OTTUMWA — Santa didn’t just want people to have a holly jolly interaction with him; he wanted pets to have their share.
From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, pet owners and their furry friends came trickling into the world of Santa Paws.
Gracie, an 8-month-old English bulldog, was more than ready. She had a bath before coming and Brittany Orman, her owner, lost grip of the pink leash from time to time because Gracie just wanted to be petted by Santa. He was patient and interacted with Gracie while Orman and her boyfriend Austin Schrage paid for their photo.
While some dogs had trouble looking at the camera, Gracie had no trouble at all, as long as Orman and Schrage kept awarding her with treats — her tongue closed and widened into a smile.
Orman said aside from getting a cute holiday photo, there was another reason she and Schrage came to Santa Paws. “We saw that the donation was going to build houses, so I thought it was a good cause to get out and socialize the puppy more since she’s so young,” she said.
“She wants to meet everybody, we want to socialize her,” Schrage said. “She’s not your stereotypical puppy that can be calmed down even though she’s well behaved. It saved us having to drive to Des Moines to do this, because you can do this at PetSmart or Petco all December. It saved us from having to put her in a car for that long because then she will be a mess.”
Just as Tracy Songer “Santa” went to take a quick break, in walked a trio: 10-year-old Chihuahua Lola, 4-year-old and 150-pound white Great Pyrenees Rex and 2-year-old black Labrador Olive.
Songer came out with excitement all over his face. “I remember you from last year big guy,” Songer said to Rex with a wide smile.
The trio lined up, all seeming content to have their photos taken. Lindsey McCoy, the owner, will always come back to Santa Paws.
“There’s no Santa at home,” McCoy said. “They all love him. They’re very spoiled and like having the pictures for Christmas.”
Songer loved all the dogs that came his way, but his favorites were Rex and the four German Shepherds that came after the trio.
“The Great Pyrenees and these guys are definitely some of my favorites,” he said pointing at the German Shepherds. “We got a great picture last year of me and my wife surrounded by the dogs, and I call them ‘Santa’s canine security force.’ Rex was our first dog last year. Man, such a great boy. I mean he’s just a good good dog. He’s so calm and mellow.”
Darren and Lisa Batterson have owned different German shepherds for 30 years. Lisa Batterson got her first one at 16 and hasn’t looked back since, now owning a doggie day care. Santa Paws is one of her holiday highlights.
“I like to bring them to town because I enjoy showing them off,” she said. “I’m very proud of my dogs and I love getting pictures of Santa with them. It’s special, I like doing it. I like getting them out and around people, so people can enjoy them like we do. They’re all my pride and joy.”
Songer’s grandchildren even came to pet the German shepherds. His 1-year-old grandson climbed up the steps to see Songer, and the shepherds tried to give him kisses. “Jack’s never seen anything so small,” Lisa Batterson said laughing. Songer’s granddaughter responded, “I really like them.”
The joy from Santa Paws is what makes Songer fullfill his Santa role year round.
The Santa Paws funds, Songer said, will help spread joy all the way to Mexico. He plans to use the money he made on Saturday toward his mission trip to Mexico. “We’ll build homes for needy people,” he said.
Songer said he’ll continue the mission of giving joy until he dies. The joy of giving is what makes a person “Santa,” even without the red suit or full beard.
“Anybody can be Santa,” he said. “All you have to do is love Jesus and love kids,” he said. “If you can do that, you’re Santa.”