You know the feeling you get, walking through the front door for the first time after you’ve said goodbye? What do you see first? Your dog’s empty bed? His favourite toy? What do you notice? The complete and utter silence, even if you have other pets?
As I write this I can feel the loss like it was just a few moments ago. It’s been 7 ½ months since I lost my heart dog Red and I know I will miss her presence forever.
In addition to learning how to handle the grief of them no longer being a part of our daily lives, there’s figuring out what to do with all the stuff they’ve left behind. Do we leave everything where it is until we’re ready to deal with it in a few days or weeks? Is it better to pick up every last reminder and pack it away? Throw it away? Give it away? What about a keepsake so we can feel her presence? Should we do it before we take her to the vet or wait until we come home?
There is no “should” about it
There is no “should” when it comes to deciding what to do with your dog’s stuff. There’s no rule book that lays out what should stay, what should go, and when. We all grieve differently and it doesn’t matter what someone else does, you have to do what’s right for you.
The one thing I can say is, please don’t “react” and do something you may regret later. Walking through that door for the first time without your dog being there can be extremely traumatic, and seeing her stuff is like a slap in the face. It’s too easy to grab everything you see and just toss it, but you will be acting out of grief. A natural reaction to be sure, but I don’t want you to have any regrets once you’re starting to feel better.
Was this you?
Did you react and get rid of everything? Please please forgive yourself, and know that it doesn’t change how you felt about her. She knows you loved her so much, and seeing her things was too much for you to bear in that moment.
You probably still have something if you look around. A toy she hasn’t used in a while? An old collar? An ID tag? A favourite blanket? Even if you don’t you probably still have lots of pictures, so when you’re ready buy a special frame and pick your favourite. What about having a painting or drawing done from an image of the two of you together?
Give it some thought in advance
None of us wants to think about the day when we have to say goodbye. What I can suggest is taking even a moment to think about what you might want to do with your dog’s things. It’s not a plan that has to be set in stone, but it might help when the time comes.
What I did with Red’s stuff
Before we went to the vet for the last time, I had the presence of mind to pick her bed up off the floor and get rid of it. I knew I wouldn’t be able to bear seeing it empty when I got home.
Once Red’s kidney issues and dementia got worse, I had pee pads covering my entire floor for quite a few months. Not the prettiest site but we do what we have to for our old dogs don’t we? The first thing I did when I came home was pick them up. A part of me wanted to do it beforehand but I felt like that would be disrespectful to my sweet girl Red, and I preferred to spend the time waiting to leave with her in my lap.
My dogs’ leashes hang on a hook in a kitchen cupboard, and hers still does. I won’t use it for any other dog, but I also feel like it belongs where it’s been for so many years.
Her medication schedule was taped to the inside door of one of my cupboards. It stayed there until very recently.
I have a large cupboard where I keep my dog supplies, so her food bowl stays there. I can’t say whether I would use it for my next dog but I don’t have to know that now, we’ll play it by ear.
She wore sweaters most of the time in the house, and coats outside when the weather was cooler. I kept a few favourites and gave the rest to a charity in Serbia. If they fit my next dog I probably wouldn’t mind her wearing them. I also gave the same charity her leftover medication.
Her collar with tag hangs off a framed drawing someone did of her at a dog fair a few years ago. It sits on a ledge in my living room along with her second place and first place ribbons. She won them in two dog competitions she entered in the “senior non-pedigree” category at a fair in the local park.
What you can do
Leave things the way they are
What one person finds too hard to bear may bring comfort to another. Leaving things as they are may make you feel better for a while, as you take the time you need to grieve. Please be careful not to leave them there for months on end as a shrine you can’t let go of.
Keep the things that mean the most
Is it your pet’s ID tag that holds the most sentiment? What about her blanket? Bowl? Some fur? Collar? A memory box is a great way to hold onto a keepsake.
A favourite toy for the other pets in your home
Humans aren’t the only ones to grieve over a loss, our other pets do too. Did your dog have one toy that became a favourite with any of the other animals in your home? Why not hold onto it as a reminder for them! Don’t wash it so it keeps your dog’s scent.
You may want to hold onto some things and use them again for your next dog, or even a dog you already have. I wouldn’t include your pet’s meds as expiration dates mean they lose efficacy, and your new pup may have other issues that make that particular drug dangerous or not appropriate. If you know one of the drugs you have will help, be sure to consult with your vet first.
Donate to a local shelter or rescue group
Local shelters and rescue groups always have wish lists of stuff they really need. Your donation would be particularly beneficial to a small rescue as they are always struggling financially, and would welcome any items you would like to share. It’s also a beautiful way to honour your loved one.
Help out a shelter in another country
Sadly there are many countries in which dogs are held in appalling conditions. In many cases volunteers do their best to take them out of these horrible situations, or at least make their current living conditions a bit better. Gifts of beds, blankets and coats are always welcome, and many do take medications.
Facebook is a great place to find groups rescuing in other countries.
Help someone you know who is struggling
You may know of a fellow dog parent who has fallen on tough times, and is struggling with their dog’s care. Imagine how much a donation of your pup’s stuff would help, and again it’s a wonderful way to honour her memory.
Put some things in storage
You may feel you want to keep some of your dog’s things, but you can’t bear looking at them every day. Store them in a water proof container and put them out of sight. Just knowing you still have them may help you feel better.
Get rid of it all (but not the pictures of course!)
This may seem a bit harsh and that’s okay if it isn’t the route you want to take, but it may be the right step for some. They may feel holding onto things, even if they are out of sight, will prevent them from grieving then moving on. This will never lessen the love you shared and the wonderful time you had together.
I know how tough it is to lose someone so precious, and on top of it all having to figure out what to do with the things that have been so long a part of your home. I do hope this helped you see how many options you truly have, and whatever you choose to do it has to be what’s right for you.
What did you do with your dog’s belongings? Sharing helps others so please leave your comments below.
Please visit and like my Facebook page, there is a ton of helpful links and articles to help you take the best care of your senior dog.
**I would like to invite you to join Senior Dog Care Club, my Facebook group for senior dog parents. It is a wonderful community where you will find lots of helpful tips and advice, a place to ask questions and share experiences. I look forward to welcoming you.**
One of the indisputable facts of life that everyone has to come to terms with is that time waits for no one. Yes, time does not wait for you or me or Fluffy. The same thing can be said when it comes to dealing with terminal illness and death. This is always a very sensitive subject as it is very close to the heart. However, as a grieving pet parent, I have come to understand and learn that sharing my own experiences and lessons with grief and loss has helped give comfort and validation to many. I was honored when Hindy reached out to me and asked if I wanted to share my own experience and tips to deal with grief.
Yep. I’m a grieving pet parent too. After suffering with thyroid cancer, my furry best friend Dusty earned her angel wings at the age of 13 ½ years old. It was the hardest experience to live through but I made it. How do I manage? I take it one day at a time. One of the most common questions I encounter since she passed is “My pet is growing older. How do I cope with pet loss and the inevitable?” Can you relate? Do you ask yourself the same question? Well, today I’ll share what I have learned and give you tips that have helped me greatly in the process.
I know death is inevitable. What do I do?
Whether your pet has a terminal illness or just aging gracefully, that time will come when they will get their angel wings. However, just because we understand the science that we as humans will outlive our pets, does not make it any easier to deal with. So, what do you do when you know the inevitable is going to happen? Here are my tips!
Record and snap pictures of all the good days. Take video AND photos of your pets while they are alive and here with you. So, when that day finally comes, these images will serve as ever lasting memories of good days with your pets. Seeing memories of them looking well and vibrant will make all the difference when it comes to reflecting back on your time together.
Spend quality time together.
Knowing you have limited time left means spend every available moment with your furry family member while you can. As I mentioned, time waits for no man, so cherish the minutes while they are here. For example, sitting on the couch watching TV together or sitting in the park on a bench taking in the fresh air, is all you need. It is not what you do together, but rather bonding and just being in each other’s presence that is important. Enjoy each other’s company. You won’t regret it.
Check off that bucket list!
With that quality time, if your pet is able to get around comfortably, there is no better time than the present to accomplish those bucket list items. Has your pet never been to the beach? Get in the car and take a road trip. Never been to a pet friendly hotel? Pack your bags. Did you consider a family photo shoot with your dog using a pet photographer? Book that appointment. Or how about a spa day? Let’s go.
Pamper your pooch with a once in a lifetime memory to make them feel good. Don’t forget your camera or video to capture these moments too!
Consider making final arrangements in advance.
This is awkward and difficult because who really wants to think about this? I can tell you from experience that pre- paying for final expenses in advance did help me a little bit because when you are saying goodbye to your best friend in their last moments, the last thing on your mind is paying an invoice and selecting cremation and urns. So, I encourage any pet parent to consider making final arrangements with your vet or pet crematorium in advance.
Speaking of which, with respects to final arrangements, you do not necessarily have to take your dog to the vet. Depending on your circumstances, you can arrange for in home euthanasia. Some pet parents find this alternative to be much less stressful for all involved. Your furry family member can rest in peace in the comfort of their own home surrounded by loved ones.
This is just another option to consider that you may not have otherwise thought about.
How will I know when to say goodbye?
When the time comes you’ll know. I can’t even explain it, but it’s instinctual. Your pet will give you signs and clues that the quality of life they are living just isn’t what you want for them.
Honestly, think of the bigger picture. Think of their ability to function day in and day out. Ask yourself, are they able to use the bathroom regularly? Are they drinking and eating? How is their energy level? How is their mood? Think about all the collective factors of quality of life, not just the number of extra days you can get with them. What would you want if you were in their shoes?
And even if you don’t know what to do, you can consult with your veterinarian to help you get clarity to help make that final decision, all factors considered. Essentially, do what is best for the pet. Make them as comfortable as possible. Choose quality of life over quantity of life.
When your pet finally gets their wings…
When your pet does finally pass on, you have to adjust to a whole new way of living. You are forced to cope and deal with the realities of life after your furry family member is no longer here.
What have I learned? I can tell you that dealing with grief has many unexpected challenges.
Facing the harsh realities of the real world
Understand that although you were anticipating this to happen, it’s still a shock.
Understand there are 5 levels of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. You will experience a roller coaster of emotions.
One minute you’ll be cool, calm and collected and the next a blubbering mess. And that’s okay. It’s all part of the process of grieving.
You’ll feel guilt! This one is huge. As a pet parent you continually ask yourself questions like,
“Did I do everything I possibly could have to help my pet?”
“What if I tried another treatment?”
“How could this happen?”
“Maybe if I did things differently…”
What you’ll realize is that all the “what ifs” will not bring back your pet. Also, remember that in life we do the best we can with the current knowledge we have at the time, so don’t continue to beat yourself up over your decision. Learn to accept and forgive yourself.
Your furry family member knows and felt how much you loved them while they were here with you. There is no debating about the love between you both. So, know and understand, our pets are not holding a grudge against us for they are at peace, so you should not beat yourself up either.
Your pets are gone in the physical, but their energy, spirit and love remains with you.
What do I mean? You may disagree, however in my personal experience, I’ve had odd happenings occur after the death of my pet. Some things science cannot explain.
For instance, I’d find myself going to work and feeling cool breezes on my neck for no apparent reason in a heated room. At home, I’d be on my laptop and in the corner of my eye see a fluffy tail around the corner. Or while lying in bed fast asleep, I’d feel the bed mattress sink as if there were paws sinking in mattress springs. These are all happenings I experienced after the death of my pet.
Perhaps you’ve experienced something similar? Just know that you may or may not experience things that science cannot quite explain. I’d like to think that’s our pet’s way of getting our attention and letting us know they are with us in spirit. Love never really dies.
Not everyone will be kind and empathetic.
The bond between a pet and a parent is more than just a human animal bond. Our pets are family to us. And like family, the bond runs deep. They share our most precious moments and memories, secrets and more, so when they pass on its devastating.
Understand, that while you grieve not everyone will be empathetic and sympathize with you. Also, what you may come to realize is that the most insensitive comments and reactions, may come from the people closest to you!
I’d love to tell you everyone will be respectful and empathetic to you, but quite frankly people will say the darndest things. If it sounds unbelievable, then you must read 5 Things NOT to say to a grieving pet parent! You would be shocked at some of things people may say. Often times the comments can be insensitive and heartless, such as “It’s just a dog. You get another right?” Or “He wasn’t going to live forever.” Sounds unfathomable right? I wish I could tell you no one would ever say such things, but it does happen, so brace yourself for the unexpected.
Your daily routine will never be the same.
The passing of your pet means so much more than just somebody out of the house, it also means a life altering change to your daily routine, family dynamic and lifestyle. Realize that you now need to create a new normal for yourself and your family (including other pet siblings).
Understand that you are not the only ones grieving in the household. Our pets grieve too. And just like humans, pets show us their grief in different ways. Death of a pet impacts the whole family, including our other pets, so take that into consideration.
Banding together and being a support system for each other is essential to help start the healing process.
Grief can impact you mentally and physically.
Grief and depression often times go hand in hand, however did you also know that a broken heart can result from such emotional pain? Have you heard of broken heart syndrome? It is a physical condition backed by science, that explains human heartbreak as a result of such loss, like death of a pet, can give us symptoms identical to severe anxiety and a heart attack.
The emotional pain we feel not only impacts our mind and emotions but also transfers to the body in the physical. With this in mind, it’s so important to take care of yourself.
Now, this leads me to a few tips I’ve used to take actionable steps to cope with the grief.
Tips to cope with grief and find healing
Explore all your resources
When you are experiencing pet loss, make no limit to the amount of resources to use. Try everything including watching videos on You Tube, visiting pet loss blogs, searching for online grief support counseling, therapists, talk to friends and family and even journal or pray. Use all your resources to get you through. Here are just a few:
See this is where that documentation I mentioned before comes in handy. Re-watch video clips and photos to help remember the good times spent with your pet. One of the most difficult things about coping with grief is replaying the last moments when your pet fell ill and was dying. Change the narrative in your head.
Make the choice to not relive those heart wrenching moments but relive the happy times. Revisit the old photos in your keepsake box. Watch old video clips of your pet running around the yard without a care in the world.
Having these positive memories to reflect on makes a world of difference for your mood and your mind. Instead of crying sad tears, you’ll be crying happy tears because you’ll be reminded of the good quality of life you gave your pet while they were here with you.
Find a way to memorialize and honor your pet.
Find a way to keep the memory of your pet alive. Are you looking for an idea? I’ll share a few ways you can honor the memory of your pet right now.
Are you a fan of jewelry? You can get a custom-made jewelry piece made in your pet’s image such as a pendant necklace or a keychain.
Are you into gardening or have a large yard? Consider planting a tree in your pet’s memory.
Do you have kids that lost a best furry family member? Get a custom-made plushy toy made in your pet’s image.
Do you have tons of photos of your pet? Create a keepsake photo album or keepsake box of photos and trinkets to have on hand.
Not the DIY type? How about send a monetary donation to a local pet charity in memory of your pet?
These are just a few options you may want to consider.
Take time to grieve and find a support system.
Take adequate time to grieve and cry. Don’t try to be a super hero and hold all your emotions inside. It’s healthy and normal to cry, get angry and express your emotions when grieving. Truth be told, there is no time limit on grief.
We as bereaved pet parents just learn to live with grief as the days pass. Will it get easier over time? Yes. Will the pain disappear?… Let me ask you this, “Will the love you had for your pet disappear?” No.
Having a support system is so important. Don’t hesitate to speak about your emotions and pain to other family members and other pet parents. Chances are they have also been in the same situation and can relate to your experience.
Also, explore online communities for support. A great resource for support is this blog, Facebook pet loss support groups or communities like Rainbowbridge.com focused on helping bereaved pet parents find healing.
Figure out what to do with their belongings and toys.
Whether you want to keep or donate your pet’s belongings is up to you. There are plenty of local shelters always looking for supplies like old towels, toys and blankets, water dishes for homeless pets in need.
Honestly, putting the items away or donating items is helping you to move in a forward direction with the healing process, not erasing their memory.
Remember to take care of you.
Seek out professional help if you have trouble functioning with your day to day routine, feel suicidal or otherwise depressed and overwhelmed to the point that you cannot effectively go about your day.
Be honest with your family or closest friends about your grief. A solid support system is meant to help you work through your grief and give you the tools to do so as well.
Secondly, the physical toll grief has on the body is real. Before I mentioned broken heart syndrome which in some cases can feel like a heart attack. So, it’s important we pay attention to our bodies and consult with our physician if changes occur.
Find positive means of coping.
Get out the house and exercise. Fresh air will do you good to help clear your lungs and your head. Walking, even just a casual stroll for 15 minutes, will get your blood moving and endorphins pumping.
Eat clean and get plenty of water for proper hydration. It’s amazing what healthy fresh foods like greens, fruits and vegetables can do to help stabilize your mood over high sugary foods and junk which gives you a high and then crash after an hour. The better your diet, the more stable your mood will be. This will only help you to be on the track to healing faster.
Try new hobbies
Tap into your creative side. This could mean journaling in a notebook or using adult coloring books or taking a pottery or paint class on your own. Take this time to try new things. Take a day trip to a new place you’ve never been before or buy tickets to a concert to see your favorite artist. Have lunch at a restaurant you’ve been meaning to try and bring a friend.
The point is to consciously take your mind to a positive space and get out of the house and keep moving in a productive capacity.
Live life to the fullest and serve others.
What do I mean by this? Live life as your pet would want you to in order to honor them.
Infuse your life with positivity and joy. Turn your pain into purpose and consider volunteering or fostering too. Do something productive and positive with your time. Get involved in activities that bring you joy but also help others. When you give, you receive a sense of purpose and fulfillment. This is a great way to help cope and find healing in the process.
Remember to have gratitude, even in difficult times like these because although we have pain, experiences such as these only make us so much stronger. Essentially, what you will come to learn is to have gratitude for the love shared, humility in knowing life is short and joy in knowing although your time together was short, you wouldn’t change it for the world. Never take life for granted.
Last but not least, take it one day at a time.
Many ask, “How long before I start to feel normal again?” Honestly, I cannot answer that for you. Only time will tell. Grief has no time limit and everyone is different. Don’t compare your pain to others and also don’t feel the need to rush your healing process.
Everyone deals with grief in their own way, loves in their own way and heals on their own time. I hope sharing these tips and life lessons really resonates with you and helps provide comfort to you when you need it most.
Talking about grief and pet loss is never easy but a topic that impacts all of us at one point or another. Know you are not alone in your pain, I have lived this experience and continue to daily.
With time and these helpful tools, you will learn that you are so much stronger than you realize and that healing doesn’t mean forgetting your furry family member, it means honoring them by making the choice to put one foot in front of the other and move in a forward direction.
Our furry friends lived on this Earth to fill our lives with joy, laughter and love and I’m sure, even on the other side, they would still want that for our lives now and forever.