Will I See My Dog In Heaven?
WILL I SEE MY DOG IN HEAVEN?
By Barbara Hughes
“Will I see my dog in heaven?” It’s a question that has been voiced by lots of children, causing no small amount of dis-ease among parents who try to comfort their children when a pet dies. However, truth be told, both children and adults alike have wondered about the possibility of an after-life for animals when a dog seems more like a member of the family than part of the animal kingdom.
Last year the subject became personal when Max, a chow our daughter rescued from an abusive home 13 years ago had to be euthanized because of an inoperable tumor. The dog had been in the family before ten year old Andrew and six year old Olivia were born, which meant they had never know life without their beloved Max. To make matters worse, the years are gradually taking their toll on Lucy, the other canine family member, now 105 years old in dog years.
In recent years Lucy has gone deaf and cataracts have impaired her vision. A few weeks ago arthritis has made walking difficult and she is currently being kept comfortable with the help of steroids and muscle relaxants. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that lingering in the back of everyone’s mind is the fact that it’s probably only a matter of time before the question of Lucy’s destination in the after-life surfaces once again.
The universal question was tackled by Disney in the movie “All Dogs Go to Heaven” and recently Father Jack Wintz, OFM, past editor of St. Anthony Messenger, thoughtfully addressed the topic in his book, “Will I See My Dog in Heaven.”
In the book, Father Wintz admits that no one can be certain what God has in mind for humans and nonhumans in the next life, but points out that Scripture reveals God loves us with a steadfast love, which endures forever. He offers the response of a priest, who was confronted with the question by a young boy whose dog had died, to which he replied, "If seeing your dog in heaven is what it takes to make you happy, than there’s a good chance you will see your dog in heaven".
Drawing from Scripture, Judeo-Christian tradition and the life and teachings of St. Francis of Assisi, Father Jack reminds readers that God saw everything that He created as “good”. The Book of Genesis portrays God as a benevolent Creator who desired humans and nonhumans to live happily together in peace and harmony, and therefore posits that God desires all creatures to be with Him in the afterlife.
Father Jack concludes that it makes sense to him that the same God who created and desired all forms of life, human and nonhuman, to live together in the original Garden of paradise would not exclude them from a paradise humans will enjoy in the next life. “He points out that every creature is a reflection of the beauty and goodness of God, and wrote, “Surely, a Creator would not suddenly stop loving and caring for the creatures he had put into existence with so much care”.
The account of Noah is also cited as proof of the love and concern that God showed members of the animal kingdom. God focused on saving not only members of the human family, but the animal family when he instructed Noah to take a male and female of each species into the ark, thereby making them members of Noah’s household.
To be sure good stewards of the earth exercise care not only over members of the human family, but over all of creation, a creation that is holy because its Creator is the Holy of holies. He also invites readers to consider that a donkey was chosen to bear the Christ during the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, raising the question: “What might it mean if we were to consider how humans and nonhumans alike are called to assist each other in the spiritual journey towards union with God?”
The authors of the Psalms found great inspiration in the sun and moon and all of creation, inviting them to join the human family as they sing the praises of God. Few people appreciated this as much as St. Francis of Assisi who addressed Brother Son and Sister Moon as equals. Francis communicated with animals that seemed to understand him because his language was the language of love. He neither saw himself as dominant or superior, which is reminiscent of the description of Jesus in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, “Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather He emptied himself and took the form of a slave”.
Perhaps it is our all too human penchant to dominate that inclines us to place ourselves above those of seemingly lesser estate when that was never the intent of a God who sees and loves and cares for all of creation in a way we cannot fathom. The unconditional love that dogs exhibit towards family offers a glimpse of God’s unconditional love. Whether you’ve been away for a few hours or a few weeks, the greeting replicates the unconditinal love of the father in the parable of the prodigal son, truly an example of love that has no contingencies.
The more we ponder the question, the more we can appreciate the fact that there is no question that cannot lead the authentic seeker to a deeper appreciation for God, even one as seemingly absurd as: “Will I see my God in heaven”.