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The Quiet House and Empty Dog Bed: Coping After Pet Loss

How pet owners cope with their pet's toys after the death of their companion.

Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain
Source: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

Grieving the loss of a pet is a painful experience. The immediate journey of grief that we all endure after losing our companion animals is a unique path that we all take. Along this route, there are multiple triggers that pet owners face, one of which can be the material possessions left behind by the deceased.

Triggers in grief are constant. Triggers are the sounds we hear, the sights we see, or even a familiar taste, these can be a painful reminder of a loved one's passing, and can even stimulate symptoms of trauma.

Material Objects Psychological Impact

Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain
Source: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

Many people struggle upon returning home from the veterinary office to the possessions throughout the house, another reminder of their companion animal's death and their recent experience of loss. As grief is fluid, these reminders aren’t always negative and the emotional impact created tends to decrease over time.

There are two distinct categories that people generally fall into when it comes to how they cope with their pet's belongings now left behind. These are looked at below, as well as the reasoning behind their coping. Each form, although completely different, is an attempt to reduce emotional harm and to cope with the loss of their beloved animal that has passed.

Walking by the Empty Dog Bed Can Be too Painful

Some pet owners cannot stand the thought of walking past the now-empty dog bed. The feeling that is now produced by having constant reminders of their companion animal that is now gone can be extremely painful.

In these cases, many people work as quickly as they can to remove these reminders. Some will get rid of their pet’s possessions altogether in an attempt to reduce the pain. Others will store these items out of sight until they have enough time to process their emotions and can look at the items again at a later time and decide what the next steps are.

Pet owners within this category are commonly facing overwhelming emotions and are trying very hard to reduce the painful reminders, or triggers, that they associate with seeing their pet’s material possessions throughout the house. Removing these objects can be an effective way to reduce the immediate pain directly after their pets passing.

These pet owners can also regret throwing away or hiding their pet’s products so soon when the immediate pain of loss has time to process through and lower in its intensity. It can be helpful to process through the memories associated with their pet’s toys; this might help to switch painful memories with nostalgic, happy ones.

Linnaea Mallette/PublicDomainPictures
Source: Linnaea Mallette/PublicDomainPictures

A Pleasant Reminder with the Squeaker Toy

In contrast, other pet owners who have recently experienced the loss of their companion animal find that the thought of removing or replacing pet products and toys brings a fearful or anxiety-producing response. These pet owners don’t move or replace any product, leaving them as they were left by their pets.

If their dog had left their bone in the middle of the living room, it stays there. If their cat had last slept on the back of the couch on the blanket in the corner, it is left exactly as it was and never washed.

In this category, the products serve as a reminder that their companion animal was present within their lives and within their home. They serve to trigger memories about their pets that are comforting during the time of grief.

These owners can struggle with the denial of their pets passing. Leaving their pets' products untouched for an extended timeline (years or longer) can be a harmful way in which the person avoids processing through their grief.

Somewhere in the Middle

Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain
Source: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

Many pet owners also find themselves somewhere in the middle of these two categories in how they cope with their pets' belongings after their passing. It’s helpful to remember that there is never a “right” way to experience grief. There is also no concrete “timeline” that tells us when we should be processing through these belongings.

Some people find that donating some of their pets' possessions can be a helpful way of processing through the loss. They, as well as their pets, can continue giving to other families and pets in need.

Although the possessions left behind by our pets can serve as a painful reminder now after their death, eventually these memories can turn into fond reminders of the love, happiness, and beautiful moments shared within the home.

More from Adam Clark LCSW, AASW
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More from Adam Clark LCSW, AASW
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