While teaching classes to our deacon candidates, I have told them that, after their diaconal ordinations, this would be the most frequently asked question they would get: Will I see my beloved pet in Heaven? That question will be asked earnestly, even urgently, and not only by children.
The temptation to provide a peremptory, dismissive—and often negative—answer to that query is pastorally insensitive and, I am convinced, substantively mistaken. I am persuaded that our pets will meet us in Heaven. Our task is to get there to be with them again (1 Peter 1:9, Philippians 2:12).
In making this argument at various times and places, I have been accused of being as theologically uninformed as I am emotionally overcharged. I respond, first, that I do not support telling someone that his pet is in Heaven just to make that person “feel good.” Second, I do not support the idea that we can or should twist clear and settled teaching to accommodate wishful thinking.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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The grief we feel at the loss of a beloved pet may properly remind us that emotions are not wrong. “By his emotions,” the Catechism teaches us, “man intuits the good and suspects evil” (#1771), provided that such passions “be governed by reason” (#1767). And the teaching about animals in Heaven is permissive, not restrictive.
Can you for one minute think that the animals ridden by our Lady when she went to Bethlehem for Christ’s birth, or ridden by the Holy Family into Egypt as they escaped Herod’s grasp, or ridden by our Lord when He entered Jerusalem—these animals which bore the divine Son of God—are not in Heaven? They transported the King of the Universe. Our pets have borne some of our burdens, too. Will almighty God not requite their work for us?
Do not animals, too, praise God (Psalm 148:10, Isaiah 43:20)? Will an all-merciful God not recognize and reward the animals’ praise? Is it in keeping with the revealed character of God that He would obliterate His own creatures, which have lauded and served Him and us?
As we are told in Genesis, God created life in the water (1:20) and on land (1:24) before He created humans; and prelapsarian life, we know, was pleasing to God (1:31). It was we humans who failed God (3:5), not the animals; and it is all creation which now groans (Romans 8:23) until its restoration. Will God not restore glory to all creation, including the animals which we humans failed by our original sin?
God will make all things new, we know (Revelation 21:5). That does not mean, however, that He will make all-new humans, for we believe that we shall be resurrected and live forever, restored in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:21-22), individually and specifically (cf. Isaiah 43:1). Can that promise of new life extend to our beloved animals, which will be restored and live forever, not just as a genus or species, but individually—and that the specific pets we knew and loved will be returned to us by an ever-merciful God? “With God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26, Mark 10:27, Luke 1:37; cf. Jeremiah 32:17).
Remember that the angel protected Balaam’s donkey (see Numbers 22:32-33), and I believe we’ll see that donkey, who served God, even speaking because of Him. Can anyone believe that such a noble creature is not in Heaven? And God, recall, made a covenant with all living creatures (Genesis 9:13-15, Hosea 2:18a): all!
Moreover, Isaiah 11:6-7 suggests that animals do, indeed, have a future. And the Douay-Rheims Bible (Psalm 67:11 DRB numbering) tells us that in God’s house “shall all thy animals dwell.” Not mosquitoes. Not flies. Not dragons. Not the snake of Genesis. There are no spiritual bonds there.
By “spiritual bond,” in this context, I mean a relationship grounded in mutual affection and concern. Animals provide for many of our needs, but they are not man’s equal partner (Genesis 2:19-20, CCC #371), and “one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons” (CCC #2418); still, we owe animals kindness and gentleness (#2416).
Moreover, the animals we adopt are in our special care, and we can and should develop a devotion to them which transcends merely using them and which rises to the kind of attachment which allows us to see them even as “junior” or “associated” members of our families. With us, frequently, these animals have many years of experience—on a different plane, to be sure, but nevertheless, sharing our lives and thus leading to our developing common, genuine, “spiritual”—i.e., emotional—bonding with them. This is seen in the happiness—and fun—our pets provide us and in the very real grief and sorrow we feel when one of our close pets dies.
But do we have real spiritual bonds with our most beloved pets? We do. Is it too much, therefore, to think that God will not abandon them forever but, in His great and total love, give them to us once more to share our eternity? They loved us and we loved them (in a special, but still deep and real, meaning of love), and God doesn’t “waste” love—or make junk!
Still, if our animals have predeceased us, what are they doing with all that time now, or during our stay in Purgatory, if that be our temporary destination (CCC #1031, 1472)? Conjecture can run rampant, but we know that, after all, there is no time in eternity (2 Peter 3:8). We know few specifics about the “time” beyond time—and extravagant speculation is wisely limited by the borders of hope, defined by Fr. John Hardon, S.J., as the “confident desire of obtaining a future good that is difficult to obtain.”
The question, then, is this: Is hoping to be with our beloved pets in any way spiritually deleterious? Or is such hope, rather, grounded in our appreciation of God’s plan and providence, constantly granting us even what is “difficult to obtain” (see Romans 8:28)?
St. Thomas Aquinas was a skeptic about animals in Heaven, but his judgment was an obiter dictum, not an ex cathedra pronouncement. The list of saints who loved animals and may have thought Heaven was the destination of our beloved pets (there are no “interviews” or autobiographies to consult on that point!) is long and impressive.
Much like the questions of whether we will teach or learn, eat or exercise, or play chess or softball in Heaven, the question of whether we will see our own pets again remains open. A wicked man is cruel to his animals, Proverbs tells us, but a good man takes care of his animals (12:10). What might we expect and quite reasonably hope for, then, from the loving God who created them?
Asks the parishioner: “Father, Will I see my little dog ‘Homer’ again in Heaven?” Responds the priest: “If, for your complete happiness in Heaven, you need Homer, I assure you will see him again.”
That is a fallacious (not to say, jesuitical) reply. The priest walks away, pleased with his cunning casuistry. Believing—correctly—that eternal happiness hardly depends upon Homer’s heavenly presence, our priest has committed the logical error known as ignoratio elenchi (the fallacy of the irrelevant conclusion or the red herring argument). Our priest has slyly evaded the question, which concerns the possibility of Homer’s presence in Heaven, not our contingent happiness.
We know God offers full and final happiness (cf. Matthew 25:23) to us. We won’t need our cats and dogs or horses to be happy with God forever. We will have the beatific vision. But shall we limit God? Shall we restrict His love, which knows no bounds? Shall we say that He would not offer us again all the people and all the pets we have known and loved? Have we no hope for little Homer?
Animals do not have rational souls, as we do. They do have sensible souls, though, as Aristotle and Pope St. John Paul II taught. Some of our animals have been so bonded, so devoted, to us that God, I believe, will one day have a very special gift for us. Again we will see, and play with, and enjoy the very same animals—but with glorified bodies (no litter boxes!) and temperaments (cf. Isaiah 65:25)—we knew in this life.
Animals in Heaven, we are free to believe, will not be of the natural, but the supernatural, order and will thus be transformed as will we, but still possess individual character—as will we. Catholics are not annihilationists or extinctionists (as are, for example, Jehovah’s Witnesses), but believe, as the Faith which comes to us from the Apostles tells us, that God made His creation to endure forever.
Isn’t that just too mawkishly romantic?
No: God is a romantic (1 John 4:8). Don’t shrink His love! God loves His animals even more than we do. To quote Pope St. Paul VI, who putatively said this to a young boy, who had lost his pet: “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”
So: Is my pet in Heaven?
Our animals are a living part of God’s creation and, therefore, God’s creatures. We will not “need” them in Heaven, but, because they have been such a meaningful part of our lives, we have the entirely reasonable hope that God will recognize and reward them (and us) by letting them be with us once more. Forever.