When our dogs cross the rainbow bridge, they not only leave us with a hole in the heart, they leave behind their stuff, a constant reminder of what we now have to live without.
Whether it’s a collar, leash, toys or blankets, they can be packed up and stored for memories, used for your next dog, kept where they are for a time until you’re ready to deal with them, thrown out or donated to a rescue group where you live, or in a country with scarce resources. My best advice is not to do anything rash you might regret when you’re feeling better.
It’s been a few years since I last had to say goodbye, yet I remember that sick feeling of coming home from the vet and seeing Red’s bed like it happened yesterday. Then you open the cupboards and see their food, medication, sweaters and coats and you feel empty.
There is No Such Thing as “Should”
Don’t let anyone tell you what you “should” do with your dog’s things. They are not in your shoes and cannot feel what you’re feeling. We all grieve differently and have to do what’s right for us, and in the middle of that pain it’s hard to know what that is.
Try Not to React
It can be tempting to react, walk through the house, grab everything you see and throw it in the trash because you can’t bear to see it. That would be understandable, but I don’t want you to be sorry down the line and not be able to do anything about it.
Give it Some thought Before the Time Comes
No one wants to think about the day when their much loved furry friend is gone, but you may want to consider taking a moment to think about what you would do with their things. It’s not a plan that’s set in stone, you can always change your mind, but having at least given it some thought can help you when it’s here for real.
What I did with Red’s stuff
I always have at least two dogs, so the remaining one makes use of the beds and water bowl. I adopt old dogs and I’ve never had one interested in toys, so I didn’t have to worry about that. Leashes were also shared…until Red.
Red was my heart dog, the love of my life. Even though I had Jack at the time (and still do!), when I came home from the vet the emptiness I felt almost swallowed me. I packed up the comforter she used to sleep on, and picked up the pee pads I left down for her to use. It’s been 5 years but I still keep her medication schedule taped to the inside of the cupboard, and her leash hanging on the door. I can’t imagine that ever changing. I’ve kept most of her sweaters and coats should we ever rescue a dog of a similar size, and her medication, blankets and a few homemade coats were donated to a rescue that helps a shelter overseas. Her collar hangs off a framed drawing someone did of her at a dog fair, as do her second and first place ribbons she won in the “senior non-pedigree” category at a local fair.
Here are Some Ideas of 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 keepsakes.
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 his or her memory.
Put some things in storage
You may feel you want to keep some of your dog’s things, but 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.
I‘m a certified dog trainer, specialising in helping senior dog parents with health & behaviour issues, training advice for new rescues, impending loss and bereavement. To learn more about how I can help, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my website.