I still recall the day many years ago that my mom called me, sobbing, because her pastor had announced in church that animals don’t have a soul and, therefore, they don’t go to heaven.
My mom was the most animal-loving person I have ever known. We owned a pet and fish store when I was a preteen and she later became a conservation officer assistant who saved hundreds of wild animals. In my growing-up years, we had all varieties of animals in our home. They included a pig, owls, ferrets, foxes, coyotes, possums, badgers, snakes, lizards of all types (including a Gila monster), parrots and a monkey. We also had many dogs and cats.
After I became an adult with a place to live where I could have a pet, I got my own assortment of pets. First, it was a fish tank, and then a cat. And then there was a larger fish tank, and then a dog. And then some rats (which are wonderful pets). I’ve had two cats. I’m now on my fifth dog. I loved each and every one of my animals as much as my mom loved each of hers. I think some things are imprinted on you when you’re young.
There is a famous writing called “The Rainbow Bridge,” which comforts many animal people when they read it. If you’re not familiar with it, it talks about our animals going to a place to wait for us to join them.
I could delve here into Bible verses about animals and how much God loves them, but people who love animals already know that, Bible verses or not. So, you can look those up on your own if you want to read them.
Do animals have a soul? I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that they are wonderful beings that give us their all. They forgive far beyond what any human ever has, and they love us unconditionally. And they deserve our love and respect in return.
The death of my first German shepherd wounded me far deeper than any death ever had, including those of people I had been close to. I remember sobbing and asking a friend of mine why dogs only live 10 or so years, instead of 50 or 60. At that time, I could’ve lived my whole life with Pasha and been completely happy to do so. This wise friend replied, “Think about all the animals we kill every year because no one loves them. People can’t even keep a five- or 10-year commitment. Think about how many more animals would die because people would not give them a lifetime.”
I remember when Pasha was getting old, I swore I would never have another dog after her. And then, I had to come home to a home with no dog. And it turns out that isn’t who I am. I am a girl with a dog. Twenty-nine days after Pasha’s death, I rescued my second shepherd. And 28 days after Ellie’s death four years later, I rescued another shepherd. When Sarah died just five years later, I rescued two shepherds, a mother/daughter pair, Lily and Lola, just 26 days after Sarah’s passing. Sadly, Lily died just four months and 11 days after she came to live with me. (But that is a story for another time.)
Losing each of my animals has been incredibly painful. But at some point, I realized that if any of them had not left, I would not have been able to be there for the others. And with that realization has come some kind of acceptance about the brevity of animals’ lives, although I still wonder why they have to go so soon.
I believe I will see all of my animals again. I’ll have a huge fish tank, a half-dozen rats, two cats and a small stable of German shepherds. My mom, who passed away herself two years ago, now likely has the largest assortment of pets anyone has ever had in heaven. One definition of heaven is this: “a place or state of supreme happiness.” If animals don’t go there with us, I don’t know that I want to go there myself.
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Beautifully written Kathleen. I’ve spent time thinking about whether or not we will see our beloved pets in heaven, and though I don’t believe the bible addresses that specifically I’m comforted by Billy Graham’s response to a young girl who lost her cat and wanted to know if she’d see him again. Billy said, and I’m paraphrasing, that God made heaven to be perfect for us and since that’s the case, our pets will definitely be there with us when we cross over into heaven.