You may or may not believe in heaven or that dogs go to heaven. But if you are reading this post, you were probably intrigued by the title and are curious to learn more. Many dog owners, it does seem, do believe in some sort of afterlife. Pet owners often hold hope that they will see their little furry friends again at some point. Human life is much longer than the average life of a canine. Therefore many of us have had several pets throughout our lifetime. We are always sad to see them go, despite our joyful memories. But many owners feel comforted in their belief, that they will see their beloved pets again.
Pet afterlife beliefs vary
Certainly, not all worldwide religions agree on the concept of an afterlife. Even in the Christian tradition, which does include the concept of heaven, it was historically viewed as a place for humans. The sacred writings that made it into the Bible did not value animal life as much as human life. Humankind lorded over the animal world.
Yet, today, thanks to St. Francis of Assisi, many Protestant and Catholic churches now celebrate the “Blessing of the Pets” each year in early October. St. Francis, who establish an order of monks in the 1200s, loved and respected the natural environment and regarded animals as sacred beings.
Indeed, many people with various religious backgrounds, seem to believe that their dog will have an afterlife. Stanley Coren PhD., DSc, FRSC wrote a great article about this topic in a Psychology Today post on April 25, 2019 (see entire article here). Coren begins with the Egyptian practice of an ancient Pharaoh who buried his beloved dog with sacred objects to help him enter paradise. This practice was consistent with human burials at the time.
Coren also included a charming interview he had with a pastor in Kentucky on a lazy afternoon. The pastor fervently loved his dog and believed he would go to heaven. He points to the innate goodness of dogs, “If a dog is good and keeps the faith the way a dog should by doing what a dog is supposed to do, is there any reason why he should not be in heaven? “ Later in the interview the pastor balked at the idea of a dog not getting into heaven. “No sir—if there are no dogs in heaven then I don’t want to be there. I tell you, dogs are a blessing, and since heaven is for the blessed, there certainly must be a whole lot more dogs than people on the inside of those pearly gates.”
Do Dogs Have Souls?
The question of what it means to have a soul takes me back to my days as a hospice chaplain when someone once asked me, “So, what is the difference between the soul and the spirit?”
I struggled to answer. I admitted that these two words were often used interchangeably. In my mind, our soul was the essence of our being, beyond our physical body. Our spirit was our connection to God, a Higher Power, or the greater universe depending upon one’s beliefs. One who was in the “spirit” referred to a state of being pointing toward our existence in the afterlife.
I continued to think about this conversation for many years. Sometime later, I came to learn that this whole topic was the subject of much, heated, theological debate. And eventually, I discovered that a similar debate existed regarding pets and animals. The word animal comes from the Latin root anima meaning soul. Therefore, pets seem to be creatures with souls who are, and will be, spiritual beings.
What can be more spiritual than living in the moment as dogs typically do? And what can be more soulful than those big brown eyes pleading with you for more cuddling and playtime?
I certainly hope that my two doggies make it to heaven, so I can see them again after we have all passed on. Of course that is assuming that I get in as well!