Feature Stories

Do All Dogs go to Heaven? Mom Hoped So

The author’s mother and her dog Rufus.

Mother’s Day may come and go, but maternal memories are not so fleeting. My mother was quite a remarkable person, admired by all for possessing the gift of hospitality – an extraordinary ability to charm people with spontaneous generosity and kindness. But her benevolence wasn’t limited to humans. With the exception of bugs, she displayed the greatest affection for animals too, especially the many dogs that inhabited (i.e. ruled) our home throughout the years including her last dog, Rufus.     

Mom would often quip how she hoped one day to be reunited with her earthly menagerie in heaven. With a sly grin, she would remind us to include a box of dog treats in her final resting place. She suggested being equipped with the dogs’ favorite snacks was essential when reunited with her departed canine friends.                  

But not everyone would share my mother’s thoughts on the fate of animals.   

Preachers tell us that the path to heaven involves redemption. But unlike humans, who are apparently awash with wickedness, animals have never sinned. (Note that being a “naughty boy” on grandma’s priceless antique Persian rug does not constitute a biblical sin). So, the question of redemption – and being judged accordingly – seemingly does not apply to animals. Perhaps a more fundamental issue revolves around whether animals possess a soul. 

Some time ago, I asked Fr. David Carucci, former priest at a local Catholic Church, for his thoughts. He noted there was a distinction between animals and Man since “animals do not have immortal souls” because he said God breathed His spirit into Man, not animals. 

However, some scriptures suggest that animals might find their way to heaven, such as the 2 Kings 2:11-12 account of Elijah being taken up by a chariot pulled by flaming horses. And in Revelation 19:14, the description of Jesus returning to Earth indicates armies following him from heaven on white steeds. 

But hold your horses. Does this mean your favorite childhood pony will be tied to the Pearly Gates awaiting your arrival? By extension, will dogs be wagging their tails and cats purring sweetly in anticipation of their masters “coming home”?  

Andy Hepburn, a former local Baptist pastor, told me he too saw no biblical evidence to expect a meet and greet with pets in heaven. “Animals were created for Man’s use and pleasure,” he said. “Man, and animals have unbelievable bonding relationships which are wonderful and fulfilling. But animals are to be ruled by Man. We have them as pets, as beasts of burden, for food, etc. I personally do not believe that animals have a spirit.”   

If true, perhaps that’s just as well, especially for those of us guilty of being life-long meat eaters. No one wants an afterlife confrontation with a herd of angry cattle, pigs, and turkeys eager for divine revenge.  

But the real issue for people such as my mother is the fate of their pets rather than avenging farm animals. After all, she would say, if any creatures were deserving of a special place of eternal peace and comfort – a kingdom free from fleas, worms, baths, thunderstorms, and veterinarians – having provided a lifetime of unconditional devotion and affection, it would be her beloved dogs. 

Mom left us many years ago. I still picture her, especially around Mother’s Day, lying in the hospital bed knowing she would never play fetch with Rufus again. But her spirits were raised briefly when the head nurse allowed us to sneak Rufus in late one night for a final farewell.  

Propped up on her bed with his paw on her arm, she struggled to pat him – the last photo we took of her. I’m sure it comforted her to believe a welcoming committee of past canine companions was patiently waiting to greet her and experience her hospitality one more time.  Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for many newspapers and magazines. See GetNickT.org

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