Do Pets Go To Heaven?

Midnight Thunder Schaetzel
in February of 1999
So probably one of the most tormenting questions that any Christian parent has to answer is the question of a child about the eternal future of an animal after he's just lost a favourite pet.  "Dad, did Midnight (our family dog) go to heaven when he died?"  Most parents just cave in and say: "Why yes, of course he did."  Nobody wants to tell a kid: "No, animals don't go to heaven."  There's nothing like kicking a child when he's down -- so to speak.  So most parents just tell their kids that their beloved pets will be waiting for them in heaven, and ignore the serious doctrinal problems with this assertion.

Here is the problem.  The Christian faith clearly teaches that heaven is for people not animals.  There is a reason for this, and the Catholic Church very specifically points out the relation between humans and animals in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2415-2418.  It is the last paragraph of this teaching that is the most difficult for children to digest: "It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons."  As an animal lover myself, I do confess to having difficulty with this as well.  When one brings a pet into one's home, there is nothing wrong with this.  However, it is easy to forget that the animal is an animal, and start attributing human characteristics and personality to it.  Such is the nature of a sensitive person I suppose.  We should understand that our capacity to love animals comes from God, and that the favour we show to them is a divine trait.  In this sense, the animals literally see the presence of God working through us, which is why it is so very important that we don't distort this image of God by being cruel to them.  Animals are God's creation.  They are his property.  He made them, so ultimately they belong to him, and I do believe God will hold us accountable for distorting his image, even to the animals.

Midnight was a black-lab and greyhound mix breed, which
gave him his lean body and incredible speed.
That being said, the Scriptures clearly teach us that God has delivered the animals into our control, to be used as we need, both for work and leisure.  Thus, it is not cruel to have a work horse, or a diary cow, or even cattle for slaughter, provided of course we do it humanely with reasonable compassion.  The same is true for animals used for scientific and medical research.  Likewise, if we want to have pets, then that is fine too.  Animals can be used to sooth our nerves, calm our spirits, and even become a source of entertainment and joy.  It's certainly okay to love an animal, but this is where it gets a little sticky.

Animals are not people.  They are not human beings.  They do not have immortal souls.  Their souls come from the earth.  They are a product of this world.  So when they die, their souls return to the earth.  In other words, they are extinguished and recycled as something else.  No, I'm not talking about reincarnation here.  I'm talking about recycling.  Just as the body of a beast is broken down and the minerals reused as something else, so the soul of the beast is the same.  It follows the pattern of the body, because it is totally 100% of this world.

Human beings are different.  We are neither angels nor animals.  An angel is 100% spirit, having no part in this world.  It can interact with this world, but it is not part of this world.  Animals are 100% material, having no part of heaven.  They can interact with heavenly things, such as people and angels, but they have no part in the other world.  Human beings are different.  We are a "hybrid species" so to speak.  We have interaction with both.  Our bodies, like animal bodies, clearly come from this world.  Our souls however come from God.  They are heavenly in origin.  God first introduced heavenly souls to earthly bodies when he created the first man and woman.  The Scriptures tell us that God himself "breathed" life into their bodies.  The Hebrew word for "breath" is ru-akh, which also means "spirit."  So unlike the animals, God imparted to us a heavenly spirit, and in doing so he gave us the capacity for three things...
  1. Eternal life: the heavenly soul cannot be extinguished.  Once it is created, it will live forever, either with the presence and joy of God, or without it, but it will live forever.
  2. Communion with God: the heavenly soul seeks reunion with the divine.  Unlike the animals, it will worship that which the body cannot see.
  3. Discipline of the body: the heavenly soul can command, control and discipline the earthly body, because it is by nature superior to the earthly body.  This is why human beings can do things that animals cannot.  It's more than just brain-power, vocal chords and opposable thumbs.  These things alone would not have put us where we are.  What makes it all work is the ability of our heavenly souls to take command of them, discipline them, and force them to do things that by nature and instinct they would rather not do.  Animals can't do this.  To be trained, they require a human being (a creature of a higher order) to handle the discipline for them.
New human souls are created upon conception, as the divine spark from Adam and Eve is passed down through generations from parents to children.  God of course is intimately involved in this process, but the point here is simply this.  Human bodies, like animal bodies, come from this world, and like animals, when they die, their material is recycled in the same way animal bodies are.  However, human souls, unlike animals souls, are not of this world.  They are alien in nature.  They come from another world -- the spirit world.  So when the body dies, they cannot die, but instead return to the spirit world.  As Christians we know what happens next.  They are judged and consigned to their eternal destiny -- heaven or hell.

In his youth, Midnight loved to run, and could easily leap
as high as four feet into the air at full stride.
Because of their heavenly nature, human souls are held accountable for their actions.  They have free will, and will be judged accordingly.  Animals, on the other hand, are not judged for their actions, simply because they are animals.  Their souls come from the earth, the natural world, and so they only do what is natural to them -- instinct.  Yes, they can be trained by humans to do unnatural things, but that is our doing, not theirs.  So no judgement awaits the animals, because technically speaking, they can do no wrong.  They're just animals.  If there is no judgement for animals, then there can be no hell for animals either.  Likewise, if there is no hell, there is no heaven either.  Animals experience nothing after death, simply because they don't experience.  There is no sadness for them any more, because there is no sad.  Their is not memory for them, because there is nothing.  The concept of nothingness is almost impossible for a human being to comprehend, because you see, there will never be nothingness for us.  Once we are created, our souls go on forever, because they are not of this world.  So, when we say the animals experience nothing after death, our human souls have difficulty processing that.  Nevertheless it is true.  Animals and humans have a completely different fate after death, that is literally worlds apart, because you see, our souls were always worlds apart.  On earth, inside our human bodies, we can interact with the animals, and experience many of the same things they do, and so naturally, we can get attached to them.  What is difficult to remember is that it's never the same for them as it is for us.

Dogs and cats (especially dogs) can give us a sense of what we believe to be unconditional love.  It's not really unconditional love, in the same way humans give it, but it is a form of love nonetheless, that has a strong similarity to human unconditional love.  We have to remember that dogs are by nature pack animals, so it is only natural for them to behave this way.  It's instinctive.  They're literally programmed to do it.  Give a dog some food and a pat on the head and he'll be your friend for life.  We have to remember, the dog didn't really choose us to be his friend.  He was pre-programmed to befriend anyone who feeds him and shows him affection.  That's a pack animal for you.  This is where it gets hard for humans (especially children) to distinguish between human love and animal love.  Human love is always, to some degree, a choice.  While animal love is always just a response and only a response.  They love us only because we loved them first and for no other reason than that.

The hardest thing I ever did was put Midnight down.  I can only say it "hollowed me out" inside.  I felt like somebody took a pipe cleaner to my heart and reamed the whole thing out.  That's the only way to describe it.  It was an awful experience both for me and for him.  I walked away from it a broken shell.  It needed to be done.  The dog was dying a slow and torturous death from congestive heart failure.  The alternative would have been to let his lungs fill up with fluid and watch him slowly drown.  The only merciful thing to do was hasten the process.  Unlike humans, animals can be euthanised without incurring the penalty of murder.  The Scriptures tell us that God delivered the lives of animals into human hands, so he gave us power to end their lives for whatever reasons we deem best.  Not so with humans; only God can end the life of a human, because a human possesses a heavenly soul.  With animals however, it is okay to euthanise them, and many pet owners choose to, rather than watch their pet die a slow and painful death.  For me, the death of my pet dog had a very paradoxical symbolism.  Midnight was put down at midnight on Easter morning of 2012.  I swear that was unplanned.  It's just the way it worked out.  Again, all I can say is it was painful, and I haven't been able to speak of it publicly until now.

This was a happy dog, but make no mistake, it was our
love and care that made him happy.  Without us things
would have been very different for him.
While I was mourning the death of my dog last year, the world was celebrating the resurrection of a man.  At the time, I did not understand why God would allow the timing to turn out this way, and most especially why he would allow me to suffer such grief while everyone else was experiencing such joy.  Only now am I beginning to understand.  Not just the death of my dog, but the timing of that death, served a very specific purpose in my life, and perhaps in yours too, in that you're reading this article right now.  Midnight reminded me that humans and animals are different.  What happens to us after death is different.  When I put him down, my soul was hollowed out with grief.  His experienced nothing.  There was no pain, no sadness and no regrets.  He simply ceased to be.  Only an immortal soul, like you and I, can appreciate the magnitude of that.  Molly, his sister, missed him for a while.  Within a few weeks however, her pack instincts simply latched on to us more.  He is now nothing but a distant memory to her, a scent stored in the back of her mind somewhere, nearly forgotten.  It's difficult for we immortals to understand the minds of mortal beasts, but it helps to remember that they are creatures that are only like us in body not soul.  Molly was sad when Midnight didn't come home, but I can tell you with absolute certainty, his death was much harder on me.

These are very big concepts even for adults to handle.  So how do we explain this to our children?  Catholic bishops and priests are bound to tell the truth, and so when they do, it almost seems heartless to the parent who has to handle the spin control when the child comes home from catechism class.  Most Christian parents  simply don't know what to say, and so they sacrifice doctrinal truth to satisfy the tears of a hurting child.  Who can blame them really?  The death of a pet is hard enough even for an adult, let alone a child.  Why add insult to injury by telling them there is no place in heaven for doggies?  Ouch!

So I'll simply tell you how I handled it with my own children, and let you decide for yourself what is best for your own family.  I am one for doctrinal orthodoxy.  I don't want to create theological problems for my children later in life, and I only want to teach them the truth.  That truth would of course include the differences between humans and animals.  So this is how I handled it in what I believe to be a doctrinally orthodox, yet compassionate way.

I told them that God is a Creator.  He creates all things, including animals of course.  Humans are immortal and animals are not.  Therefore, if children want their pet animals in heaven, they will have to ask God when they get there.

Okay, I know this is a punt, but I have no shame in doing it.  God is a big God and he can handle it.  I know that when we reach the glory of heaven, our will is completely conformed into the image of God's will.  Therefore, we will not desire to ask him for anything that he doesn't want.  On the other hand, if my children still desire to ask God for Midnight back when they get to heaven, then I know that can only be God's will, and therefore, if it is his will, then he will somehow re-create Midnight for their pleasure and mine.  That being said, as an adult, I am now able to recognise that this is unlikely, simply because I know that our entry into heaven will be nothing short of a transformation for us.  We will be so filled with the joy and satisfaction of being in the presence of God, that such things as pets will likely be nothing but a distant memory of an obsolete and bygone era.  Nevertheless, if there is a remote chance that our memory of our pets is somehow part of God's plan, then who am I to say it's impossible?  If God wills it, then nothing is impossible.  The only thing is, we won't know the answer to that until we get there.  That is a mystery adults can handle.  Children, on the other hand, might require a more delicate approach.  For them, it may be enough to simply tell them they can ask for their pets back when they get to heaven, and just leave it at that.  I've found that my own kids seem to be relatively satisfied with that answer.  While I, as a parent, know that I haven't told them anything that directly contradicts religious truth.

So if it's God's will that I want Midnight back in heaven, then I know I will want him, and I'll get him back just as soon as I ask God to recreate him in heaven. If it's not God's will, then I know my will is to be conformed to his, and it won't bother me in the least.  Either way, that dog was a good dog and he gave me years of happiness.  He gave my wife and children years of happiness too.  In that, he served his purpose, and in that I know that God is well pleased.


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PhillyRatRescue said…
Of course animals (ALL animals, even those eaten by humans as food) go to Heaven. Animals have never sinned and cannot sin. They follow God's law for them perfectly through their instinct. The only time they don't is when something within them malfunctions, which is not their fault. It is humans who have to worry as to whether they go to Heaven or not, since Christ Himself says very few will go. Romans 8:18-23 tells us clearly that ALL CREATION (which of course includes animals) will be liberated from the bondage of corruption one day. And if you read the Bible carefully you will see that God always made His covenants with animals as well as humans. What a silly question to ask if animals go to Heaven! Its humans we should be asking that question about instead!
Shane Schaetzel said…
PhilyRatRescue, I disagree with your theology but not your sentiments. God bless you for caring the way you do, and you are right in this one thing. It is humans who have something to worry about, not animals.
Liz Bergmann said…
I said something very similar to my kids, leaving out the mortal vs immortal bit. As their pets were so loved, and love endures, as do the memories (somtimes!), it's perfectly possible to see their pets in heaven.

Bad theology .... but ... good home politics. Just hope Jesus agrees!! ... ahem ...
Claudio said…
Clearly our glorified bodies will not be the only material things in the new heaven and new earth. So if there are other material things besides glorified human bodies, why can't some of those material things be newly created animals? I tend to agree with you the Midnight probably will not be there but why would there not be a newer better Midnight to enjoy? Remember although the Beatific Vision will be our main enjoyment, physical enjoyment is still part of the whole package of being in heaven and I don't see why new animals can't be created by God for our physical enjoyment?
MarijaD said…
Having loved many dogs and horses I like to think I will see them in Heaven too, but of course I do not know that for certain. We humans do not even know for sure what WE will be like in Heaven. Comforting for me is knowing that there was no death before His image bearers sinned. All living things were seen as "good" by God and evidently created to live forever with us in the Garden. I think we are all going to be very surprised at what awaits us in Heaven, as the ear has not heard and the eye has not seen what God has prepared for those who love Him. Looking forward to the complete redemption of His creation.
Lola said…
My kids and I have spent time searching for a furry friend at mostly county shelters and rescue events. We found out the hard way that three out of the four of us have allergies. During our quest many questions came up. One was where do pets go after they die or are pts. The best I could do was say it wast certain that they had more than this life. That an animals life could be a heaven or hell depending on the actions of their owners and care givers. And that although the rainbow bridge poem was very nice, it isn't backed up with public revelation. Animal cruelty was even harder for them to understand.
I had a cocker spaniel as a young woman who wasn't a good family pet, but was a darling companion who became a support dog for my elderly grandmother. The family thinks that little dog saved my grandmothers life.
My dh suggested that if it would make heaven perfect for me to see my sweet spaniel again, then she would be there in heaven. I'm not convinced. But, I am grateful to our Lord for giving me that time with her and knowing some angels wear fur coats.
Thank you for sharing your grief and your very well written and thoughtful post on a sad and difficult subject.
Robert said…
Thank you, Mr. Schaetzel, for your civil and reasonable blog. It is a credit to a most Christian spirit of consideration and love for all men.

With those words of admiration please allow me to differ with you on the subject of animals and their destiny post mortem, and the idea of "immortal" souls.

It would seem that many of these opinions of Roman Catholics that even the animals of higher sentience cease to exist at physical death come from the writings of Thomas Aquinas.
Aquinas held some opinions in error and this is likely one of them. Although I agree with some of what he wrote you might want to read this document by two Ultra-Traditionalist Catholics who believe there will definitely be restored and resurrected animals from our present world in the New Creation.

(These men are angry Sedevacantists who instantly described me as a schismatic and heretic (I'm Eastern Orthodox) when I wrote to thank them for such a well reasoned opinion concerning animals in the afterlife; notwithstanding their attitude, their argument appears sound.)

St. Irenaeus of Lyon hinted at the resurrection of animals in his work Against Heresies, a text of the very earliest times (late 2nd Century).
St. Irenaeus of Lyon: Against Heresies: Book V, chapter 33, v. 4:
“... nevertheless in the resurrection of the just [the words shall also apply] to those animals mentioned. For God is rich in all things. And it is right that when the creation is restored, all the animals should obey and be in subjection to man, and revert to the food originally given by God (for they had been originally subjected in obedience to Adam), that is, the productions of the earth."

Robert Ainsworth (Athanasius)
Robert said…
Now for my opinion as an Orthodox Christian:

The Holy Orthodox Church has never dogmatized the ultimate fate of non-human creatures since they are guiltless before their Creator. She has rightly so been preoccupied with the salvation of human beings who will give account before God for every idle word they have spoken.

Since they have no guilt even though they commit acts that were never intended by God, they either pass out of existence OR they are resurrected and refashioned with a *new* body as befits their nature for existence in the New Creation.

ONLY GOD is immortal; every created being, man included, exists only by the energies and grace of the Most Holy Trinity (Acts: 17:28).

"Instead of remaining in the state in which God had created them, they were in process of becoming corrupted entirely, and death had them completely under its dominion. For the transgression of the commandment was making them turn back again according to their nature; and as they had at the beginning come into being out of non-existence, so were they now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again.
The presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it; for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good. By nature, of course, man is mortal, since he was made from nothing; but he bears also the Likeness of Him Who is, and if he preserves that Likeness through constant contemplation, then his nature is deprived of its power and he remains incorrupt." (St. Athanasius the Great: On the Incarnation: Chapter I, S.4, VV.6 - 10.)

None of us possess an intrinsically "immortal" soul.

And while the Church has rightly discerned the will of God that human beings created in His image will continue to exist after physical death, She has never stated dogmatically concerning the continuing existence of non-human creatures after their physical death.

But if a sinner such as I can weep at the death of a faithful and loving dog, then surely from what we know of the character of Christ - He must love them far more. And since He never intended death for ANY part of His creation (The creation of all things is due to God, but corruption came in afterwards due to our wickedness and as a punishment and a help. “For God did not make death, neither does He take delight in the destruction of living things” (Wisdom 1:13). But death is the work rather of man, that is, its origin is in Adam’s transgression, in like manner as all other punishments. St. John of Damascus, Exact Exposition 2.28), and His Father notices even the death of every tiny bird, and both Scripture and Tradition imply that there will be animals in the New Creation, why then would He not restore those guiltless creatures who never rebelled against Him, but suffer due to the self-willed rebellion of man?

There are many Orthodox priests and theologians who believe that most if not each and every one of the animals that have lived through the corruption and death they received due to the Fall of man will be restored in that great Day when Christ delivers up the Kingdom to His Father and God becomes "all in all".

Not only the Orthodox but Roman theologians as well:

While I do NOT share the Rev. Dr. Denis Edwards opinion of the theory of evolution, I find the reasoning behind his hope for all of creation to be well founded.

In the peace of Christ our God,

Robert Ainsworth (Athanasius)
Thank you Mr. Schaetzel for your share of your canine companion, Midnight , and your article. I am consoled by paragraph 1046 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which I belive offers the possibility of seeing our canine companions again.
Shane Schaetzel said…
Thank you Father. That is an excellent point...

1046 For the cosmos, Revelation affirms the profound common destiny of the material world and man:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God . . . in hope because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay. . . . We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

1047 The visible universe, then, is itself destined to be transformed, "so that the world itself, restored to its original state, facing no further obstacles, should be at the service of the just," sharing their glorification in the risen Jesus Christ.
Salie Veyabar said…
Animals are a creation of God. God made this world, he made us-humans, and deemed us to be more superior amongst all other life in our world. Everything on this world is done for a reason, and the creation of midnight was done for a reason, and it is up to you to figure out that reason-whether it is to cope with depressed days, to be your number one companion, or to help unite your family. This was destiny that put you guys together. We know destiny as the very reason why something is done. Your destiny was to get midnight. Why him specifically? The way you raise a animal will change the animal itself, and I belive there is such thing as unconditional love with animals because there are countless stories on the internet of dogs waiting for their owners after ww2, or stories of how dogs suffer without their owner by their side. And if u were to raise a pair of puppies, you will notice that even though you raise them the same, their personalities are completly different. Once your destiny is sealed, your fates are intertwined, and your companion will always be your companion, becuase of destiny. I belive God loves us and surely does not think of animals as something you can "recycle". After all, he gave them life, he gives them a personality and gives them a reson to come down to be the companion of a specific person, and this job is always going to be done becuase of destiny. Your paths are interwined, he has done what god has asked him to do-fulfil the purpose he was sent to the earth for. Sure, the animal dosnt have a choice on many things, and can't speak, but he still was given life, and each animal is unique, and as a creation of god, he has a spot for them in the heavans.