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.
I came across this article and thought you might find it interesting – “The Quiet House and Empty Dog Bed, Coping After Pet Loss.“
What did you do with your dog’s belongings? Sharing helps others so please leave your comments below.
Ruby, Rosie, and Teddy
Everyone is different and as you said, there is no right way. I also understand about why you moved Red’s bed. I did the same thing when my dog Pip passed away. I kept all his sweaters and some of them Ruby now wears. His leash still hangs in the closet and I take comfort seeing it sometimes.
I do tend to leave things as they were for awhile – just in case their essence or spirit wants to come back and check in on us. I know that may sound strange. When our rabbit Lulu passed last May, I left her things as they were for several weeks.
For both Pip and Lulu, I donated their meds (they were both on a bunch) to a shelter and also to a hospice vet I know who also does some pro bono work with low income pet guardians.
I like the idea of leaving things as they are in case they come to back to check on us. I don’t think that sounds strange at all! That hospice vet must be very special to help at no cost.
Thanks for sharing, I put my Maltese down on 10/01 15yrs old boy.Chino loved him dearly , kidney disease due to doctor giving him medication that damage his kidneys he lost lots of weight but he was a fighter wasn’t giving up. He was deteriorating and I couldn’t stand to see him suffer so I had to take him in, this was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make. I still have all his things had him cremated got a print of his paws. I miss him dearly my apt is empty now. I’ll probably volunteer in a shelter to help other pets.
I would love to chat with you. I had something similar happen with my Maltese of 15.5 years and I’m a mess. Adopting a new baby tomorrow and I still feel so guilty but I’m saving him from a kill shelter in Texas.
I needed this article today. Thank-you ❤️
Tonya Wilhelm at Raising Your Pets Naturally
So sorry about Red. It’s always so hard. When my golden passed, I made a shadow box of some of his favorite things/memories. I cleaned his favorite stuffed toys, cut them and spelled his name with the fabric to place in the box. Hugs.
Thanks Tonya. I love that idea of making letters out of his stuffed toys, I have to remember that one.
When Baby died I kept some of her things but most I donated to one of the non profits. I still have though are the doggy bagels she had hidden all over the house that are stale today but special memories for me. I it is really hard parting with those memories but looked at the positive that some other dog could benefit. I had knitted her a lot of sweaters which are now being worn by others.
I’m sure you’re comforted knowing how many other dogs are benefiting from what Baby left behind.
I love the idea of sharing your doggy treasures with a rescue in a poorer country, or one more hard pressed. Some countries dog shelters are not the best places and blankets and beds would be much prized as gifts.
It took me five years to come to trems with Dash’s death, as much as I ever will
I love the idea too! While every shelter has a wish list, some countries where animals aren’t very highly valued suffer more than most. Helping with donations goes a long way to making a difference in these animals’ lives.
Lola The Rescued Cat
I have to say, this brought tears to my eyes. I particularly like the advice of giving it some thought before you do anything. When my boyfriend’s cat died he got rid of everything right away. He never says anything, but I feel he wishes he had something to remember him.
It’s such a natural reaction to just throw it all away rather than seeing it as a constant painful reminder. It’s not something we ever think about in advance, so we only have that shock to guide us. I guess I learned to think about these things when my cat Calypso died. I had never experienced the death of a pet before, and when my vet gave me a paper with the words euthanasia across it, then asked me what I wanted to do with her I was in a state of shock. It’s not something I had ever thought of, nor what to do with stuff afterwards.
When my dog Keesha died, I kept her blanket and collar. After several years, I gave her collar to Good Will. I realized that I didn’t need it anymore, and I hoped it would help someone else. My other dogs (who all joined our family after Keesha died) use her blanket, and I don’t think she would mind at all. I have her photos, but more importantly, she is always in my heart.
It’s good you kept the things that meant the most, and gave it the time you needed to be ready for another dog to benefit. It must be comforting to you, seeing your dogs using Keesha’s blanket. It’s like she’s still around isn’t she? Of course they’re always in our hearts and that never changes whether we have their stuff or not.
Letting go can be so hard. My cats pretty much share everything so there wasn’t a “Lucky” bed or a Flame pillow. I usually wrap them in their favorite blanket before we bury them. I don’t maybe that makes it harder, to not have the leash or collar to hold on to. But they do have stones in my garden such as it is. I’m bad at keepsakes. With some of mine I’ll have their ribbons and trophies.
My cats shared everything as well so I didn’t have anything that belonged to just one. There were no collars or leashes, and they were never interested in blankets so all I have are their ashes and a few pictures. Ribbons and trophies are lovely keepsakes.
Losing a loving furry soul is one of the hardest things to deal with. So sorry about Red, their time with us is never enough. My 17-year-old cat Earl Grey packed his bags for the bridge just over a month ago and the grief is still fresh.
I didn’t wash the blanket he died on for a month, as I also wanted to keep whatever scent was left of him for my other grieving cat Sarabi. We’re a multicat household so all belongings just get handed down to the rest of the crew. A few of his personal items I keep in storage, which contains his personal brush with all his silver hair attached, an old tattered knitted collar a little girl knitted for him many years ago and a small jewelry box with his fur shavings and two whiskers that fell out a few days before he left. I’m thinking someday I might make a little framed collage with his fur.
Thank you for your kind words about Red, and I’m so sorry for the loss of Earl Grey. What a great name and it happens to be one of my favourite teas!! I too had a multi cat household and everything was shared as well. The keepsakes you have are lovely and it’s obvious how precious they are to you.
I kept some of my cats favorite toys and put them beside her ashes in the curio cabinet. One of the hardest things for me was about a year ago when I was getting a new bedroom suit and we cleaned It out and as I begin to vacuum I saw all of her fur in the corner of the room. it really shook me for a loop.
Just when you think you’ve “handled it” something totally unexpected happens that shakes you. It must have been such a shock! It’s nice you kept favourite toys with her issues, I imagine it brings some comfort to know she’s still a part of your life.
Such a heartfelt article, Hindy, that we so many of us can (sadly) relate to. It is such a personal and individual preference, as you said. With Gibson…I did not move his items beforehand, although I do think that is a good idea. He had to go to the emergency room for surgery and time just did not allow for thought of that. When I received the call that he was not coming home, I cried looking at his bed. He beat so much, I thought he would be coming home. It was so difficult turning to his bed and knowing he would never sleep in it again. I let the other four sniff and snooze in it. His “girl” Harley used to sleep with him all snuggled against him in the bed, so I left her sleep in it for awhile. When it seems she was still in grief and very sad, I decided to move it out to the garage. It has been three years now, and I just only now donated it. I kept his collar, leash, and tags. The collar and tags sit atop a framed photo of him. <3
Thanks Dorothy. How sad about Gibson, I know what a shock that was as I had a similar experience. Watching Harley sleep without him must have been so tough, and it made sense to move it when she wasn’t getting past her grief. What brings comfort to one would be unthinkable to another. I like to keep something or even create something in memory.
When my old dog died, some of his old stuff went to the shelter. We still have his collar, which smells like skunk.. five years later!
I’m sure the dogs in the shelter benefited greatly from this act of kindness. I imagine the smell brings up all kinds of happy memories!
I gave my fur girl’s medication, bowl, and toys to a local shelter. They were thrilled to get it as they were expensive meds for older dogs. I kept her bedding for our other dogs to sleep on as they seemed confused when we came home from the vet without her. They seemed to mourn their lost sister, too. It’s been two years and the house still doesn’t seem right without her in it. She had such a big personality.
I think it’s great to donate what you can to a shelter or rescue, especially medication that can be quite expensive for them to buy on their own. I know animals mourn loss as well, but I will say that Jack doesn’t miss Red at all. As a matter of fact I’m sure he’s thrilled she’s no longer here because she was my heart dog and got a lot of my attention. I know what you mean, when they are almost larger than life the house definitely feels emptier. Thanks for sharing!
A lovely post with some great advice Hindy. And a lovely tribute to Red. Hope you are ok and thank you for all you do for the senior dogs.
Hi Rachel, how have you been? Thanks so much, I was just thinking today how it’s almost a year since I lost Red. I can’t believe how quickly the time has flown.
When a loved one dies and I think of them, I say a prayer for them. Now when I think of Jolie Fille, I pray that God will keep her, Jesus will take care of her, and Mary will enjoy her. She comes into my husband’s and my mind regularly during the little things. She was always present with us. The other day, my husband came home and said he was just going to ask if I walked her. I looked at him and said, “Jesus will take her.” Sad as it seems now, the prayer, as if she is in heaven with them, actually makes me feel better!
I’m so sorry to hear about red, I love all these ideas and it’s amazing you have a senior dog group and I wish I’d known earlier. I said goodbye to my girl eevon a Norweigan elkhound mix(she was 16) December 22 2017 and my girl rein black lab pitbull mix January 30th 2019 (she was 15.) I kept everything from both of them and still can’t let go of any of it. The girls loved the holidays, we always did special things and I made them special treats. Rein has an assortment of sweaters, shirts, pjs that I still have sitting in my closet and I don’t know what I’ll do with them. Right now I like to just remember her smell. She got a new sweater every Halloween and Christmas. It is really hard to see all these adorable clothes I’d buy her this year and her birthday was very difficult. I set up a curio for their urns, cards, collars, foot prints and favorite toys. I made eevey a slideshow for her 1 year being gone and wrote her a letter on her birthday. Rein has been a bit harder, I’ve started a video but it’s difficult to finish and I couldn’t write her letter because I just didn’t have the words. The girls and I had very different relationships and they showed love and wanted love in very different ways. I have my boy castle who is a 8 year old chihuahua, dinah my 8 year old blue point siamese and Sam my 3 year old red point siamese. Castle does miss rein, I bought him a stuffed dog to snuggle with during the day because him and rein used to. I still come home and can’t believe they’re gone. Recently it’s been very hard with the holidays and I can’t imagine a time it’s not going to be.
I’m sorry you’re struggling. I still have Red’s sweaters and coats in the “dog supply cupboard.” There were certain things I just couldn’t give away. While I cherish the memories and how much of an inspiration she was for my website and group, I don’t dwell on the fact she is no longer with me. Of course I miss having my heart dog, but she had a wonderful life and that’s all I can ask for. I understand why you’re having such a difficult time, but allowing yourself to move forward doesn’t mean you will ever forget them, but it might give you some peace.
Shia passed away in May 2020. I can’t bear to move her things. Shia was my first. She helped conquer my fear of dogs and of people. The only thing I got rid of was her bed. Gave away some food. I say just take your time. Thank you for this article.
Yes, we all grieve according to our own timeline and there is no wrong or right way to do things.
Lost my sweet baby, Trigger, 6 days ago. Cannot bear to change a thing right now. Today I made the first move and emptied his water bowl. Gave his treats to my adult children for their dogs. Cannot do anything else for now. I’ll be walking “our” walk tomorrow morning for the first time since I lost him. We are having a celebration of life for his birthday next month. Would have been 15. We will place a stone with his name in the yard and everyone will read a letter to him , a sort of eulogy. It was a fast illness and ending. We all feel it will ease our pain and surprise of his loss.