Do animals go to heaven?

28 Nov

Mom told me about the blood. “It was everywhere,” she said. She was the one who had to clean it up. Big pools of it, in the basement. She discovered it when she came downstairs in the morning. Kody, my big, black dog who looks more sheep than poodle is the one whose body the blood drained out of.

We got Kody when he was a puppy. I remember my little brother picking him because he was the biggest of all the wriggling, fluffy dogs in the litter. His paws were huge. When we brought him home he sat in the middle of our checkered kitchen floor, and his front paws kept slipping out in front of him until he brought them back up to his body. He then tentatively began discovering the house, sniffing at first before he began romping through it. He grew quick, zooming from a puppy to a big, gangling teenager, and we thought he’d never stop growing. He went through a bad phase, like when he got so excited at seeing another dog pass in front of the house that he jumped clear through a window. But he grew out of the phase after two whole years. He’s calm now, at six years old.

Anne Lamott says in one of her books that a dog’s love resembles God’s love most closely. Or something along those lines. People who don’t like dogs, or animals, cannot understand this, so if you don’t like animals I guess just stop reading. I don’t think Lamott was being trite when she wrote that. The facet of God’s love for us that is unconditional, that will love and keep loving despite what we do or how long we’ve been away, does resemble a dog’s love for its owner.

“I’ve noticed he hasn’t seemed the same these past few months,” my mom said. “He’s lost the sparkle.”

I looked at Kody, curled into a tight ball on the floor, and I knew she was right. He hadn’t been the same. He seemed lethargic, depressed even. I placed my hand on his back, and I felt him quivering. I wanted to magically make him all better, to take away his pain. But I knew I couldn’t. Five years earlier, we had to put down one of our dogs after Addison’s disease, a defect in the adrenal gland, ravaged her body. Bonnie was a blond standard poodle (My family has allergies, so we generally only get poodles), and I hugged her on the side porch as I said good bye before my mom took her away. I cried. She had withered to almost nothing, despite our giving her all the right medications. She was in great pain. I was leaving for college the next day, and she was my dog. In high school she waited at the front window for me at 3 p.m. every day to come home. The worst part I felt, is how she completely trusted us, her pack, and we were leading her to her death. But it was merciful death, and I imagined her happy somewhere else.

C.S. Lewis, a Christian theologian, has an interesting perspective on whether animals go to heaven, which he describes in one of the final chapters of his book “The Problem of Pain.” In it, he addresses animal pain. He loved animals, something you could probably deduce simply from reading the Chronicles of Narnia. He believes human love makes animals more real. In the act of loving an animal, the animal becomes alive, in a way, because of the love it receives. Tame animals becomes a part of us in a way that say some wild animals never will. It’s kind of like how we become truly alive only through knowing God and loving Him. Consider what Lewis says here:

Now it will be seen that, in so far as the tame animal has a real self or personality, it owes this almost entirely to its master. If a good sheepdog seems “almost human” that is because a good Shepherd has made it so. … I am now going to suggest – though with great readiness to be set right by real theologians – (Funny how he doesn’t consider himself a “real” theologian) that there may be a sense, corresponding, though not identical, with these, in which those beasts that attain a real self are in their masters. … And in this way it seems to me possible that certain animals may have an immortality, not in themselves, but in the immortality of their masters.

He also believes (unrelated) that in heaven, both humans and animals will retain the qualities that make them who they are on earth:

I think the lion, when he has ceased to be dangerous, will still be awful: indeed, that we shall then first see that of which the present fangs and claws are a clumsy, and satanically perverted imitation. There will still be something like the shaking of a golden mane and often the good Duke will say, “Let him roar again.”
 Of course I immediately thought of Aslan in Narnia after reading this passage, which concluded the chapter. I think this must have been what the Garden of Eden was like, before sin entered in, and I agree with Lewis that I hope this is what heaven might be like as well.

The tests were done on Kody, and the results would show a hypo-active thyroid. Good news. Medication for that is cheap, and it was fairly common. He would be alright. The phone call came the next day. I looked at my mom as she nodded in confirmation on the phone as she talked with the vet.

“I see,” she said. “Mhmm. OK, I’ll bring him in soon.”

She hung up, and I waited.

“The vet said she couldn’t sleep last night. She doesn’t think the diagnoses is right. She thinks it’s something more serious, possibly Addison’s disease.”

What are the odds of having two dogs with the same disease?

“I thought the diagnoses came to soon,” I said. “It seemed too good to be true.”

It had been one day since Kody’s traumatic incident inside the house. He lay on the floor, covered in blankets, clearly dehydrated, but he wouldn’t drink or eat anything. I felt his cracked nose. I watched as he stood up and began walking a strange walk where he limped, and his back leg began trembling. I wanted to wrap my arms around him and protect him from whatever it was ravaging his insides. But all I could do was make him comfortable, soothe him. These days we’re waiting for yet another test to figure out what’s wrong with him, why he only sleeps now and spends his days covered in blankets. If we have to put him down, like Bonnie, I am comforted in the thought that I will see him too in another place, and there he will run through forests, strong and free.


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