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|Pets: Celebrating the circle of life|
|by Ryan Lee|
|August 06, 2010 00:00|
It’s easy to assume that someone who works with death and bereavement every day would develop a numbness and clinical detachment toward the subject, but the same passion, the same pain, that caused Christine Hunsaker to create the Paws, Whiskers & Wags pet crematory in 2005 resonates within her today.
Devastated by the loss of her dog Cassie — and the lack of compassionate death-care available to pet owners — Hunsaker left her career in the human cremation industry to found a pet crematory to help other pet owners make it through the grieving process. That Paws, Whiskers & Wags has experienced double-digit growth each of the five years it’s been in business, in the face of the severe economic downturn, is a testament to how appreciative Atlanta pet owners are to have an opportunity to say good-bye to their animal loved ones in a tender, dignified way.
“We really focus on the people, and their journey and how their heart feels, and make sure they know that we care about them, and I think that’s what sets us apart,” Hunsaker says. “You focus on the right thing — loving the people and loving the pets — and the business comes.”
Despite the growth of the business, despite the increasing number of families she counseled about their pets transitioning, Hunsaker was still unprepared for the sudden loss of her dog Chester in December 2007.
“Chester worked at Paws, Whiskers and Wags — he was there to help me launch it, and to say good-bye to him at your own place, it’s a bittersweet thing when it’s your own loved one that passes through your business on their way to heaven,” Hunsaker says. “As smart as you are academically about saying good-bye, it’s never easy.
“Especially since I’m around death all the time, I get it, I really get it: When it’s you, it’s different,” she adds. “I think that’s one of the reasons we’re so good at Paws, Whiskers and Wags, is we never lose sight of the fact that you might be our sixth, seventh, eighth or fifteenth customer today, but we understand that it’s your time, maybe your first time, and we never lose sight of the fact how important this one time is for you. The very best death-care professionals are the ones that understand how difficult that journey is.”
As Hunsaker’s business continues to grow, the company is offering new ways for pet owners to honor their lost ones, including becoming the first pet company to partner with Tributes.com to offer online obituaries with photo and video capabilities. And as she continues to witness and experience the pain that losing a pet can cause, Hunsaker keeps opening her heart to new four-legged family members.
“I went through a five-month period where, every dog I looked in their brown eyes and went, ‘Nope, you’re not Chester,’” Hunsaker says. “It took me five months after Chester died to get another dog, and now I have a rescued Labrador named Myrtle, and since then my partner and I have a tabby cat that we rescued, and then somewhere in there a friend passed away and gave me her poodle in the will, and now we’ve just rescued a standard poodle, so my family’s back up to four.”
Top photo: Christine Hunsaker (left) and her partner, Kellie Rowker, with Myrtle, Suki & Big Red.
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