If you are a pet owner and you genuinely love your pet, you probably already have an answer to the question of whether pets go to heaven.
When a grieving child who’d just lost a beloved dog asked Pope Francis in 2014 if our pets go to heaven, Francis said paradise is open to all of God’s creatures. It’s certainly a comforting thought to those of us who own pets we love.
There’s a big problem with the story, however: It was based on a misunderstanding. The Washington Post reported that Pope Francis never said that. He was recounting a story that involved comments from Pope Paul VI. That pontiff, who died in 1978, is the one who reportedly comforted a child by saying, “One day we will see our animals in the eternity of Christ.”
The Post reported that Pope Francis hasn’t addressed whether he believes we’ll see our pets in the afterlife.
But it also reported on two other popes and their positions on the question. It said Pope John Paul II implied in 1990 that animals had souls because they were created from the breath of God. But it also said that in 2008, Pope Benedict XVI upset some animal lovers when he said only humans were “called to eternity.”
Can we be sure?
My Rough Collie is 9.5 years old. Collies typically live to be 12 to 15 years old. A man who owned a Collie at the apartment complex I used to live in had one who made it to 16. Pal, the first dog to portray Lassie in the movies, made it to 18.
But if it’s a pet you truly love, even 18 years wouldn’t be enough, assuming they remained reasonably healthy and happy at that old an age.
I ran across a recent article — unfortunately, I’ve lost the link — that attempted to answer the question of whether pets go to heaven. It made several points, including mentioning Pope Francis’ comments about the issue. It cited a Bible verse that suggested that both man and animals have “the breath of life.” That implies that they have a soul.
But it took a 180-degree turn when it argued that only people have souls. Further, it suggests that animals are only concerned about their next meal. It argued that animals don’t have the complex emotions that people do.
When I read that, I couldn’t help but wonder if the writer of the post actually ever owned a pet. Anyone who’s ever been close to a loyal, loving dog or cat knows better.
Our soul is our personality, who we are. With our soul we think, reason, consider, remember, and wonder. We experience emotions like happiness, love, sorrow, anger, relief, and compassion. And we’re able to resolve, choose, and make decisions.
By that definition, it notes, animals do have souls.
But the site contradicts the notion that both mankind and animals have the “breath of life.” It points to Bible verses that state that God spoke animals into existence but breathed life into man. That, they say, implies animals don’t have souls as people do.
More questions than answers
I choose to believe that if there’s a heaven and we get there, it will be a place of unimaginable joy and harmony. Then I look at my dog and I think of the dogs I’ve been blessed to have who’ve passed on over the years.
I can’t fathom a heaven in which they do not exist.
But I also think about people we know and care about in our lives who aren’t saved and, by Christian definition, likely experience salvation because of that decision. If we loved them and they chose not to believe, they would lose immortality. But we would lose their presence in the afterlife as well. Perhaps there’s a representation of them for us in heaven.
Likewise, perhaps there’s a representation of our pets for us in heaven. Even if the pets don’t have the souls — and I believe they do — that would get them there, maybe we’d still feel their presence.
Or, maybe there’s enjoy joy in heaven that we wouldn’t even miss them. I find that one hard to believe, but since I haven’t yet made it to the afterlife, all I can do — for that matter, all any of us can do — is guess the answer to such questions.
I believe our pets go to heaven and we’ll see them there. But I can’t prove it. Then again, you can’t definitively prove otherwise, either.
Perhaps this type of debate, while interesting to contemplate, might be one we don’t lose a lot of sleep over. Regardless of what the answer turns out to be the day we get there and see for ourselves, there’s nothing we can really do before then, anyway, is there?