“When I was a kid I put a picture of a log cabin on my bedroom door. It was my someday.”
Shawna Shuh is an experience. The petite 50ish beauty is all lush red hair, sparkling blue eyes, bright mind and spirit . . . and booming laugh.
She’s been an entertainer, a teacher and school director, and among the few Certified Speaking Professionals in the world (only 8% of the world’s population, just 300 women), and is now “President & Chief Pet Wrangler” of Women in the Pet Industry Network.
Hers is quite a tale, so let’s start at the beginning.
“I grew up in Helvetia, an area that’s about beer drinking and burger eating, says Shawna. “My mom put me in finishing school at age 12 because, well, because I grew up in Helvetia.” Her family had endured hardship, and when Shawn turned 18, “My mom said, ‘You need a scholarship.’ So I entered the Miss Hillsboro Happy Days pageant and won, and guess what: first place was a scholarship to finishing school!” she laughs. “ And I went. Finishing school at 12 was different than at 18, because I had changed. At 12 I learned how to set a table and when to wear white gloves. At 18 I was learning how to be a woman.”
Shawna spent the next years performing as a singer/dancer/comedienne throughout the US and Caribbean. Returning to Portland, she says, “There wasn’t a lot of work for an entertainer.” She applied at a new finishing school, got the job, and — wait for it — as a prerequisite had to go through their program. “So I did finishing school three times!” she says with glee.
The new job fit well, and Shawna spent the next 20 years writing programs, teaching, and ultimately becoming director of the school. Through it all, “I was always pet-centric,” says Shawna. “But there was no mixing pets and career then — groomers, pet sitters, these things didn’t exist unless you wanted to be a veterinarian.”
“I’ve always had dogs; I had chickens in my bedroom as a kid; I have a goat, horses. Most people have no idea how much I love my goat.” How much? “To the moon and back,” she says, saying she bottle-fed him as a baby. “The dogs LOVED the milk replacement that dripped off his bottle, surrounding us. The goat said, ‘This is my family. I am a dog.’” When asked the goat’s name, Shawna says in a drawn-out bleat, “C-h-e-s-t-e-r.” The 5-year-old, 140-lb. Nubian rides in her jeep, and comes when he’s called.
What’s Shawna doing these days?
“I just keep studying,” she says. “I dig learning!” After a thoughtful pause she adds, “That’s why I’m around animals — they teach you stuff. Especially horses. You are in their space. I mean, they can kill ya! One move, one strike. You’re taking your life in your hands every time you’re with them.” In a classic Shawna shift she continues, “It’s the same with business. If your horse doesn’t want to do something you want him to, you’re like, ‘why won’t it go!’ In business, I might be saying to myself, ‘Huh. Guess I’m not the hotshot presenter I thought I was.’”
“All of it has been glorious,” she says. “Besides coaching presidents of organizations all over the world, I’ve been hired to present workshops, teach leadership, communications, presentation skills. Along the way there was one leader, I told him: ‘You need a dog. Because your inconsistencies would come out and you cannot fire them.’ This man didn’t understand he wasn’t consistent — with pets you have to be. Animals don’t lie to us — they’re a reflection of how we communicate.” Pausing briefly, she adds, “By the way, that man has a dog now. He’s a much better leader.”
Shawna’s most recent professional incarnation came about three years ago, when she took the helm of WIPN, or the Women in the Pet Industry Association, a network of pet professionals of every stripe — “retail, grooming, pet sitting, vets,” she says. “We learn from people not in our own business — just like in life, we learn the most from those who are different from us.”
“I realized I had a gift for developing what people need to learn to become their greatest selves,” she says. After years of working in business neurolinguistics, public speaking, corporate training and coaching, Shawna had an epiphany: “I want to be around people who share their lives with animals.”
About WIPN, she says, “God opened the door. I’m doing what I’m expert at — the entire purpose of WIPN is to ‘Grow, Give, Connect’ — and I’m going to create a network that will be around long after I’m gone. The stuff that’s going on is crazy great!”
In addition to her professional endeavors, Shawna’s personal bucket list is equally fascinating. “I’ve been working for years without a vacation. In 2015 I’m going on horse treks — in Africa and Ireland. I rode in Australia in 2003, and discovered that you see the world completely differently on the back of a horse. We came over a ridge and saw a pack of kangaroos move like a flock of birds. We were able to get close to a kangaroo mom because . . . we were on a horse.”
As for me-time these days? In addition to reveling in her farm, Shawna’s an avid reader whose all-time favorite is “Lonesome Dove.” Why? “It’s epic,” she says. “A saga. It has everything — adventure, friendship, hardship and overcoming it, faith. . . . It’s got it all.”
Yes. She does. Including the log cabin.
About our Sponsor
Dignified Pet Services has served the Portland-area community for 13 years. In addition to their core business of cremation and memorial services, Dignified co-sponsors the beloved annual Service of Remembrance, this year Dec. 9th at The Old Church in downtown Portland, as well as serving as wonderful supporters and friends of pets and those working in animal welfare. Proprietors Michael, Randy and Avani live in Sherwood.
Kristan Dael is a freelance writer and the alter ego of Jennifer Mccammon. She lives in Portland with her 3-pack, and strives to produce articles that inform, edify, engage and entertain.