Yuki's Tag
When our very own Vetstreet editor, Kristen Seymour, lost her beloved Black Labrador mix, Yuki, she tucked the pup’s favorite pirate collar away for posterity. It wasn’t until almost five years later that she was able to pull the adorable item back out and fit it on her current dog. “It was just too painful,” she shares. “We still keep [Yuki’s] tag hanging in a special spot, near our back porch.”

Seymour is not alone. Once we lose a pet, many of us struggle with whether to stow away favorite items as keepsakes, repurpose them for future animals or donate everything and start fresh. According to Certified Compassion Fatigue Educator Dr. Carrie La Jeunesse, DVM, CT, who helps people cope with pet bereavement, there’s no right or wrong way to handle the grieving process. Both mourning approaches — holding tight to these reminders or letting them go — can be healing. “This is a personal decision by the owners,” she explains. “Each person’s experience is unique.”

Indeed, pet owners seem to find their own ways to move on after losing adored companions. Those coping mechanisms can range from bestowing the same name on a new animal to keeping one special toy aside as a reminder.

A Family Name

Reusing the same pet moniker is more common than one might imagine, and the reasons to do it are myriad. “For some, it’s to honor the first pet with that name,” Dr. La Jeunesse says. “Some [may] like the name. Some just think it’s a quirky practice.”

Just as people honor previous generations by naming a child “Junior” or “III,” some animal owners adopt family pet names. When Bill Monro of Los Angeles was growing up, his grandparents, Peggy and George Monro, named several successive Shih Tzus “Me Too.” “Technically, they were Me Too, then Me Too 2, etc.,” he recalls. “And they did not get all new dog stuff for them. They were sentimental about having a Shih Tzu named Me Too, but [less] about the individuals.”

Sometimes the multiple-pet-same-name ritual becomes a habit within an extended family, too. Fifteen years after her childhood dog passed away, Jennifer Showell-Hartogs of Virginia named her pup, George, after her (also a female). She wasn’t alone in choosing the same name multiple times. “My grandparents and sister have both named successive pets the same name,” she says. “Two cats named Thomas and three or four fish named Tishy.”

Dearly Departed

A pet’s premature departure can inspire honorary naming as well. Miami’s Rosibel Mejia had a Border Collie-Labrador mix named Camila, who tragically died just weeks after she arrived. Mejia kept the first dog in mind when she got her next pup. “We really loved her and mourned her,” she says. “So, we varied the name enough to honor Camila but also keep the individuality of our [new dog], Mila.”

This strategy can prove quite comforting. When Richard Taber of Brooklyn was 12 years old in California, he had a calico cat named Patches (eventually Patches 1), who got pregnant. Two weeks after she gave birth, disaster struck, and all kittens but one died. "Patches 1 left the next day, never to return. We named the only survivor, the lone calico of the litter, Patches 2, after her mother.”

Of course, it's important to remember that giving a pet the same name as a former one does not guarantee the same spirit or personality. Los Angeles' Adina Reyter describes how her husband grew up with a Springer Spaniel named Charlie, whom the family adored but who passed away after only two years. They bought the exact same dog — in theory, anyway — and named him Charlie, too. “The new dog was insane,” she says. “It bit my husband and destroyed their house. They literally had to throw deli meat before they left the house or it would bite them. Needless to say, it was a traumatic experience for them.”

A Few Favorite Things

Humans aren’t the only ones who mourn lost animal companions. Sometimes fellow pets seem to feel sadness, too. To honor her cat, The Mish, who passed away after almost 18 years, Hollywood’s Ali Goldstein saved one toy, a plush blue fish. But it wasn’t just for her own comfort. “We chose that toy because Clementine, our Siberian Husky, would always steal [it] from The Mish's toy basket and put it in her own bed,” Goldstein recalls. “Right after The Mish passed, Clem kept going into the room where [the cat] bed was and looking for her and would continue to steal the fish. We sensed that she was experiencing the loss, too, so thought she might like to have it.” Goldstein also refrained from washing the toy so it would continue to smell like her cat for her dog’s sake.

Paying It Forward

As for the bulk of the stuff owners accumulate with pets, some people like to keep it and reuse it, so as not to be wasteful. Others give it all away, making generous donations. According to Dr. La Jeunesse, unless there is an infectious disease involved, either choice is just fine. (There are also potential factors to consider when reusing a litterbox, for example, which may smell like a previous cat and turn a new cat off. It should also be noted that, typically, medications and medical supplies for the deceased pet should not be given to another pet owner, and many shelters are not able to accept them.)

Goldstein took The Mish’s two cat beds, travel case, bucket of toys, wooden house for her litterbox, excess food and nice bowls to a no-kill shelter near her office, where The Mish herself was rescued at 6 weeks old. “For us, the thought of reusing [the stuff] didn't make sense, and saving it seemed morbid and also a bit cruel to Clementine, who didn't understand why The Mish wasn't there,” she explains. “We figured that if we cleaned out her stuff, Clem wouldn't torture herself as much, looking for her old friend.”

Having kept the one toy and given the rest away, Goldstein also planted a tree “to signify rebirth” in The Mish’s honor, another way to mourn a pet in a giving manner. “The tree symbolized something new and beautiful coming from this sad experience and honor[ed] her life,” Goldstein says, proving that, whether we rename our pets, keep their favorite items or give their stuff away, their memories live on.

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