This past January, we made the heart-breaking decision to put our beloved dog Ralphie to sleep. Animal lovers understand the grief and the terrible sense of loss that pet people experience at the death of their friend. Whether the pet is a hamster or an iguana, the loss stings. As with all death, people wonder where that person will go, and whether they will meet again in heaven.
Sadly, many people in authority, such as priests, deacons, school teachers and parents, confidently state that only people go to heaven. This seems to me not only presumptuous but foolish. I believe all pets go to heaven. It is a logical expectation. God loves animals, for He loves all that He created.
How God Blessed Us Through a Dog
Having experienced a close connection with our dog made my conviction firm. Our relationship with him was one of genuine understanding, affection and caring, and I cannot see what would prevent the goodness of God from restoring this blessing to us in Heaven.
When our first dog as a married couple passed after 15 years, we decided we wanted another dog. The house seemed so empty without a dog. My wife found “Remy” on Petfinder. He was a Great Pyr, very skinny, with a sad face and a sad story. He had been abused, languished on a farm, and most recently been in a kill shelter down in Tennessee, but was rescued by this nice woman; and now his sad little face was on Petfinder.
We were on the fence about adopting him because we wanted a puppy. Remy was two years old. His adopter reached out to us and told us that he had been attacked by her other dogs; for his safety, she would need to rehome him quickly. We saw a need and adopted Remy without meeting him. We renamed him after the Archangel Raphael and he became Ralphie.
Ralphie had serious fear issues. Everything was new to him. With his abusive background, everything was threatening and a cause for fear. He was not aggressive at all and preferred to be alone. He appeared to be in a constant state of alert, even when sleeping. We were disappointed and sad that this poor animal was so messed up emotionally.
Would we get rid of him or honor our commitment? We always honor our commitments, so there really was no choice. Accepting Ralphie for who he was and working with his issues was a life lesson for me. I learned unconditional love, patience and acceptance, which translated into how I viewed people who had “issues” in my day-to-day life. Rather than writing them off or being put off by them, I started to look deeper and see a “Ralphie” in such folks. We don’t know what horrors people have experienced that impact their personality and how they interact with others.
Ralphie taught me how to love like Jesus loves. We took Ralphie for training and worked tirelessly to help him become the dog God created him to be. After years of training, love, patience and understanding, he developed trust in us. We took him swimming at the beach, for car rides, and hours long walks. He loved his car rides, especially when the destination was the ice cream shop. He would screech for joy when we brought him to the dog park, and he just loved life.
Every time we took him for a walk, people would stop their cars in the middle of the street to yell out how beautiful he was or ask questions about him. People wanted to hug and pet him, but as soon as they got too close he would pull away. We would tell everyone about his sad past and explain that these dogs don’t forget very easily. They have long memories, and he was still afraid of strangers. Still, we wanted people to pet him eventually. Our intention before we adopted him was to train him as a therapy dog so that we could volunteer our time at hospitals and nursing homes. Sadly, Ralphie’s issues prevented him from doing that.
Everyone in our neighborhood knew Ralphie. He loved to stay in the front yard. We had no fence, so we would tether him to a long leash so that he could patrol the block. He loved to be out front, especially in cold and snowy weather. He looked like a polar bear and acted like one too. Ralphie would go to the front door and knock to go out front. He would also knock when he wanted to come inside. Whenever anyone would pass by he would bark. After a while he became accustomed to everyone who was supposed to be on the block and only barked at strangers. Everyone knew the big white dog who would always be in front of our house.
Everyone who knew his story was respectful of Ralphie’s feelings. People would approach him slowly, speak kindly to him and throw treats to him to gain his friendship. The kids on the school bus that stopped to pick up the neighbor’s kids would yell out his name in unison every morning. They loved Ralphie and I think it made them happy to see him. He used to bark and run after the school bus until he accepted them as regular visitors.
The school bus drivers would stop the busses when they passed us on our morning walks, jump off the bus and give him treats. Our mailman, Ciro, bought a giant box of milk bones and always threw a couple to Ralphie. Before the milk bones, he would bark every time the mailman came; but after Ciro’s milk bone treats, instead of barking, Ralphie would salivate. Everybody knew and loved Ralphie. They were happy that he barked to alert us to potential strangers on the block, and he became the honorary sheriff of the development.
After Ralphie’s Passing
Ralphie is gone now. His barking has stopped. People knew he was gone because his absence was felt. The kids on the school bus asked about him. My neighbors rang the bell to find out where he was. People were devastated, or at least they felt bad. We were devastated. Our neighbors sent sympathy cards. Ralphie was gone but not forgotten. When I happen to be looking out the window and see people walk or drive by, they instinctively look up at our porch to see if Ralphie is there. I guess it was a habit many of my neighbors formed over the last 13 years. The house is quiet. The silence is deafening.
My sweet nephews loved Ralphie. They asked me if he was in Heaven. I told them yes. They told me that the Pastor said animals don’t go to Heaven. I smiled gently and told them the Pastor is wrong, pets do go to Heaven.
To paraphrase the movie Miracle on 34th Street, “yes Virginia, all pets go to heaven.” How can I demonstrate that?
Truth Suggested by Imagination
There have been stories passed down, books written and movies made about near-death experiences. Many of these accounts record seeing a departed loved one and even pets who have passed away. Sometimes I am skeptical, but rather than ponder the accuracy of such accounts, I like to ponder the definitely untrue depictions of the afterlife and analyze them for bits and pieces of spiritual truth. It is fun, and you don’t have to analyze the veracity of the story or the motivations of the people making such claims.
Short stories, movies and TV shows are great fodder for contemplation of life after death. It provides entertainment and doesn’t require a lot of deep, heavy drama on our part. Very often Hollywood incorporates our beliefs into storylines. Unfortunately, in more recent times, it has been prone to confuse or distort (think “The Da Vinci Code” or the movie “Dogma”). On the other hand, however, its creativity can be warmly agreeable to Catholic sensibility. An example is the Twilight Zone episode “The Hunt,” in which a man and his dog die together and the dog helps his master arrive safely in heaven. Their intimate bond, like mine with Ralphie, shows that the dog is a good and important presence in the man’s life. Thus, it is reasonable for the animal to be with him in the next life.
Human imagination, like all human things, is a limited, fallible thing; but the images that recur in it can show us hints about the reality in which we live. That we are inclined to tell stories about animals in heaven does not, in itself, prove their presence there, but it helps indicate the logic of the idea.
When I decided to investigate the question more deeply, however, I did what I had done when I made a serious commitment to examine my Catholic faith and understand why I believe what I believe. I went to Scripture.
Theology and Scripture
What immediately comes to mind are the many symbols God uses to illustrate animals in heaven: the dove as the symbol of the Holy Spirit; Jesus as the Lamb of God, who appears in Revelation as a lamb slain; the people of God symbolized as sheep; the last judgement involving the sheep and the goats. (Popular Catholic piety includes some such images as well, such as St. Francis, always depicted with animals, and St. Dominic, symbolized by a dog with a torch.) I could go on and on. While not all of these, of course,a re literal beasts, the honor shown to animals by this imagery indicates that real animals’ presence in heaven makes sense.
But let’s look at some Scriptural passages. Skeptics claim that the Bible doesn’t say animals go to heaven. While Scripture makes no direct statement on the matter, it does offer some hints or suggestions. For example, see Isaiah 65:25: “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.”
Furthermore, in Revelation 19:11, Jesus, the King of Glory, comes riding out of heaven on a white horse, not a Lamborghini. And finally, Revelation 5:13: “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!'” Every creature—not only humans then, perhaps animals as well?
God created everything and gave man dominion over the earth. When Adam and Eve sinned and mankind fell from grace, all of creation suffered the same punishment, which meant death for every living thing. I believe that God allowed creation to fall and that Jesus redeemed all of creation with His sacrifice. Therefore, it is logical to assume that when the New Heaven and the New Earth are created and we see the New Jerusalem of Revelation coming down from Heaven, there will be animals in them.
So there we have it, brothers and sisters. God loves us and wants us to be happy with Him forever in heaven. He also gets joy from the holy and pure things that bring us joy, be they children, grandparents, parents or pets. So, “yes Virginia, pets do go to heaven.”