It's only natural that we avoid the things that cause us pain. For me, thinking about what to do with Tia's and Spart's possessions now that they're gone has been one of those tasks. But there comes a point following the death of a pet when it’s time to decide what to do with his or her possessions. Rather than avoiding this task, it's better for us to learn to lean into the pain and move through it in order to develop as emtionally mature indivdiuals. Doing so not only makes us more resilient the next time we experience a loss, but also helps us become better vessels for supporting those around us who are dealing with similar struggles.
So when you're ready - and you feel you can make clear-headed decisions you won't regret later - take intentional steps in giving away his or her things. Don't rush! Even if you feel that you might at some point adopt another pet, it can still help your healing to give away some items to support other animals and humans. Whether that means providing basic supplies to a pet owner struggling with the costs of pet care or helping out the furry creatures at your local humane society, the feel-good positive emotion you'll experience can like balm on a wound. There's nothing quite like knowing you've been able to bless someone else, even through your own pain.
But you don't want to go through this process too soon or without any thought. Let’s explore how to determine what to give away and where to turn.
Getting Into the Right Frame of Mind to Give Away Pet Things
First things first. You need to be ready for this task both emotionally and physically. There’s no set time frame for the stages of grief nor for when to give things away following any loss. It might be in a month or it may take a full year for you to feel ready. Regardless, just remember that this is all on your schedule.
To begin, take a deep breath and remind yourself you can do this. If possible, invite a pet loving friend or two, or enlist other family members if they’re up to helping you. Since this is going to be an emotional time, have some tissues ready as well as something soothing like a warm mug of tea. Prepare yourself that this will be a jog down memory lane and the floodgates will likely open again.
Organization is crucial, so have all of your supplies available: marking pens, tape, legal pad (if you need to do an inventory), and of course, boxes or bags for collecting things. Once you have yourself organized, the next step is to decide on lists. You might have one box for items to keep and store, one for donatable items, and one for items to recycle. If it helps you and others, jot down the criteria as to what qualifies for each category as follows...
Keep For You
This could be anything sentimental, such as a favourite toy, blanket, collar, or tags. You might also include anything that you would use for another pet someday, especially items that can be expensive to repurchase, like crates, clothing, or large bedding. Here are a few tips in keeping only the most important pet possessions and keepsakes, especially if room is tight:
- Do you have more than one of an item? If so, consider keeping just a single item of that collection of toys or dog leashes.
- Can you make a photo keepsake of your favourites? If you're wondering how to keep bulkier items like full-sized dog beds or the dozen balls your cat played with, consider taking a video or photograph of the items instead of preserving the physical items. I've got a tutorial on how to make a touchable pet fur keepsake in case that's something that would bring you some comfort.
- Could you combine multiple items using your creativity? Perhaps you have dozens of dog sweaters. Could you stitch them together into a little blanket? Could you use a cool shadowbox frame to memorialize the most-loved toys? Use your imagination to create something beautiful and memorable.
Keep For Other Pet Companions
We humans aren't the only ones who suffer with the loss of an animal companion. The other pets in our homes may also feel strong emotional responses to the death of a pet. Keep this in mind as you sort through your things. Are there any items that may serve as meaningful reminders for the other furry residents of your household? You may wish to keep them at least for awhile to comfort them in their grief. On the other hand, some pets smell and see the stuff of their deceased companions and feel confusion and additional grief. In this case, keeping items for a short while and reintroducing them later may be the best way to help your living pets cope. There's no perfect way to navigate this - do your best with these points in mind.
These are items that are in good to excellent condition but carry no significant memories. For example, toys your pet sometimes played with, extra blankets or towels, food bowls, and cages or crates (if not expensive to replace or if you’re not planning to adopt another pet). Unopened consumables (and sometimes even open bags of food) that haven’t expired are also good to donate (i.e. food, litter, cage filler).
Many of us gather heaps of possessions for our pets over their lifetimes - everything from travel carriers and crates to medical devices to special beds and stairs. In our pet household, we gathered things like a stethescope and blood pressure set, thermometer, hematocrit testing device, and lots and lots of other supplies like feeding syringes and lactated ringers. We'd even purchased an air purifier because of Tia's asthma. All of these products have value and we were left with much of it after both of our kitties passed away. While giving it away is a wonderful option, if you feel it's important to recoup some of your expenses, doing do with the pricier items is certainly reasonable. You can sell things on eBay, Craigslist, or at your next garage sale.
Recycle or Toss
With the exception of a favorite toy or blanket, the best bet is to dispose of any thing that is ripped, heavily soiled, or just worn out. Chew toys that can’t be sanitized, such as bones, should be tossed. Opened (sometimes) or expired food or other consumable products should be given to a friend or thrown out.
The Most Important Box: Not Sure
Inevitably you're going to come across some items that you're not sure what to do with. You may wish to hang on to your dog's favourite bed for awhile as a keepsake. It may be too difficult to get rid of her favourite bowl or toy. For me, it was the blankets on which Tia passed away and Spart's step-up to the chair. I could not bring myself to even wash the blankets after Tia's leaving because they were the last items to touch her while she was alive. Spart's stool was a loving reminder of how many hours he and I cuddled on the chair in his final days. And so into the "Not Sure" box is where these items will go. Stashing them away in such a fashion gives you the option to keep them later if you so desire, and helps you avoid making a decision that you may regret later.
Two tips for dealing with this box:
- It may be a good idea to set a limit on the number of things you put in this box so that you don't end up allocating most of it in this direction.
- Be sure to set a reminder for yourself to review the "Not Sure" box to see how you feel about the items after an appropriate period of time has passed.
Bear in mind, this won’t be easy. In fact, you might be tempted to keep everything or unable to finish. Give yourself time. If friends are present, they can help you focus on the criteria. If necessary, join a support group or get in touch with an on-line grief support resource to speak with others who have gone through this process and learn what they did.
Where to Donate Your Pet’s Possessions
There are a few options for places that take in donations from pet parents. Most of these places are in constant need for blankets and towels, food (usually if it’s unopened and unexpired), and unopened litter or cage materials. They might also take extra collars and leashes, as well as crates and cages, depending on the type of animal they support. Once you have your list together of items you intend to donate, give them a call to see what they need.
No Kill Animal Shelters and Rescue Organizations
Local SPCAs (provided they have a no-kill policy) and animals rescue groups are always in need of items. Check out ASPCA, The Humane Society, or AnimalShelter.org to find a local group that would be willing to accept your used or unused pet items.
Foster Pet Parents
If you know someone who houses pets (perhaps your veterinarian does), he or she might appreciate some items to have on hand when they are temporarily caring for animals.
Family, Friends, Neighbours
Often you can donate opened bags of food and medicines to those you know and who trust that they are safe and uncontaminated. This can be especially meaningful for those in your life who have a hard time affording the costs of caring for their pets (especially senior animal companions who may need subcutaneous fluids or expensive medications).
Service Animal Trainers
Like pet foster parents, these groups and individuals are donating their time to help prepare animals to serve people in need. They might appreciate some extra help in the way of unused or gently used pet items.
Online Freebie Listings
It’s tough to say goodbye. Knowing that another animal will benefit from your pet’s items can help your grieving process more than you can imagine.
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Health Disclaimer: I’m passionate about wellbeing and health but I’m not a medical professional, nor am I a licensed therapist. Any content you read on this site is intended for inspiration and for information only – by not means am I providing medical advice. Please consult your certified professional for personalized recommendations on the mental health or physical health ideas I write about.