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Chamber Chat with Last Wishes

The Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce is committed to helping tell the stories of our members. This is a regular series profiling some of those businesses.

Saying goodbye to a loved one is never easy. And for many families, saying goodbye to a four-legged friend can be just as traumatic as the loss of a person. Unfortunately, the support services around the passing of a pet are often non-existent. It’s precisely that issue that Dr. Christie Cornelius set out to fix with her Houston-based company, Last Wishes.

Cornelius launched the company in 2012, taking appointments on her lunch breaks and after-hours from her daytime practice with a local veterinary clinic. By providing in-home euthanasia services, the doctor sought to make the transition of a pet’s death easier for clients. As demand for services grew, Cornelius added more veterinarians and support staff and began offering hospice and palliative care for her animal patients. In 2017, Last Wishes opened the first pet hospice center, water-based cremation service and a dedicated pet memorial garden. To date, Cornelius estimates Last Wishes has helped more than 7,000 families with their senior pet’s care.

Last Wishes seems like a very unique type of business. Are there other companies like yours around the country?

Last Wishes is a one-of-a-kind hybrid operation, built out to closely resemble the human hospice model. We have one of the largest and most diverse veterinary hospice programs in the world and are unique in offering environmentally friendly aftercare and a mobile senior case management service in addition to end of life care, grief support, and pet memorialization.

What do you think makes this the right business for pet owners at this moment?

An increasing number of families consider pets to be members of the family, and pets are living longer than ever. We rely on our furry companions to increase our own physical activity and mental and emotional states. Our pets deserve as much care and dignity as members of the family, especially when it comes to senior, geriatric, and end of life care…Advancements in veterinary medicine and technology has provided families with more choices than ever. This is wonderful for many families, however, increased options mean there's a demand for more time, more understanding, and a need for personalized care for each individual family and patient. This is where an operation like (ours) comes in. We provide the clarity, time and guidance specific to each family's needs and wishes for themselves and their pets at the most critical times in their lives. Our values are dignity, integrity, empathy, compassion, respect, excellence, and teamwork.

How many clients do you serve in an average week?

In an average week we service 70-80 families through our senior care program, hospice, euthanasia, and aftercare services…In 2016 we opened up our non-profit organization, The Last Wishes 501c Fund, which was developed to provide financial assistance and care for disadvantaged families with pets needing our help.

Why did you join the Chamber?

I joined the Chamber in order to get to know the stories of more brave business leaders in the LGBTQ community. It is a unique opportunity to connect with other professionals facing the challenge of starting and running a business while being themselves anyway. I also wish to increase awareness and the promise of our values and services to our community. We love helping non-traditional families with the care of their pets.

Talk a bit about the array of services you provide.

Two of our veterinarians, myself and Dr. Julia Spade, are certified in Animal Hospice & Palliative Care. Dr. Spade is also certified in veterinary medical acupuncture. In addition, our hospice coordinator, Rebecca Keaton, a Licensed Veterinary Technician (LVT) is receiving her certification in Animal Hospice & Palliative Care. We also feature an LVT certified in canine massage, a certified class IV veterinary laser technician, and a professional groomer who specializes in elderly, painful and mobility-challenged dogs and cats. We work with two mental health professionals who assist our families with anticipatory and post-transition grief.

Our hospice center features two consultation rooms built out like living rooms, where we perform hospice care, diagnostics (labwork/ultrasound), pain management (laser therapy, acupuncture, companion massage, mobility aids) and medical consultation in addition to comfortable euthanasia, visitation, and environmentally friendly aftercare. The center is open 7 days a week in order to meet all of our families needs.

Last Wishes also owns the only water-based cremation service in the city of Houston, providing a gentler, greener form of aftercare without the worry of producing harmful emissions that pollute the precious air around us.

What are the positive aspects of running a business in Houston?

Houston is so big and resource-rich. The people in our community are very caring and willing to help out however they can. I love doing business in Houston because the people here are amazing and the cost of living is more reasonable than in other large metro areas.

What would make things easier to run a business in HTX?

More willing and able volunteers, a network of LGBTQ or LGBTQ-friendly "word-of-mouthers", knowledge of investors and business leaders interested in investing in or consulting with minority-owned businesses. Leaders in commercial real estate, legal matters, accounting, technology - all are helpful with the basic functions of a business to help it run smoothly and last 100 years.

What's your favorite thing to do in town when you're not running the company?

My wife and I enjoy the arts - Houston offers a wide variety of activities, including museums, parks, music, movies, theater, and other entertainment, plus it has some of the best restaurants around!

Why do you think it’s important for LGBTQ businesses to have a concentrated voice?

It's important for LGBTQ businesses to have a concentrated voice so that we may be presented with the same opportunities for success that many members of the majority have. An increased level of success for us means we have a better chance at a seat at the big table with more influential persons in the business community.

What’s ahead for Last Wishes?

In 2019, we will be adding the Senior Paws Program, offering senior home health services, providing wellness care, and case management including chronic pain control for aging pets.

Learn more about Last Wishes via their website and on Facebook

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