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.