Sunday, December 14, 2014

Why Dogs Go to Heaven

St. Christopher Depicted With a Dog's Head

The buzz seems to be swinging away from Pope Francis having said dogs go to heaven. The fire brigade is out, citing theological consensus that animals lack an immortal soul. And Pope Francis would never depart from that, would he? The story says more about how we view Pope Francis than the eternal fate of pets. We'll believe any alleged quote by now.

Please forgive the Bear if he seems to engage in special pleading, being, after all, an animal himself. The Bear concedes better minds than his have concluded the sign over Heaven's gate reads "No Dogs Allowed." Nonetheless, the Bear will argue to the contrary, it not being, after all, de fido, er, fide.

We don't know very much about what it will be like to be in Heaven, except that we will enjoy the Beatific Vision. Coupled with another fact of our heavenly existence -- our resurrected bodies -- the Beatific Vision sounds unfortunately static and visual. We stand, we look at God, and enjoy bliss. The Church doesn't precisely teach this, at least the Bear doesn't think so, but let's say the theological terminology is more precise than evocative.

But our resurrected bodies are what the Bear can't stop thinking about. He suspects there will be a lot going on with those bodies. Why else would we have them? That implies a setting, and yes, there will be a new Earth. This will be another Paradise, and there were certainly animals there.

But will any of these animals be our pets? Each beloved animal companion of course remains complete in God's consciousness. It is perhaps not too much of a stretch to imagine that we "find" them in our contemplation of God. And why should they not be present bodily for our delight? If we are to have bodies, why, if not to rejoice in the Good God's gifts? And one of the greatest, innocent, everyday pleasures is petting and playing with a beloved pet.

Buster Wants to Play

We draw dogs, especially, into our human lives. Anyone who has loved a dog knows that it has its own personality. A dog feels, and thinks. The Bear rejects any argument that rests on the supposed lack of consciousness of dogs. Dogs are the symbol of loyalty. He anticipate his master's moves, mirrors his moods, remembers, solves problems and initiates interaction. Stories of dogs mourning their dead masters are too numerous to catalog. The Bear could fill a book with examples of his Yorkie's consciousness, and so could any dog owner.

Of course dogs do not have a human consciousness, and the Bear is not arguing that they have the same soul as a human. To speak in such terms is to get off track. The Christian Heaven is not Nirvana, where we are dissolved into the One. It is a bodily Paradise where every moment is suffused with the glory of God. The Bear is confident that God will not neglect to once again fill it with animals, and some of those will be our beloved pets.


No one is certain why St. Christopher is sometimes depicted with a dog's head in Orthodox iconography. The Bear notes that Roman light infantry of certain periods wore wolf heads with wolf skin capes, perhaps as an aid to recognizing individual soldiers. Others theorize it was a symbol of barbarism, although they do not explain why that should apply to a Roman soldier.

Animals are smarter than we give them credit for. Here's an amazing experiment involving a problem-solving crow.


  1. Mercifully, we are given (to paraphrase Fr. Barron :-) -- a reasonable hope that God makes loving provision for our beloved animal companions. We can reasonably infer this, I like to think, from His intimate awareness, made explicit in Scripture, of the fall of every sparrow (Matthew 10:29).

    Would it not perhaps be a bit presumptuous, though, for us to assume that animals are destined for our Heaven? It's only natural for us to want the highest happiness for them -- but God must know, better than we do, how rightly to reward creatures whose beauty enraptures the human soul, whose intelligence staggers the human mind, and whose goodness humbles the human heart.

  2. When it comes to Heave, Bears assume absolutely nothing :-) ;-) <-- comment to be taken in a light-hearted manner with no malice implied toward the original commentator.


    1. Seriously, I cannot imagine Buster being truly happy without me any more than I can imagine myself being truly happy without Buster. No doubt a failure of my imagination coupled with an overly sentimental nature. I think it might be equally risky to think of Heaven in terms of subtraction, rather than addition, yea, even multiplication. We can tend toward the Manichean by making Heaven a too spotless and holy place. As far as I can tell, nothing in Buster's history qualifies him for the Beatific Vision. But I can say the same for myself. I don't see it in terms of a reward, but just what seems right and proper. I would not urge the proposition on anyone who did not feel the same.

      I've always been uncomfortable with the idea that our experience of God will be so overwhelming that His light will overcome the lesser, homely lights of family, friends, and, yes, beloved pets. I imagine (there I go again) His light kindling each person so that they burn more brightly with their own, uniquely.

      Or the whole pet issue may be like C.S. Lewis trying to explain sex to a child. Do you eat chocolate during sex? (Not usually.) So how can it be any good, the child says, because his nature limits what he can even imagine of the raptures of the marital bed.

      (I dread the visits the search engines will bring in with that!)

    2. OK...that last paragraph was REALLY funny; yet REALLY profound.

    3. Do Badgers go to Heaven? Or only higher animals that closely bond with humans, i.e. dogs? (Cats are iffy.)

    4. "Do Badgers go to Heaven? Or only 'higher' animals..."

      oooooh, a speciesist I see.

      And as far as I'm concerned cats aren't the least bit iffy; oh no, I think it's pretty clear cut....

    5. OK....just sayin'...

  3. Hmmmm. It seems that modern man has a real tendency to place a human aspect onto an infinitely lesser creature. That animals are esteemed at the level to or above the human person is almost sinful. A beast's 'heaven' is their existence in the creation which the Creator has provided them, and their souls return to Him who gave them life.

    We are their stewards on Earth and have an obligation to their welfare, but if dogs go to Heaven Carte Blanche (and one may add the beloved cat, goat, hamster, bug, or amoeba) then perhaps I should wish to have been born one in order to guarantee my passage to the Beatific vision.

    Even the Angels had to choose.

    It seems dangerously irresponsible from a Catholic point of view to even suggest such an idea ... and sadly it would be an even bet that I hold a minority position on this.

    Saint Francis of Assisi pray for us.


    1. I never argued that animals enjoyed the Beatific Vision. I speculated that they might be present as part of God's gift to us and care for them. If you wish to make up an absurdity, put in my mouth, and then call me irresponsible, go ahead if that entertains you. The Bear exists for the entertainment of one and all.

    2. "As far as I can tell, nothing in Buster's history qualifies him for the Beatific Vision. But I can say the same for myself."

      Okay, I did say that.but In the context of the essay,, I was not suggesting animals were suited to the Beatific VIsion, but, rather it was not a matter of earning it for humans, and that the sovereign God can dispose of any of his creatures as He wishes. I suspect there are many things in a Heaven that accommodate bodies that do not enjoy the Beatific Vision, unless we're going to be just suspended in mid-air. Even a cloud is something.

      I can speculate -- and that's all I'm doing -- on more than one different way that an experience of reunion with pets might occur. If God created Buster, and found Him to be good, might not that good "Buster-ness" be found in the unimaginable experience of seeing God, or does God forget that unique collection of qualities I knew as Buster? Will our memories be lively enough to do the same in a similar way? But to me it is just easier to picture a little, furry terrier as part of the bodily experience of Heaven without suggesting he is in any way experiencing more than natural happiness.

    3. Just to pick a portion bear ...

      "But to me it is just easier to picture a little, furry terrier as part of the bodily experience of Heaven without suggesting he is in any way experiencing more than natural happiness"

      If canines (and other beasts) then what of the unbaptized aborted child? The little one who did no wrong who is subject to his first parent's sins, is not able to enjoy the Beatific Vision. Would she not be worthy of experiencing at least the same natural happiness as Buster? The child does not merit Hell, but cannot merit Heaven either - seemingly cruel but just in the eyes of the Lord. Consider the beast who has neither the capability nor the function to be in the presence of God. Would Heaven be theirs by virtue of their natural goodness?

      It would be good to get a Traditional Catholic theologian weighing in on this.


    4. It is my understanding that an unbaptized infant who died was traditionally placed in a state of perfect natural happiness, but was denied the Beatific Vision. That is reserved only for baptized Catholics who die in a state of grace and are counted among the sheep at judgment. (The traditional narrow view of extra ecclesiam nulla salus has been quietly abandoned, so you might expand the traditional thinking to encompass any baptized Christian.)

      It is certainly not in the scheme of things for Buster to enjoy the Beatific Vision. For one thing he's not baptized. For another, he's not a human being. Plus, he bites anyone who isn't me. My argument is that we don't know all the implications of a bodily state in Heaven. Does everything in Heaven need to enjoy the Beatific Vision? The Heavenly ground we will walk on (hopefully), the Heavenly trees, or (why not?) the Heavenly animals? I'm taking the fact of the resurrected body quite seriously, and I see no reason to omit animals from the scene, even though they are not capable of understanding or experiencing their Creator as people are. Let me pose this question. Could God provide a "pet experience" if He wanted to? If so, why would He not?

      Perhaps you are right that one should be very careful to differentiate between humans and animals, and not in any way suggest they are on the same level, or capable of enjoying Heaven the same as people. Jesus did not shed his blood for Buster. I know that.

      On the other hand, let's not get too serious about a discussion over whether dogs go to Heaven. I think people know going into it that this is not on the level of communion for the divorced and remarried.


  4. Growl and grumble.

    Most of my thoughts were on what the Holy Father said and how thoughtless and irresponsible comments like these are. I failed to clarify that - my apologies.


    1. You know, I figured as much. My apologies back if I was testy in my response. This is sheer speculation on my part, and also wishful thinking. We recently lost a golden retriever and it is nice to think she's not just gone. It does not pertain to salvation. And who cares what the Bear thinks or says, he's not the Pope. (Although the stories now are all about how the Pope never said any such thing. Who knows? Loose lips sink ships, but, fortunately, the barque of Peter is unsinkable!)

      I will say this. Between an atheist and my dog, at least the latter believes in a Higher Being!)

  5. Paragraphs 1046 and 1047 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church with its recollection of Romans chapter eight may she'd light on the subject. The Redemption includes creation and since our pets are creatures of God it follows that we may hope that they share in the life of the just in Heaven.


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