For anyone of us who have been fortunate enough to know the love a dog can bring, and then unfortunate enough to have experienced the profound sense of loss which comes with their journey over the rainbow bridge, it's very clear that the loss of a pet is a really painful experience.
The journey of grief is a complex and individualistic one. It takes many twists and turns. It includes triggers and reminders, and difficult steps in the recovery process which need to be navigated. A clear and initially big one is the plethora of physical and material possessions which are left behind - toys, beds, water and food bowls etc.
Triggers go beyond the obvious, like the food bowls, and extend to the sounds we hear, the routes we walk, the fellow dog walkers we may know and see and many more.
Of course, seeing a good friend with a dog is one such example of how a trigger needn't always be negative, but grief can find a horrible way of tag-teaming with a form of resentment and also with guilt. How is it fair that Jane is still walking her dog, which is two years older than the one you just lost? But also I feel guilty for even entertaining such thoughts, and needless to say, would certainly not want to deprive Jane of her pets companion. As we said, grief is a complex beast.
Pet grief tends to fall into two categories
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. There is no right or wrong answer, and both responses are actually intended to reduce emotional harm. They're both coping methods.
For some of us, we simply need to rid the house of the pet memorabilia as fast as possible. This can be in the form of getting rid, either by giving them away to shelters or those in need or by storing the out of sight, such as in the houses's attic or garage. The very thought of going near and walking past dog beds, bowls and toys is too raw and too painful. The old adage of out of sight can slightly help get the lost pet out of mind. It doesn't by any stretch run fully to the 'out of mind' adage conclusion sadly but removing them can help ease some of the biggest immediate burden.
The second school of thought when it comes to coping is the opposite of the above. For some of us the very thought of hiding, selling, re-homing or simply throwing out the favourite toys and other deceased pets products to be deeply troubling and these folks are inclined to see this act as exasperating the situation. In this case, and for people who are wired this way psychologically, it makes more sense to leave the gear where it 'belongs' whilst the loss is processed.
In this category, the pets old items serve as a nice reminder that their companion animal was present within their lives and within their home.
Blankets, beds and comforters are a reminder that your pet lived a beautiful and comfortable life with you, which should be celebrated and not hidden away.
Of course, when discussing polorising psychological responses, there are many of us who find a middle-ground, with responses which live somewhere between the two poles.
It’s helpful and indeed wise to remember that there is never a “right” way to experience grief. Neither is there a single “timeline” that tells us when we should be processing through these belongings.