Shirley Gaul is a poodle breeder, animal groomer and obedience instructor, and puppy preschool instructor and teacher – in her spare time. As well, she works full time as a vet nurse.
“I was born and raised in Port, went to school here and grew up on the beaches, riding my horses all round this then small town where no one locked the doors. As a child I’d walk to the corner store knowing neighbours were watching out for me. Shopping trips with my grandmother took hours because we knew everyone and stopped to chat. I grew up having horses, dogs and cats, went to pony club and local shows and had lots of horsey friends. We had dirt roads to ride along and plenty of green open paddocks to go adventuring in. I married Wayne, also a local, and had two children, Dylan and Danielle, now in their 20s. My kids also grew up in Port/Tele Point and enjoyed owning horses and riding and having many pets, too.
I bought my first show dog 30 years ago and started showing, competing in obedience trials, and breeding dogs: English springer spaniels, then Belgian shepherds. I also began grooming dogs: I was taught how to clip and groom various breeds. Most weekends, all the family would pile into our campervan and go off to dog shows or trials. It was a lot of fun; we enjoyed travelling to different places.
I started work as a vet nurse in 1986 at Oxley Highway Veterinary Hospital, where I also did the grooming. I’ve been nursing full time at the practice ever since and love looking after the animals and our great clientele: I’ve known a lot of clients for over 20 years and many of their pets all their lives. Our practice is very family-oriented and friendly. It’s so rewarding to see a pet go home well after a major illness or surgery: being part of the team that makes it happen is very fulfilling. Every day’s different: part is planned (consultations, surgical cases and hospital patient care) but things change instantly when an emergency case arrives and it’s all hands on deck to ensure a successful outcome.
I started running Puppy Preschool classes in 1990 after attending seminars by leading experts on dog behaviour and training. I trained and qualified as an Obedience Instructor with the Royal NSW Canine Council and belong to the Association of Pet Dog Trainers of Australia. Preschool usually runs two evenings a week for five weeks with classes for no more than seven puppies 8 to 18 weeks old. The whole family is encouraged to come along and I’ve put together a 60-page booklet covering everything we talk about in class. Owners come in with a new puppy unsure about handling the little bundle and finish up knowing how to handle and train the puppy, and well informed of health issues. They learn to solve problems like toilet training, biting, jumping, digging, chewing … all the things puppies do but need to be taught the correct behaviours, to settle smoothly into their new homes. Owners need to set boundaries and become leaders as well as learn positive-reward training techniques. Classes are relaxed and, with gorgeous baby puppies bouncing around, always fun, with plenty of laughs. It’s often the start of a lifetime association: preschoolers now maybe ten years old still greet me enthusiastically at the clinic: they never forget fun times in puppy class. I also help with behavioural consults in the clinic and enjoy the challenge. Not only puppies but often older dogs and their owners need help with problems such as separation anxiety, leadership issues, boredom/environmental enrichment, barking, socialisation or aggression. I help owners with strategies that make life more rewarding for pet and owner.
I’ve been breeding bi-coloured miniature poodles for seven years and my poodles are my life and interest now. For many years I trained and trialled them successfully in agility, travelling to compete in trials. I breed just one litter a year and ensure every puppy goes to an excellent home with people who care as much as I do for their wellbeing. Quite often this starts a new friendship with owners emailing me photos and updates or returning to visit. Quite a few buy a second puppy from me because the first little gem’s been fun and easy to live with. Most of my life has revolved around animals in some fashion … I wouldn’t have it any other way.”