Marketing is the Product Podcast
Chari Buckner on Running a Pet Crematory and Finding Meaning
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Getting things started with the first episode of season two, we are joined by Chari from Faithful Friends Pet Crematory. Chari Buckner is the owner of Faithful Friends, working with countless pet owners to make sure that their pets are given a proper send-off. 

In this episode, we talk with Chari about what her business is, how she runs it, as well as how she handles the emotions of such a heavy job. There are many lessons to be learned from Chari that transcend business, and really get to the core meaning of life. Join us this week as we talk about all things business and pets! 

0:40: What Faithful Friends Pet Crematory is
3:45: Dealing with the Emotions of it All
7:30: Understanding the Story that Each Pet Brings
10:00: Being There for People Through This Time 
14:20: Silver Lining with COVID-19 and Pets
21:00: Advertising for Faithful Friends Pet Crematory
26:20: Business Takeaways from Faithful Friends 
28:35: Weirdest Pet Cremated 
30:50: Other Services Provided and Challenges in the Business
32:25: Staying True to What They Do
34:00: Employing the Right People 
40:00: Doing What You Love 
43:00: Helping Other Pets With Grief
46:20: Memorialization
49:30: Relationships with People Because of This
54:30: Funny Pet Stories
57:00: Pets Being There for You
1:00:00: Powerful Pet Story
1:06.00: Closing Remarks

Pierson:  What’s up, everybody, Pierson here with Marketing Is The Product Podcast, and we are back for season two, this is our first episode back since our last episode in season one, and I am here with Brandon Rollins.

Brandon:  Hey everyone, welcome to season two.

Pierson:  And today, our first guest is Chari Buckner from Faithful Friend Pet Crematory.

Chari:  Hello, it’s great to be here.

Pierson:  Awesome, so to get us going, why don’t you give us a little bit of an overview of what you do, what Faithful Friend Pet Crematory is for those who might not know. And give us a rundown of what we need to know about.

What Faithful Friends Pet Crematory Is…

Chari:  Okay. What we do, Faithful Friend Pet Crematory is basically what the name says, we’re a place where people can bring their pets for cremation. Now, the why behind it is a little different. When we all grew up, most of us, you’d bury your pet in the backyard, and that was that. And nowadays, there’s so many people, transient people, people who live in apartments or condominiums, where you don’t really have a yard, but you want to have your pet cremated and have your pet mobile so you can take your pet with you after your pet passes away. So our family has been in the funeral business for a long time, and we had a lot of our customers who came to us and asked us if we would cremate their pets, and the laws in Tennessee are such that you cannot… Which is good, you cannot use a people crematory to cremate a pet, so you have to have two separate facilities for that. And for a couple of years, we thought about getting into the business and then we decided… Yeah, you know, the timing seems right, and there’s a lot of people who would like to have this service from us. And so in 2013, toward the latter part of that year, we opened Faithful Friend Pet Crematory.

Chari:  And so what we do is we offer cremation services for pets and it can be up to about a 200 pound pet. We don’t get many dogs that are that big, but some of the larger breeds can get up to 150-160 pounds, and we offer them in as a private service. So a lot of people aren’t familiar with this type of business, and this may be some of the questions you guys have for me, I might be getting a little too far advanced, but you have a couple of options if you’re choosing cremation for your pet. And one option is to have your pet in a private chamber in the crematory, and that’s generally the service that we provide. Another option would be a communal burial or communal cremation, where you have a number of pets that are cremated at the same time where you do not get the ashes back. But most of our clientele, they want the ashes of their pet and they usually put them in an urn and take them home with them.

Pierson:  So it sounds like that you’re sharing a very intimate time with a lot of these people, where they’re grieving over losing a pet, and you oftentimes are the one that gets to witness this kind of last interaction between family and pet. So I’m sure that that’s led to you having some incredibly powerful and just emotional experiences.

Dealing With All of the Emotions

Chari:  Well, I do, it is a very emotional experience, if you’ve ever had a pet pass away, you know that having a loved one pass away or a pet, it’s grief, and what we experience, we have so many customers that come in and they’re… A lot of times they’re surprised by the extent of the grief they’re feeling for a dog or cat or whatever their pet is, and so what we try to do is just make the process and make the experience as calm and as friendly and easy as possible for the people that come in and use our facility because it is hard. A pet is part of your family, and a lot of times people are closer to their pets than some of their family members, and especially in the case of… If you’ve got a service animal or an animal that sits on your lap every night when you’re watching TV, and then all of a sudden that pet to be gone, it’s very traumatic for a lot of families. And especially if it’s a sudden death or an accident, that’s always hard.

Chari:  So we try to work with the families. We have a private room where a family can come in and they can spend as much time as they want to have their good byes and tell their pet that they love them. We can also have funeral services, we’ve had a few of those where family and friends come in and the family may tell stories about how special that pet was or read a poem, or little kids drawing pictures of them and their pet. So we offer a number of different things to help the family grieve as they need to and also give them some closure to this process, because a lot of times before you would maybe take your pet to a veterinarian office to be euthanized or your pet would be sick and you take them in and they don’t make it.

Chari:  Well, the veterinarian would keep the pet and you had no way of, a proper way of saying goodbye or a way that’s fitting for the love that you had for that pet. So we try to accommodate most families and help them through their grief and through this process of saying goodbye. Our motto on our website is we feel like a lifetime of unconditional love is worth a proper goodbye, so that’s kind of the way we’ve always tried to handle our businesses, giving these pets a proper goodbye.

Brandon:  Yeah, I think it’s really important to be able to say goodbye to your pets in a meaningful way, ’cause I just had a dog pass away a month ago, and he was 14 and a half years old, and after we said good-bye and it was like, a PetSmart where they gave him what he needed to pass. We sent him off to a pet crematorium, and now he’s… We’ve got a little pink heart urn, so this is a nice way of saying goodbye and getting closure, especially for my wife who has been within for 10 years.

Understanding the Story Each Pet Brings

Chari:  Right. And that’s what, I’ve always been a dog lover, I grew up on a farm and where we had… We had a lot of dogs. We had some cats, but we always had pets. And what is interesting to me in this business is how deep the love a pet owner has for their pet and the unique situations that you find families in. And so for example, you may be a child and you’re five years old and you get a dog… Your family gets a dog, well, that dog may live, like you said, almost 15 years, so you’re in college and that dog passes away, well, that’s a grief. That’s part of your childhood. You had that pet the whole time you were growing up, or a lot of times we have families that come in and they’re an elderly couple maybe, and the pet has… They’ve had the pet for 15 years, the wife, her husband has passed away, and then all that’s left is the pet, and you have a lot of transfer grief that these people experience, the grief of losing the pet reminds them of losing their husband two years before, so you have a lot of that emotion going on, so we have to be real cognizant of that as people come in that because most of the time, there’s more to the story than, “Oh, my cat just died.” Or, “Oh, my dog just died.”

Chari:  It’s a lot of emotions tied. If the dog or cat went through a very difficult season, we have people who’ve been through cancer treatments and the dog never left their side or they’ve moved all around the country, and this cat has gone with him everywhere. I even had this one client one time, and he was a truck driver, a husband team of truck drivers, and they had this cat that went all over the country with them, and so they wanted the cat cremated so it could still go around the country with them, because they were, they weren’t… They didn’t have it like a home base, they just kind of traveled around the country, so it’s an interesting dynamic, a lot of children come into our facility and we try to help them, let them have time to say goodbye and just all kinds of families. The hardest thing is when it’s a car accident or something sudden, when you’re not expecting it, just like a human accident, when you’re not expecting that, that’s a very difficult time for a family to grieve and to get through.

Being There For People During This Time

Pierson:  Yeah. I’ve not been in the position where I have lost a pet personally, I have several people in my life who I am incredibly close to their dogs. Brandon, we were just talking this past weekend about how one of my best friends in the world is moving out of Chattanooga where we’re from, and I was heartbroken because her dog was moving with her, and I couldn’t process going through something that heavy, and I know that… These people are in a very vulnerable spot when they come to you and you’re a lot of times not seeing a version of that person how they are any other time, they’re struck with an immense amount of grief and just heartache from losing these animals, so you’ve kind of touched on it already, but what are some of the ways that you make sure, you’re there to comfort these people when they come in to faithful Friend.

Chari:  Well, one of the things we try to do… Or I always tell the families, it’s okay to cry. We have tissue boxes all over the place, it’s okay to cry, because that’s one of the things I didn’t really realize it until we got into dealing with families in this business, a lot of people feel it’s silly to cry over this pet. “I’m in shame, or there’s some shame, or My family thinks I need to move on and get over this and just go get another dog or go get another cat to replace this animal.” And I try to focus on… It’s healthy degree. If it takes you crying for two months, then do it, but get all the grief out and remember how special that pet was to you, and I think journaling is a good way to do that, I encourage people to write it down, sometimes people will write notes that go into the crematory with the pet or sometimes people will bring special toys or blankets to go with the pet to be cremated with them, and like I said before, we give clients plenty of time to go in the back room and spend time with their pet and say their goodbyes and just have that moment, have that time that you can have closure, and I’ve had people stay an hour or two hours as long as they need. So we try not to rush that, we try to get the cremation process done as quickly as possible, so that the pet can be back with the family and back home in an urn or in a box, whatever the family chooses to pick out.

Chari:  At one time, we had a grief support group where about once a month we would get together that has kind of… ’cause of COVID, we’ve had to limit some of those things that… Some of the outreach things we’ve done in the past, but mainly we do take COVID very seriously, we ask that people wear masks and as they come in and allow one client in at a time, so if I have two people waiting, I’ll just have one family come in, at a time, and then when they’re through, the next family comes in, so we try to be very cognizant and careful of the COVID protocol these days as well, but hopefully when this airs, it’ll be more back to normal in the whole world hopefully.

Pierson:  Yeah, I think that’s been kind of like a universal struggle over the last year and a half at this point, is just how do you process losing someone, whether that be a pet or a family member for that matter, and you can’t grieve in the normal ways that you have always been able to. You can’t go around your family like you once were able to. It’s a whole different dynamic and it makes it a lot more challenging in a lot of ways to process that grief of losing someone or a pet for that matter.

Silver Lining With COVID-19 and Pets

Chari:  Yes, exactly. But on the flip side of that, during COVID, I know so many people who have adopted dogs, cats, pets, just because they feel like, “Okay, we’re at home, it’s a good time to train a dog, we’re at home more with our pets.” So they’re part of the family so I think that’s a positive that’s come out of it, I think more and more people have taken the time to adopt pets, and I think that it brings a joy that if you don’t have a pet, you don’t realize what an experience that you’re missing.

Brandon:  It’s one of the silver linings at this odd little year.

Pierson:  One of the things that I’ve noticed or I’ve heard of is with people adopting more pets and getting more pets during COVID, you’re seeing something called COVID dogs where they’ve become so dependent on their families being there all the time, that when things have started to go back to normal, it’s like they can’t process being alone because they’ve never been alone, they’ve always been with their owners the entire time. Have you heard anything about what that looks like?

Chari:  No, I have to… I’ve got a very needy dog now that’s co-dependent and she… Well, I’ve got two dogs and my Shih Tzu, she’s very codependent and she’s guarding me the whole time that I’m tele-working, ’cause I have another job as well, I’m not gonna mention where I work, but I do have another job. My other dog, he’s an outside Husky and he gets really mad if I don’t let him come in and take his nap in the inside. Yeah so he’ll stand there at the door and make you feel guilty for not bringing him in, but I can imagine some of these dogs that were raised as puppies and have never been away from their owner, they are gonna have a hard time when these owners go back to work, maybe some of the companies will allow them to bring them in or… Companies are becoming a little more flexible with that.

Pierson:  Yeah. Brandon and I both work from home, so we’re able to have dogs if we wanted to, but I’m a huge advocate for letting people bring in their animals into the workplace. I think it’d make people a lot happier.

Brandon:  Back when I was working in the office at Darling, in IT, people were starting to bring dogs into work on Friday. Toward the end of 2019, it was starting to become a thing, and it was the best part of the day.

Chari:  I think it’s great. We’re up here in Cleveland, which is very close to Chattanooga, and there’s… Cleveland’s got an initiative to make a lot of businesses pet friendly, and then they have decals where if your business is pet-friendly, you can fit the decal on the window, so people know if they’re out shopping or looking around, it’s okay to bring their pet in there and I think probably in Chattanooga is the same way, we’ll see more and more of that, where you go shopping and you see people with their little dogs and you’re like, “Oh cool, that’s neat”.

Pierson:  I love dogs, I’m a huge animal lover. Any time I go out on a walk downtown or I go for a run, it’s really me going out to dog watch and admire from afar as I’m out in society, but I think it’s an amazing thing that you’re able to provide these families with closure in a lot of ways, and it’s far greater than just a crematory, you’re able to provide them with a proper send-off and a funeral for people, for the pets rather that are always by their side and that are there for them throughout everything, whether that’s COVID or losing a family member, these pets become an integral part of who we are and… Thinking about losing one.

Chari:  Yeah, honestly, I think sometimes we get more tears at the Pet Funeral Home than The Real funeral home, and I don’t say that lightly, but a lot of times, people are closer to their pet than they are some of their family members or if you have a great aunt that dies, and you haven’t seen her in 20 years. It’s sad, but it’s not… And you agree, but she wasn’t there with you every single day, 24/7 and that’s what pets are to us, so it’s a different… I would never say it’s a worse loss than a person, ’cause of course, human lives are sacred, in my opinion, but it is a loss… That’s the thing we try to help families understand. It is a loss. You need time to grieve, and you don’t need to be ashamed to be grieving over your pet. And I’ve had customers that they come in, they’ve lost their pet the next day they’ve got a new puppy, and that’s fine for them, and then I’ve got other people that… It takes some months or even years before they’re ready yet to adopt another pet. And that’s the one thing I want people to understand about our facility as well, we don’t judge you, you can come in and sit there and cry and grieve, it’s non-judgment or we’ve seen with whatever you’re going through we’ve seen it as well. And we just want people to feel comfortable in that. It’s an interesting business because all walks of life, all socioeconomic groups.

Chari:  You can be rich, poor, whatever, and pets mean something to you, so it’s not any kind of demographic or social status. We deal with everybody. And in my opinion, pet people are great because rarely… I don’t know that I’ve had people that don’t pay… People pay, and in any business, you have some loss, but pet people, they choose our service because they want a cremation and they want their pet back, so we’re very thankful for the customers we have.

Brandon:  So I’m curious about a business question, because what you said just made me wonder, how do you spread the word of what you do? I have to imagine that you wouldn’t want to advertise… It’s just too criminal to advertise.

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Advertising for Faithful Friends Pet Crematory

Chari:  It’s a very delicate balance. Right now, we do a lot of social media, and our social media is more of a positive vibe, or we try to highlight the positive things about owning pets and remind people when it’s really cold to bring their pet in, or if it’s really hot, water, make sure they get plenty of water if it’s pet health month, so it’s more just general information. A lot of our veterinary partners, they send business our way, and honestly, most of our business comes through word of mouth or ratings online, a lot of people will Google us and they’ll see that we have some positive ratings, and they use that. That’s been one thing that has surprised me because when we first started, we ran an ad in our local newspaper up here in Cleveland, and we got… That was just to raise awareness. And we felt like that wasn’t the most cost-effective for our business, so we put more money into the social media and just keeping a presence there, right now in Cleveland, we run in some billboards, we have a car, a pick-up van that has a wrap on it, I know some people don’t like with the wraps on that, but I get people that stop our van and write down the phone number and say, Hey, I’m gonna need your service, and they’ll write down the phone number and call us, so we market ourselves in a lot of different ways, but I think our Veterinary Partners, veterinarians and our word of mouth are probably our two biggest ways we market ourselves.

Chari:  The market is very… Let me put it this way, we could have a bigger market share if we chose to do mass cremations, we have chosen for our business model to focus primary on private cremations, and that’s the families who want the ashes back, just because I’ve chosen… I don’t wanna be a disposal service and I don’t want people to look at our business as a disposal. “Hey, my pet died I just wanna get rid of them.” We’ve chosen to go with, “Hey, my pet died. I want to respectfully have him cremated and return the ashes to the younger, and let them just… If they bury him, if they scatter him or if they keep him forever. That’s fine. Each family can make that decision, but we’ve chosen for the private cremations to be our business model and not really to go… I won’t lie ’cause we do have some veterinarian offices that we do provide just communal… That’s what we call them, communal disposal services, but not very many. That’s just not our business we’re in, and it’s probably more paperwork than it’s worth as far as financially, so that’s the business model we’re in, and we have customers that drive from Atlanta, we have customers that drive from Knoxville from almost to Nashville, it’s really…

Chari:  Alabama, we’ve got people that come from everywhere to use our services, mostly… I would say Atlanta, the people that come up from Atlanta is just because the market… It’s much more expensive up there, but everywhere else, it’s more just kind of word of mouth, they know somebody. We get a lot of people from up around Powell, up around Lenoir city, that area. So it’s always amazing when people are that far away and then they hear about us and use our services, that’s very gratifying to have people really search us out and they’re looking for someone who has the same philosophy as they do. And that’s the way we look at it. We want people who are passionate about their pets and who want a private cremation, and want their pets back in a reasonable amount of time, and we’re very transparent. If a client wants to… We don’t let the clients back in the room where the crematory is, but if they want to watch us put the pet in, we’re happy to do that to make sure… ‘Cause a lot of people are skeptical, “I’m not really getting my pet back.” And we have a process that we go through that as soon as the pet comes into our facility, it’s tagged and that tag stays with them throughout the whole process.

Business Takeaways From Faithful Friends Pet Crematory

Brandon:  That makes a lot of sense. Yeah. Yeah. There’s so much business advice to just unpack in there, I guess just general take-aways that anybody could learn from that regardless of what their business is, you found a really specific niche, and that is being able to give people the peace of mind that you’re taking care of their pet and just their pet alone. And that’s a really, really specific niche and probably a hard one to fill. So I guess like number one is just find that niche but also referrals are a very powerful way to pull in leads and… ‘Cause we’re digital marketers, I feel the need to push referrals a little bit. Everybody’s all content marketing, social media, all that stuff. And that stuff is good too, but getting referrals from vets, getting referrals from customers, other customers, from what I’ve heard, just talking to a lot of business folks, that is the way to go. Once you get a good referral network set up, you don’t have to work so hard to pull in leads, just a much easier lifestyle.

Chari:  Exactly. And one thing to remember, or at least in my business, most people, they… Most people, if they have one pet, they have multiple pets. So if you treat a family correctly the first time they use you, they will most likely use us again. Most likely they’ll tell their kids or their parents or their cousins, or… “Oh yeah, I use Faithful Friend up in Cleveland, and they did a good job for me.” So that’s worth more than anything I can buy out there. And I’ve got clients who they’ve been coming for five years and they have multiple pets, I have people who rescue dogs or cats, I even have a lady who rescues raccoons and she brings some of them to us. So it’s an interesting business. I’ll go into what everybody probably always wants to know is what’s the weirdest pet.

Brandon:  Yeah. I’ve gotta know. That’s actually on our list.

Weirdest Pet Cremated

Chari:  Well, the, ooh, I had a veterinarian give me a snake and I told him that I’ll do it, but this is once, but I don’t wanna mess with snakes ’cause I’ll be whoo but I’ll go through a list of some of the animals we have cremated. Goats, sheep, we have iguanas, turtles, box turtles, snakes, of course, pigs… We had the McMinn County pig, his name was Pig Foot. They had a McMinn County pig and his name was Pig Foot. So we cremated him. I had a customer call about an alpaca, and I was a little bit afraid of that because of just the odd-ness of their… How long their necks are and how long their legs are. But cats. We had a lemur not too long ago. We had a hedgehog last week. We’ve had all kinds of birds, obviously, rats.

Brandon:  The famed lemurs of Tennessee.

Chari:  Yeah. I didn’t ask where they got the lemur and how we got it. I had a vet, or I still… In Athens and the lady who runs the office, her granddaughter, I don’t know how many guinea pigs of hers we’ve cremated, but those guinea pigs don’t last very long. But just about anything that… Like I said in the beginning, usually less than 200 pounds we can accommodate, but most common, probably dogs are 80… Probably 70%. Cats are probably another 25%, and then 5% of everything else.

Brandon:  Have you ever had to turn something down and say, “This is just out of my pay grade. You’re gonna need a specialist”?

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Other Services Provided and Challenges

Chari:  Not really, and there have been… Okay. So one of the things we provide when we do the service is we provide clay paw prints. So we take a clay… Like playing with Play Doh, we roll out clay… And this is modeling clay, and we do a paw print impression, and that’s cat or dog or talon if it’s a bird. But we have had pets in a condition where we couldn’t do a paw print. So we have refused that, that type surface. Or their fur was in a condition, maybe it had been dead a while, and there might be some things about their fur that we couldn’t… I’m not gonna get gross on you, but some reasons why we couldn’t do a fur clipping. But for the most part, most of these pets are in really good shape and we just do the paw print, do the fur clipping, and we provide a little medallion that’s engraved that goes with the package. So yeah. So yeah. We’ve had, like I said, raccoons and I had a deer once, but I don’t know that it was a pet. I don’t know exactly what happened to it. [laughter]

Pierson:  It’s an interesting one to have come in.

Chari:  I know. I know. People call about horses a lot, but we don’t do… I think there’s one place in Tennessee around Shelbyville that does… That’ll cremate a horse. But there’s not many of those around. It takes a totally different machine.

Staying True to What You Do

Pierson:  And understandably so. One of the things that really stands out, and I do really like about what your business model is, is that you aren’t doing the mass cremations like what you mentioned earlier, and that you really wanna stay true to what your business model is, and that is providing families with a goodbye process. And I think that that’s an awesome thing because it really shows that you guys are passionate about what you do and how you go about doing it, because it could be a little bit easier for you in a business sense to proceed with doing stuff like that. And we’re partnering with more veterinary offices for services like that, but I do think that it would reach a place where it could potentially take away from the meaning and the stance that you guys have taken for so long now for your business.

Chari:  Exactly. And that’s why we’ve… I chose early on because I had several veterinarian offices that called me about just doing their pick-ups and their general cremations, and I just I declined back then, and I just felt like that’s not the business I wanted to be in. I didn’t wanna be a disposal service, and we’re still not. We’re still not. And one thing I wanna focus on, since a lot of the people that listen to your podcast are business-minded, having the right people to work in our facility is extremely important, because if I don’t have somebody who’s compassionate and caring with the families, they know it. You can’t fool people… No. You can’t say that, that if you don’t have a dog or you don’t have a cat or you’ve never owned a pet and you don’t get it, then you’re not gonna be very helpful to a family going through a hard time. So it’s really important to have key people and these people have to be… Have to have the compassion, have to have the ability to answer questions. This is not a really a entry level job. I generally want someone who’s… I work for people that young is not…

Employing the Right People

Chari:  I don’t wanna say young is like an 18-year-old, but it’s not an entry-level position, I want someone who’s had a little season to their life and knows a little bit about loss and a little bit about heartache. And so they can empathize with people and I think that’s the best thing that you can have going for a small business, because in this environment, small businesses, it’s hard to find good workers, it’s hard to find people who will show up. You can talk to probably any employer in Chattanooga and Cleveland or wherever it’s… You gotta have someone who’s passionate about what they’re doing, or it’s just a job and they’re gonna work a month or two and then leave. So you spend a lot of time training an employee on the process and on the care that we try to give the families, and then for them to turn around and leave, it’s not worth the time. So that we try to be very careful when we’re selecting employees to work in our facility as well.

Pierson:  Yeah. And death, we talked about it earlier, but death brings forth such varying perspectives for people because everybody processes it so differently. But unless you’ve gone through something like that, it really is hard to empathize with people that are going through what they think is one of the hardest days of their life is saying goodbye to their pet who has been by their side for years. So I’m sure that that’s brought an incredible amount of perspective for you, not just as a business owner, but as a person to get to see such intimate interactions between a family and a pet with such frequency. I’m sure that that’s brought a ton of perspective to your own life.

Chari:  Oh yeah. I mean, I have personally been through a lot of loss in my family, and then I’ve been through the loss of pets through the years, I’ve had numerous pets. So I get it, I get… I think that’s why we’re in the business because we get it. If it were easy and everybody could do it, you would have all kinds of people popping up the competition, but it’s a hard… Emotionally it’s a hard business because you go home at the end of the day and you’ve taken in a lot of people’s emotions, and then it can drain you if you’re not careful and you have a balance in your life and… So it’s very true. You gotta have the empathy, you gotta have the compassion, you gotta have the caring, but it’s a business too. So you got to be able to be empathetic, but also get people to pay for the service as well. So that’s… We’re so empathetic. But then I’m like, “Did you get payment?” “Well, they said they’d pay when they come back.” I’m like, “Well, we generally get payment up front.” So anyway, it’s a learning experience. But it’s very rewarding, it’s very gratifying to know you’ve helped somebody that day get through a very, like you said, at a very tough day or one of the hardest days of their lives.

Chari:  And usually we have at least two contacts with the family when they drop off or and when they pick up. So if you spend the time and you talk to people and you get to know them, they’re just beautiful people, and I think… I’ve always say this, that I believe pets are God’s gift to us. For whatever reason, sometimes people may be going through a divorce and they have a dog or a cat that helps them through that. They may be going through a loss, they may be going through an illness. We don’t know what people are carrying around. And I think pets are a gift that God gives us for those times. They don’t live as long as I think we would want them to, but I think it’s just… It’s just one of the ways that God, I don’t know, feels pleasure when He gives us pleasure. I don’t know. I think it’s a beautiful thing.

Pierson:  Yeah, I completely agree. I think for me, I’m a huge dog lover, and I say to people all the time how much we do not deserve dogs and just how pure they are. And obviously for you, animals are something that you’re incredibly passionate about, and obviously helping people is too. So I’m sure that finding a career where you can incorporate two of, two things that you’re passionate about is being there for other people and having a career where you’re involved with animals, I’m sure that that’s incredibly rewarding as well.

Doing What You Love…

Chari:  It is. It’s great. I mean I take my dog with me to the office, we allow people, if… This is an interesting phenomenon as well, a lot of times, families, if they’ve had a dog pass away or a cat pass away, they’ll bring the siblings, they’ll bring the other dogs with them to say good-bye. So they can smell and they can… I think the pets are very intuitive and they understand what’s going on. And I see it time and time again, the pet may sniff and smell and then they’ll walk away. It’s like they understand what’s happened to their siblings, and then they have a better comprehension rather than the pet just disappearing one day, and the other, the ones that are still left are like, What the heck happened to Spot over there, he’s gone or he… So a lot of families are very perceptive in helping the other pets get through this process as well. So that’s one thing that that’s fairly common is families will bring in the other pets, they’ll bring in children, they’ll bring in the rest of the family to help say good-bye.

Pierson:  I hadn’t thought about that at all, and I thought about families coming in and the importance of that closure for them, but it didn’t even register with me how crucial that could be for someone’s other pet because they… Pets grieve too. And when they experience a loss, like you said, if they just disappear, that can put them through more grief. So it’s… Yeah. That’s a really special thing that you have the opportunity to provide these families with.

Chari:  Yeah. I’ve had families tell me that, especially multiple-pet families, sometimes they’ll… The pets develop a new pecking order, or who’s the alpha now, or who’s dominant, or they change places where they slept. If the dog that passed away slept on the pillow another dog might move there. It’s just like you said, when I got into this business, I didn’t even think anything about that until families started bringing in their other pets and I’m like, “Okay, this is interesting how intuitive these pets are and… ” Yeah, it is sad. They go to the vet one day and then the brother and sister don’t know what happened. So that’s what a lot of people will do that, is just bring in the other pets and give them a moment… It’s interesting. It doesn’t take them too long to figure it out. But families have told me that it makes the anxiety once they get home a little bit easier, that the other pets have a understanding of what has happened.

Helping Other Pets With Grief

Brandon:  I think it makes a difference. I went through that like a month ago, and it keeps your other one or other ones from waiting and wondering, because they were there, they know what happened. So that way they might be sad, often are, but at least they’re not confused about it.

Pierson:  Can you think back to any… I’m sure that you have dozens of them, so this might not even be a fair question to ask you. Can you think back to an experience where one stood out above the rest as just an incredibly powerful moment that you were able to share between a family and the passing of a pet?

Chari:  Oh gosh. Yeah. There’s a lot. I can remember one. I had this one, this lady brought her… It was a English bull dog, I remember that. And she brought it in, and once I started talking to her, I realized her twin brother had passed away, and this was his dog, and this was the last thing she had left of him, and I was… She started bawling and we sat there for probably an hour and she… But her brother had passed away eight or nine years ago, but it just brought back all the grief that she felt attached to this pet and this dog of his, and it was just really special to be able to walk through that with her. And then when I went back there, she had wrapped the dog, she had tied ribbons around everything, she had flowers like rose petals all over the dog, she had a note, she had everything laid out there to say goodbye to him. And I just thought that was special. I’ve had… I have a family in LaFayette, Georgia, and this man is a disabled veteran and he has a number of cats and he has his inside cats and outside cats. And anytime one of them passes away, he’ll call me and I’ll meet him at the Baskin-Robbins there at the East Brainerd Road exit, and he’ll give me his cat. And then when I’m through, I’ll meet him back there at that Baskin-Robbins, and I don’t know how many he’s lost, but we did something unique with him.

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Memorialization

Chari:  He wanted a big urn, like a people-size urn. So we put a big urn and put his name, his last name and his family. This is their family. So every time one of his cats passes away, we just engrave the name of the cat underneath it. So there’s a number of different… We haven’t really talked that much about memorialization, but there’s a number of different ways. Brandon, you said you have your pet in a heart-shaped urn. There’s a number of different options that families can choose, whether it’s an urn, whether it’s a marker outside, whether it’s… We have the ability to plant trees with the ashes. Just different things like that that people aren’t aware of, but one of our most popular urns is a picture frame urn where you can… The ashes are enclosed in the back, they’re screwed into the back of the picture frame, but you can change out the pictures of your pet and you can have it engraved. And a lot of times, those type memorial items where you can have it physically sitting on a shelf or sitting in a room where it doesn’t look like an urn, but it looks like a picture framing. You have a picture of your dog or your cat or your pet there. So that’s important.

Chari:  We have custom jewelry a lot of people order where we can actually take a picture of the paw print, and the company that I send it to, they digitize the paw print and they put it on a necklace or a ring or a little charm bracelet. So a lot of time… You can carry your pet’s paw print, actual paw print. It’s not just a design. I have other companies that do just like a paw print design where you can put the ashes in the jewelry. It has a little screw… So there’s a number of different ways you can memorialize your pet that are unique… They’re unique, but people generally don’t think about it. They don’t think that, “Hey, I can have a charm that I can wear around my neck, and have my pet with me all the time.”

Pierson:  Yeah. I wouldn’t have even thought to think about the memorization process and what that can look like in different options for people.

Chari:  People… We have river stones. That’s one of my favorite things. We have these beautiful river stones that you can have your pet’s name and date of death, or date of birth, date of death on there. We have candles, we have like ceramic, different vases, we have metal urns, a lot of different things. There’s even… I haven’t had anybody order one of these. I have these beautiful glassblowings where you have these paper weights where you mix the cremating ashes with a color, and you have these beautiful paper weights that people… You put in… They look like art-work. They don’t look like remains or anything like that. So there’s a lot of really nice things that can be done as a memorial to your pet or your human. The same thing is offered in the human crematory as well.

Relationships With People Because Of This

Pierson:  One of the things that I’m noticing about you Chari is that you’ve developed these really intimate relationships with the people, as much as you get to witness the relationships between the owners of the pets. You get a glimpse into their life a lot of times, and you end up building relationships with these people that often might not have been formed if it not had been for this traumatic event.

Chari:  I would say I’m generally very relational anyway. So I’m very curious about people. I’m always interested in their stories, and I think every person has a story, I think every pet has a story, and I just like finding out about people. Like the disabled veteran, I’m like, that’s amazing that he’s kind of… He feeds… He does all kinds of neat things. I don’t wanna say too much for his privacy, but it’s… I don’t know, I enjoy it. I enjoy meeting people. I enjoy hearing about how special their pets were to them, and what a part of their family that… What’s always cute is they’ll tell me the different tricks that the pet would do or the different… He used to sleep up here. I had this one guy when I first opened. It scared me ’cause at first I was like, “Okay, I’m sitting here in this building by myself. What if somebody comes in and gets me.” So I had this guy walk in and he had on… The stereotypical motorcycle rider, if you can imagine that. And a Harley Davidson, tattoos, everything. So I’m like a little uneasy.

Chari:  But he came in and he said, “I’m sorry, I’ve got three doxins, and I wanna go ahead and pay for their cremations. They’re not anywhere close to being dead, but if something happens to me, I wanna make sure they’re taken care of.” And I’m like, “Okay, what’s wrong with you?” And he’d had some health issues or whatever. And then he told me the story about how one of the doxins had been lost in the tornado, I think it was in 2011. And he said, “I looked for that doxin all night,” and he ended up finding it. And he said, “Chari,” he goes, “Now you guys will bury me as well at your funeral home.” He said, “When I die,” he goes, “I want you to put that doxin… The remains of this doxin right here under my arm ’cause that’s where that dog stayed all the time.” and it’s just neat to hear stories like that, or the little doxin who survived the tornado, and this big, burly intimidating man has the sweetest heart for his little dogs, so that’s what always surprises me is that sometimes the biggest and the roughest looking people, they’ll cry more than anybody when they lose their pet.

Pierson:  I think it just goes to show how special these pets really are to all of us, whether that’s a dog or a cat, or a bird, or an iguana or whatever that is, people form special relationships with pets, and it’s a really special thing that you’re able to provide them with that proper goodbye.

Brandon:  I love seeing how much people drop their guard when they see a cute cat or a dog just walking around the park or somewhere… It’s so special. People like they abandon conventions of… Just normal social conventions, just because a cat or dog shows up. It’s very, very special.

Chari:  I think if you wanna meet people, you get a little puppy and you go out to the Greenway or the dog park, and you meet all kinds of people… And I’m not talking about just picking up like a guy trying to pick up girls or a girl trying to pick up guys. I’m just saying you just talk to people. Yeah they benefit more… Yeah ’cause I’ve got a Husky and he’s all white and Big ‘ol blue eyes, and when I take him walking… I bet I have three or four people every time I come, I go walk in, either stop and talk to me about him or, “Oh, what a pretty dog.” Or “Can I pet him.” Or whatever and he’s a little skittish, so I always have to watch him, but… Yeah, it’s just kind of an equalizer, it’s kind of what I said before. It doesn’t matter your socio-economic demographic, anything, a cute dog, a cute cat or a cute pet, people will stop and talk and wanna hear about it, and how old is he… The different things to do. I got a funny story. Okay, so these huskies, I don’t know if you guys have ever had a husky, they’re the most peculiar dog ever, they’re so funny.

Funny Pet Stories

Chari:  And you see videos of them on YouTube talking and singing and mine’s like that, he’ll fuss at me when I get home and just carry on. The funniest thing, he likes to open packages, so I have a bin where UPS… They’re supposed to leave all the packages… Well, a couple of years ago, I decided to sign up for one of those HelloFresh meal prep services. So the first… I got one, it was a different FedEx person and they left that on the door, at my front door, and I got home, and my HelloFresh meal was all over my front yard, all the meat was eaten, everything but the Brussels sprouts. I sent them a picture, I was like, “Hey, dogs don’t like your Brussels sprouts.” And they were like, “Oh no, I can’t believe that.” It was the funniest thing, but he was just sitting there, just as proud as he can be, but he had eaten all my new meal planning service.

Brandon:  Oh, I bet he came up to you wagging his tail like, Pet me, praise me.

Chari:  Oh, he had a great day. He got a roast one day, not too long ago, I was unloading groceries. And I was like, “I thought I bought a roast.” and I went back and looked in the car, and then I found the wrapper out in the front yard. [chuckle] Yeah, he’s awful.

Pierson:  We’re sharing funny dog stories of dogs stealing human food. My friend’s dog, who I love dearly, her name is Stella, and she has a cast iron stomach and has eaten just about anything in the world, and my friends and I will joke about it because they used to live at my condo with me, and my friends would leave like a Subway sandwich sitting on our lofted table, which is 4 feet tall, and they’d go outside and they’d come back and the entire foot-long sandwich would be gone, and she’d eaten like baguettes and a ball of Ramen noodles. She has no regard for anybody else’s food, but if she sees it, she’s like, “Ooh, I’m gonna take it, it’s gonna be mine now.” Like “Thank you so much for that. Good dinner.”

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Pets Being There For You

Chari:  That’s why pets are… They’re just so funny, you can sit there and watch them and especially as they get older, they just get… Like my shih tzu, she’s almost 11 and she’s kinda getting old and grumpy, and we just aggravate her to death, just do anything to get a rise out of her. And she’s so jealous and so… She doesn’t want me to talk to my daughter without her being in the middle, and it’s just a lot of fun they add to our lives and a lot of companionship, and that’s another thing we really haven’t talked about. There are a lot of people, they’re alone in the world except their pets, for whatever reason, either they might be estranged from their family or they may be living in a different part of the country than the rest of their family, but their pets are their lives, and that’s another reason that it’s very gratifying when you’re able to help somebody through this, because they have devoted their life to this pet and the pet is there, always there when they get home, or always there for a ride or to go walking or whatever, and that’s…

Chari:  I don’t know if it’s just the way our society is now and how transient people are, but I think the pets provide stability, companionship, and I think they’re very good for our mental health. I’m sure you could get a psychologist on here to talk about how much pets help our mental health and the benefits of owning pets. I’ve read a lot of articles about that, but I think that’s another thing that we really haven’t touched on, but the companionship and the loneliness some people feel without having a… Or when they don’t have a pet.

Pierson:  Yeah, and I think that a lot of people are experiencing that for the first time over the last year, being forced to stay inside all the time. And for some people, like you said, they don’t have that family unit or those close friends. They might be across the country or whatever the circumstances are that lead to that, and a lot of people, all they do have is their pet and they develop this extremely close bond to these animals and they aren’t here for that long, and I think that it’s the best thing in the world that you can provide people with that service to give them a proper goodbye. I think that that’s incredibly wholesome and pure and I love it.

Powerful Story of Pets and Love

Chari:  Yeah, like I said, it’s very gratifying to hear these stories. I wish I had… I’ve got a lot of stories in my head, but I wish I had had people sign releases so I could write a book about… I guess I can change the names to protect the innocent, but just the feel-good. I’ll tell you one story that was very unique and very… I was honored to be a part of this. In Bradley County, it’s been about three years ago, we had a local police officer. He was out of town, he took his family on vacation and his police dog, his police service dog got out of its pen and climbed the fence. They had the dog in a pen inside a fence, and the dog got out of its pen and climbed the fence and was on the loose up here in Bradley County for a whole weekend. People would… It was kind of a Facebook phenomenon. People would see her. Her name was Lucy. She might be over here, she’ll be over here. And everybody was looking for her. Well, unfortunately, she got hit by a train at around Calhoun that weekend, and the police officer was still out of town, and one of his partners or one of the other local sheriff’s deputies called me that morning that they found her.

Chari:  And he said, “Hey, Chari, can you cremate this?” And I said, “Absolutely.” I said, “We’ll do it at no cost because it’s a police service dog.” So we picked up the dog and… We went out to pick it up and they provided a police escort to our facility, and we had a service for that dog. They had it at a local elementary school. I counted 39 police officers from across the Tennessee Valley area, not just Chattanooga and Cleveland. We had ’em from Georgia. And these are all dogs who… Officers who had K9 dogs brought their dogs to this service and they had a ceremony where the dogs came up and paid respects to Lucy, the fallen dog. And they had the police sergeant or the police chief, and all these officers came and paid respects, and I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. And we were just honored to be a part of it and honored to help this… Help the community deal with this and losing a police officer because they are… They protect the police officers from all sorts of things. They go in places so police officers don’t have to.

Chari:  They go in crack houses, they go in to these… Where these drug dealers are, they go chasing people in the woods in the middle of the night. And so the canine service dogs are very special to me. We’ve had several others since that one, but that was probably the largest funeral that we’ve had for a pet, but it’s really… It’s just a neat experience to see something like that in your community where so many people take the time to honor an officer that had been killed in the line of duty.

Pierson:  Yeah, I’m not gonna lie, I have chills from just listening to that ’cause that’s so incredibly powerful. I could not imagine being there to witness that in person.

Chari:  Yeah, it was just… Like I said, we were honored to be a part of it, and the police officers I dealt with during that, just top notch, and it just gave me a whole new perspective on what these service dogs do and how much they protect their owners and their handlers from the perils that they deal with every day. I just never really thought about it. I always thought, “Oh, the dog goes alongside the police officer.” Well no, the dog goes in a lot of times before the police officer does, so they protect, they get into places that maybe an officer can’t get into, but they also go through the woods in the middle of the night where an officer may have trouble seeing things. It’s just amazing what they do. So I think it’s an incredible thing. I know Chattanooga has some K9 officers and so does Cleveland, and I think it’s a good program, and I know that the police departments are always struggling with funding of these programs, but I hope they continue to do that, to offer that service.

Closing Remarks

Pierson:  Wow, I’m honestly at a loss for words when hearing you share that story, ’cause it’s just so moving. Brandon, do you have anything?

Brandon:  I’m just thinking about a community rallying around some dogs. That’s very special. I don’t have any more questions. Do you?

Pierson:  No, I don’t either. And Chari, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show I know that last story was so powerful that I almost think that… What a better way to cap off the episode by just leaving it at that, ’cause I think that epitomizes the line of work that you’re in and what you’re able to provide for not just these pet owners, but the community that can rally together and support these fallen pets that have meant so much to all of us.

Chari:  Well, it’s been an honor to be here with you guys today, and I appreciate the opportunity to be on here. And I’ll give us one more plug. We’re a Faithful Friend Pet Crematory in Cleveland, Tennessee. We pick up in the tristate region, and we’ll be happy to assist any of your listeners with any of their needs. They can Google us or give us a call and we also, we offer answering service after hours, so if you need us after hours we’ll have somebody answer the phone and get with one of us.

Pierson:  And we will throw links to all of that in the show notes and in the description, so people can go right from the podcast straight to your website and to all the links that you want us to share. We’re more than happy to add those into the show notes so people have easy access to it.

Chari:  Thank you so much, it’s been great and I’ve enjoyed it. And this is my first time on a podcast, so this is fun.

Pierson:  Well, I’m so happy to hear it. So guys, thank you so much for checking out this episode. If you wanna listen to more of our stuff, you can check us out on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, wherever you listen to your podcasts at. Until next time, I’m Pierson, here with Brandon and Chari Buckner from Faithful Friend Pet Crematory, and we’ll see you guys later.

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