Senior Pet Connections - An Interview with Shauna and Sidney

We loved catching up With Shauna and her daughter Sidney to chat about the beautiful connection they have with their 17 year old dog, Snowy. 

Shauna, Sidney and their friend Jo have a podcast called The Wisdom of Women - where they speak with everyday women living remarkable lives. While normally it's them talking to others about their stories, today we get to hear some of their own. 

While talking about our senior pets and pet loss is never easy, we're incredibly fortunate that Shauna and Sidney were open to having the conversation with us, and chatting us through if they had given any consideration to what they would do if they lost their beloved pet.

Who is Snowy?

Sidney: Snowy is a toy sausage miniature poodle. He's very tiny and adorable. And he's 17 at the moment. We got him when he was three months old – at the time I had just started walking, I was about one year old.

So, we have been together my whole life.

What made you decide to get a dog?

Sidney: The children. We wanted a dog!

Shauna: That is probably true.

I grew up on a farm and we always had dogs. For us they were always part of the furniture, and I always appreciated how much they brought to a family. I've got such beautiful memories of the family dog - all those lovely interactions, pushing me around in the pram and feeding them lollies. They would follow you around the farm, always ready for food and a pat.

I thought Sid was at the right age and the boys were then three and five, so seemed the right time to get a dog.

We always knew we wanted to get a poodle because they don't shed. And we knew that we wanted a pet that could sleep with the kids at night, that we wouldn't have to worry about saying "Get off the lounge," or whatever. By chance my auntie and uncle were poodle breeders. I happened to mention to my mum one afternoon, "Guess what? We're thinking about getting a dog." Next thing my aunt was on her way with 12 puppies for us to choose from.

Tell us about the day Snowy became a member of your family.

Shauna: It was so funny. My aunty opened the back door of their car and there was a great big box. She put the box on the front lawn and just gave it a little tip and all these puppies came rolling out - these beautiful bundles of just fluff. They were mostly, they were chocolate colors and then cream ones.

They were just running all through the garden. The kids were squealing with joy, running around. We picked a chocolate one. While my aunty bundled all of the other little puppies back into the box on onto the back seat Stanley, the oldest boy, was holding this little puppy whilst it was squirming in his arms.

As we looked up and waved goodbye this little white puppy popped its head up onto its two front paws and was looking over the box at us from the back seat of the car. There was just something about him. My husband and the kids were shouting “stop the car”.

I don’t know what the poor little chocolate one was thinking, but we did an exchange and we got the little white one – he was immediately called Snowy.

Does Snowy have any quirks?

Shauna: He didn’t walk for probably a good year. He spent his entire first 12 months in peoples arms. He was and still is very inquisitive. He would go anywhere and have a good sniff.

Sidney: He nudges a lot.

Shauna: Yeah. He bops you with his nose when he wants your attention, but he's always sniffing and inquiring. He'd walk into the laundry when I was doing washing. And I'd open the front loader and he literally would climb into it and sniff around and then come out again. And even as an older dog over the years, he just kept so he was really sniffy.

He was very mischievous outside and spent a number of years escaping becoming famous in the neighborhood and the school.

Sidney: I remember a couple times where the door would be open, and we'd be sitting in class doing a lesson. And I'll see this white ball of fluff run past. And I'll either stand up and go "Snowy," or he'll come back, and he'll look into the door. And then there's other times I’d get the call to go to the office and Snowy will be sitting in there. It got to the point where they would just allow me to walk Snowy home.

Shauna: And I was constantly apologising, saying, "I'm really sorry. Everything's shut up. The gates are locked. I don't understand how he gets through."

Sidney: He's very hyper as well.

Shauna: Yeah, lots of zoomies.

Sidney: Even at 17 years old, he does zoom. However, now he does them in the middle of the night and he sleeps throughout the day. He's much like a teenager now – sleeping through the day super hyper at nighttime. I'll come out to the kitchen at 11 to get him and he'll see me and he'll start running around everywhere. He's looking for treats - Mum and dad give him too many treats!

Shauna: I think he might be suffering from some form of Alzheimer's or dementia. He completely forgets that he's already had treats. He gets one at 4:30 in the morning from Stan. When I get up at 6:30, he gets another set of treats. But he always acts like he's never had a treat in his life.

Sidney, are there any funny moments you had with Snowy growing up?

Sidney: I always go back to this one where I had him in my room and I painted his nails purple. But I obviously missed the nails completely and it went all over his fur. He just had purple fur for a while on his legs. And also I acted like I didn't do it afterwards.

How did you incorporate Snowy into normal family life?

Shauna: We realised within weeks that he was ruling the roost, and he went wherever he wanted, whenever he liked. That was it really from the start.

Who in the family was the person who looked after Snowy or was it a shared thing?

Sidney: I reckon it was shared. Although he follows dad around.

Shauna: I think it was shared for many years, but as it is, kids do tend to be a little forgetful about maintenance and care of a pet. It would I think fall back on a more regular basis to myself or Stan. And then as time went by, I think Stan's certainly seen as the alpha male. Snowy's become quite obsessed with Stan now. He literally will just sit there looking, staring at Stan.

Sidney: Following him everywhere!

Have you seen any major changes as Snowy has got older?

Shauna: As Snowy's gotten older he’s become half blind and half deaf.

He's become very scheduled with the activities through the day. It's very much habits now. He cries for his dinner anywhere from about four. Traditionally he always got fed at five, but now...

Sidney: Sometimes he wants it earlier, so we have to feed him earlier.

Shauna: His preference is to have someone standing there guarding him while he eats his food now. He had a bit of a run-in with some possums a couple of years ago. There's a gang of, we call them the pissing possums that live around here. So he went through a period of time where he was really frightened to be on the back porch, but he is happy there now as long as someone is with him.

Sidney: We've had no dramas as far as any serious conditions or accidents with him. It's only in recent years as he's getting older. A few weeks back we knew he had stinky breath and we knew that he had teeth that needed to be removed or a tooth. Mum dropped him off at the vet. And then when I went back to pick him up, he'd had 8 teeth removed.

Shauna: He's just got gums on the front now.

What about exercise?

Shauna: When the sun starts to go down, he starts whimpering because he wants to go out onto the oval. He gets one lap around the oval every night because pretty much all he can do.

Sidney: He gets too tired now. And we have to walk him at nighttime because he's terrible with other dogs. We didn't train him when he was younger to be okay with, so now he's just angry old person who just doesn't get involved with other dogs.

Sydney: He has a cough - you can't pick him up his stomach or anything, he'll start coughing. He had kennel cough for a while. We got that treated. But since then he's had a cough thing.

Shauna: Couple little grass seeds in his paws. He had one in his ear that we were lucky to get hold of actually, because the vet said that quite often the grass seeds with dogs and particularly because of his fur, they move through the body. And it was likely that it would've eventually impacted on his brain and killed him.

Sidney, you have literally grown up with Snowy - and over that time, you've had some tough times - how has having Snowy around helped you through that?

Sidney: He's like a comfort dog. And during the moments where I was sad, a lot of the times when I was really going through tough times, I didn't want to tell Mum and dad. But crying in my room I would have Snowy there. He knows when I'm down, he just sits quietly on my lap while I hold him tight.

He has always been there for me - I think he just knew that I needed him in those moments. He was very caring dog.

Do you find now if you're having a down day, do you think he senses that?

Sidney: Yes, he'll want more cuddles. A lot of the time he's very wary because I'll grab him and I'll hold him and he'll want to escape. But there are those times where he'll just sit with me. I think cuddles is his love language in that way.

Snowy is considered a senior pet - have you thought about what you're going to do when Snowy passes?

Sidney: Unfortunately, I have Mum reminding me all the time that he's getting close. At first I was researching the age that poodles usually live to. I did find a poodle that lived to 32. I’m hanging onto that.

But I do think about it a lot and I know when I think about it, it's just hurting my heart so badly. And I know that when it does happen, it'll be 100 times worse. I don't think I'm ready for it at the moment. I think I'll just be so heartbroken because he is a family member to me. It will be super hard - I know for sure!

Have you put anything in place for when it does happen?

Sidney: No we haven’t. Mum was like, "Let's get him stuffed," but I don't want that. That's so awful.

Shauna: I suppose that’s my way of dealing with something quite emotional I tend to just to look towards the humour. And I do appreciate that for the kids, or for all of us, it's going to be absolutely devastating. I suppose in the last, what has it been? 12 months, maybe I've started making little jokes to the kids.

Oh, it's all right. We'll get taxidermist in and we'll stuff him. He's got this beautiful pose that he sits there. He's a bit like the Sphinx, but with very gentlemanly light crossed paws. And I keep joking to the kids, "Yeah, we'll get him stuffed and then when he's like that in his special pose, they can move him around to the different beds. There'll be no fighting over. Everyone can have their fair share of him." And of course it's dark humour I suppose. But I'm aware that we needed to start having these conversations because you're quite right, it is when, not if. And I would hate to think that we are going to be caught unaware.

There are things that you could put in place. Have you done any planning?

Shauna: No, not at all.

Do you think it's important?

Sidney: Yeah, It is important. I think we haven't got to that point because he’s still so hyper and active that you almost can't believe how old he is. But it is important to do that, to prepare, have a plan in place.

Shauna: I think in the back of my mind I've always just thought, well, when something happens, it'll be the ring around to each of the kids to say, "We may be in final days. You need to come and say your farewells." We have spoken about him being buried next to Freckles which is down on the farm.

Would you consider having some sort of ceremony or anything like that?

Sidney: Funeral for sure.

Shauna: Yeah, we will. We'll have a PowerPoint, an AV presentation with photos and music.

How will you know? I mean obviously some pets just naturally pass, for some there's got to be a decision made. How do you think you'll know when it's the right time?

Shauna: I think it might be just something that we feel when it does happen. Because not having been in that situation, I'm not sure.

Sidney: I think it is a conversation that we should be having.

Shauna: Yeah, I was just thinking along that lines, I suppose. I've been aware that I've noticed with Snowy's increasing behaviour of anxiousness and talking a lot more.

I have had conversations with Stan going, "Oh, he can't communicate. Is this him saying that he's in pain or is there something more internal going on?" Stan and I've certainly had the conversation around I suppose understanding when it goes beyond a behavioural issue to him actually expressing himself that physically he's not good or in pain. We have been increasingly aware of that in the last six months as well.

The other thing I have thought of as well is the way that a dog loves - even if it is in pain and it will still wag its tail, it will still look at you adoringly. It places you in a position of just being really aware that you have to make that decision for them and that timing.

Do you think it's worth encouraging people to have these conversations more and to plan and be prepared?

Sidney: Yeah, I mean I think now even talking about how he's passing away, it is preparing me for when he does. And I'm still going to be so sad, but I think I will be able to handle it a bit better. And I think it is important to plan, which we should probably start doing now that he's getting older about what will happen on the day. I think it depends on if it's more a dying of old age or if there's complications, but it is something that should be planned.

Shauna: Well, it's something that's been in my mind and I think that's why I've started bringing it in the conversation, albeit trying to do it with a bit of humour. But it's been to start acknowledging at some point.

Sidney: I was thinking, sometimes it's harder for animals than people. And I hate to say it, but I think it will be tougher than when my Grandpa passed away because I was young. I was so young, and I loved him so much. But it was....different.

Because I was so young, I didn't understand what was happening. I wasn't as sad- when I think about them now, I'm sadder. But when I think about Snowy leaving, I'm just distraught.

You are really lucky to have a dog live so long - lucky to have that beautiful pet for all of your childhoods. 

Shauna: At 17, he's pretty good, really. 

Sidney: He’s cute. He's got beautiful behaviour. He's been very loved.


A massive thank you to Shauna and Sidney for so candidly sharing the story of their connection with Snowy.