Christine Hunsaker is in the death care business, which is actually not surprising once you learn that much of her childhood was spent in a funeral home owned and operated by her father. As the President and CEO of Hunsaker Partners, LLC, which operates Southern Cremations & Funerals, Holy Hill Memorial Park, and Paws, Whiskers & Wags—Hunsaker’s commitment to providing exceptional end-of-life services to humans, pets and the loved ones left behind is unmatched. Simply put: death becomes her.
And while that may sound a bit morbid, Hunsaker’s approach to the cycle of life we must all complete is anything but. The proof is in the success of Paws, Whiskers & Wags, the clients who become raving fans and the low turnover rate of over 100 employees in three states.
Georgia Voice caught up with the lesbian CEO at her Decatur office to gain more insight into what makes Paws, Whiskers & Wags the go-to business for pet owners and how she’s built a career on being the very best at saying goodbye.
Paws, Whiskers & Wags operates under full disclosure. Tell us why that’s so important for you and your customers?
Anyone can watch us work. We keep it all recorded on the cloud so that we can prove that one pet goes in [the crematorium] and one pet goes out. Everything is tracked online through our pet portal. Every pet that comes into our care is barcoded and we know when they left your home or veterinary practice, when their cremation started and ended and when they went home. There’s an actual timestamp.
It’s not a loved one that’s cremated with others—that loved one is cremated alone every time and we can prove it. We’re the only ones that can prove it. And we go to great lengths because people need to know. We live in a very litigious and skeptical society and everybody wants to know. I did and that’s why I got into the pet business.
Your business is unique in the sense that pet owners are able to view the actual cremation process.
Yes. Until our company arrived it was very sinister. It was very…put your pet in a trash bag, leave him at your vet and come back two weeks later and pick up something. And you didn’t know what you were getting. And there were no checks and balances. It was very secretive. Pets were traveling clear out of town way beyond places like Athens and elsewhere to facilities with high walls and closed doors.
And your business offers support for pet owners who are grieving every first Tuesday of the month.
Christy Simpson is our licensed counselor. Our grief group is huge! Sometimes we have 20 to 30 people here and sometimes we have eight or nine. We stay open after we close and have this free grief group. A lot of times people have unreconciled grief or they don’t know how to handle it. Or they’re not getting the support from home or their co-workers or their community that they need. I’ve heard it a million times up here—people just sob. “I called out of work today and my boss said, ‘What are you crying for? It’s just a dog.’” Well, it’s not just a dog, it’s family. Christy has done an amazing job of helping people heal.
Do you take the grief home with you?
The first month I started this company, I called my dad and said, “Dad, I think I need to close the pet business.” He asked if it was struggling. I said, “No, it’s doing great but I just cry all the time.” He said, “Christine you will learn to channel that grief. And know that when they leave you they will feel better. It’s the worst day of their life and you have a calling to help them through it. Don’t get in their grief; recognize their grief, love them through it and you’ll feel better for yourself at the end of the day. You will learn to manage it.”
What do you know for sure?
I don’t know a single person that if you come through our door with your loved one in your arms that somebody isn’t gonna give you a hug and say, “Hey, come on in here. I’m so sorry about your day today. And what’s that baby’s name you’re holding?” When your heart is broken and you’re devastated, what you want more than anything is someone to love you, respect your journey and to really take care of your loved one. And we’re better at it in this town than anyone else.