santa” event for pets each year. For $8.99, pet parents get a cute holiday photo as well as the warm fuzzies of supporting a good cause, as proceeds from the event go to the Petco Foundation, a charity for animals.
Families with kids of all ages attended, greeting and posing with jolly old Saint Nicholas. Shortly afterward, the news broke that “Santa,” an employee of the Petco store, was allegedly a convicted, violent sex offender who had been deemed, based on psychological testing, to have “a 100 percent probability of violent recidivism within seven years.”
In 2002, Leonard Russell Kidd pleaded guilty to charges of sexual battery committed against a six-year-old. According to a psychologist, Kidd has a “mental abnormality” that makes it highly likely he will commit another pedophilic offense.
Kidd was released on parole in 2015 on the condition that he would not attend events where there might be children. His parole officer claims to have no knowledge that Kidd was playing Santa. So far, there has been no conclusive word on whether store management knew of their employee’s sordid past, but the situation raises some harrowing questions for concerned locals.
An alleged manager, identified only as “Amber,” was contacted by the press for comment, but she only confirmed that Kidd worked for the store. She would not say whether they were aware of his history and hung up on the journalist. An official statement from Petco corporate headquarters was equally vague and unassuring, stating that Kidd was no longer a Petco employee, the company was cooperating with law enforcement, and that “…the safety of all guests in our stores is our top priority.”
If Petco knew that Kidd was a convicted pedophile and allowed him to play Santa, “irresponsible” doesn’t even begin to cover it. The situation exposed dozens of young children to a man who not only had a history of violent sexual crime against a child, but is also very likely to commit a similar act in the future.
It’s hard to imagine any justification for allowing this guy, of all the store employees, to don the Santa suit. It also beggars belief that management was unaware of who they had hired, especially because the local news article stated that Petco employees said the Santa was a predator. This suggests that an employee broke the story to the news outlet, which makes it hard to buy the idea that management was clueless about Kidd’s heinous record.
Even giving the benefit of the doubt, if Petco didn’t know, that begs the question, “How the hell do you not know your employee is a convicted sex offender?!”
Petco requires prospective employees to sign a form consenting to a background check, which would presumably turn up the fact that someone is a registered sex offender currently on parole. They may have chosen not to perform the pre-employment check for some reason, but that in itself seems wildly irresponsible for the very reason that just played out – how do you know you’re not exposing your customers to a dangerous criminal?
I’m extremely grateful I didn’t take my child (or my dog) to the photo event, and I can’t imagine how the parents with kids in attendance must feel. The incident and the unprofessional, inadequate response by both local and corporate representatives have made me seriously reconsider ever patronizing the company again.
About the Author
Morgan Herbert has been writing for public consumption since 2007. Her work has appeared in print and online at Sammiches and Psych Meds and at Role Reboot. She blogs about social and political oddities at The Black Sheep Fold.