New partners bring dog training expertise

Photos by Bill Powell/The Herald
Tracy Haycox, from left, Jason Haycox and founder Denise Stetter will do the pet pampering at Santa Paws Pet Park.


SANTA CLAUS — Santa Paws Pet Park is taking on some new partners who know dogs, service and the law.

Owner and founder Denise Stetter, a 46-year-old nurse and Navy veteran, started the growing lodging service, pet day care and bathing center on a 110-year-old farm west of Santa Claus almost four years ago.

“If I stay one person, we can’t make this place grow,” Stetter says in introducing her new partners, Jason and Tracy Haycox of Chrisney.

Jason, 28, is the Dale Police Department’s K-9 officer. Tracy, 25, is a military veteran who just walked away from positions as a Dubois County Sheriff’s Department jailer and a Santa Claus Police Department reserve officer in order to become a point person at Santa Paws.

The Haycoxes had been moonlighting with a dog-training business called Blue Line Working Dogs that also offers handmade leather leashes and leads custom-made by the husband and wife team. Blue Line is just a year old but has already trained and sold four dogs trained for either police or personal protection work.

Freedom, left, and Drake, shown here playing fetch with Denise Stetter, can be paired with clients' dogs as play buddies. Drake is more suited for play with energetic pets.

Stetter founded Santa Paws after realizing there were no areas in Christmas Lake Village to walk dogs and no place close to her community for off-leash play, grooming, training and lodging. The business she started to address those needs “has become bigger than what I ever dreamed it would be,” she says.

Santa Paws’ lodging service is for extended stays when owners are away. People who just want their fur-child to get some exercise and have some fun use the day-care service that includes a temperament test for each attendee, a playground with agility equipment and a bone-shaped doggie pool.

Stetter’s nursing experience has even helped grow the business among the owners of special dogs, as some clients have brought four-legged family members who suffer seizures, high anxiety or who have diabetes. One German shepherd that comes from Beaver Dam, Kentucky, has to sit in a doggy geriatric chair.

“People worry about their animals probably worse than their kids,” Stetter said.

Stetter, Jason and Tracy met when Santa Paws helped during the formation of the Dale police K-9 program.

“Maya is awesome,” Stetter says of Jason’s police K-9 partner.

Santa Paws has indoor play areas with canine-friendly rubber flooring and outdoor play areas like this fenced playground stocked with agility equipment.

The Santa Paws owner began to think the same of Jason and Tracy the more she interacted with them and saw how they handled pets. Eventually, she approached them with a proposal.

“I am seven days a week busy with four kids, a husband and I wear many hats,” Stetter confides. “I approached them and asked, ‘How would you guys like to run Santa Paws?’

“You just don’t know unless you try.”

Tracy and Jason, who had boarded dogs at Santa Paws, had already shared privately with each other how awesome it might be to be involved with the business.

Now, Stetter says, Santa Paws can respond to requests for more training, in-home visits (for training and exercise) and pick-up services.

The new partners mean a new number, 812-639-1763. The business website is

Experienced groomer Jeani Middlebrook will continue making pets beautiful on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Santa Paws will continue to use the Hilltop Veterinary Services of Lamar for emergencies. Stetter also plans to continue her Shih Tzu breeding business called Santa’s Precious Puppies.

“We’re all going to be working together,” Stetter says of the continuity customers should expect.

But, eventually, Stetter thinks Tracy and Jason will gradually take over the business with what will be their unique combination of Blue Line Working Dogs’ training and products and Santa Paws’ many offerings.

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