And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13.
I posted this article initially in March of 2016—five years ago. Sadly, my brother-in-law’s Great Dane, Zeke, died today. He lived more than twice as long as Great Danes usually do. He had his own couch—he needed it—and all the love and attention any dog could have, and like the rest of the family pets over the years, his remains are buried in their expansive back yard. He was a good dog, and it’s time to revive and renew that long ago article.
Do animals, particularly dogs, go to heaven? It’s a vexing question, and because the mind of God is ineffable, there can be no absolute answer. There is no real evidence in the Bible to support the idea, but there is faith, hope and love, as Joshua Rogers expressed at Fox News. At the age of 10, Rogers saw his dog run over and killed:
After our makeshift funeral that evening, I asked my dad whether Spot would be in heaven. He said something complicated about the possibility of animals having souls, but it just sounded like a bunch of grownup talk to me. So I went to bed figuring I would never see my dog again. But within a few hours, I changed my mind.
That night, I had a dream that I still remember to this day: Spot was in heaven, and he was walking alongside a tall, bearded man in a robe. I thought it was probably Moses.
That was all there was to the dream, but when I awoke the next morning, it was enough to convince me that I would eventually see Spot again. I went to the kitchen to get breakfast, and my brother Caleb joined me.
‘I had a dream about Spot last night,’ he said. ‘Spot was in heaven, and he was walking beside a man with a beard who looked like he was one of the disciples. I think God was trying to show me that Spot is in heaven.’
‘I had the same dream!’ I said excitedly, although I wasn’t exactly surprised. It seemed like something perfectly reasonable for God to do to assure us we would see our beloved dog again one day.
Twenty-seven years have passed since my brother and I had our joint dream about Spot. And although I still have a lot of unanswered questions about the afterlife, I’m certain of two things: Heaven is real, and when I get there, Spot will be waiting for me.
It’s easy to scoff. A dream? A grieving child’s dream could easily be claimed by another, and suddenly, both believe they had the same dream. They missed their pet, and wanted to see him again, so it’s easy to dream about him and to interpret that dream in a comforting way.
I’ll not delve deeply into theology. How can any creature that doesn’t have a soul attain Heaven–eternal reward? And what is a soul? Sentience? Sapience? The awareness of self as distinct from all other beings? The ability to reason, to use tools, to form bonds and relationships?
By such measures, many creatures other than Man might qualify.
Snookie was a backyard accident.
When I was a child, my mother had only AKC registered Poodles. Coquette was the first, and the second, her daughter, Suzette. Snookie was Suzette’s daughter, and she had the intelligence and ability to read people of Coquette and Suzi, but the fierce intensity of her Dad, some kind of terrier. A little dog, she had the heart of a lion and did nothing by half.
My mother considered finding another home for the little black, floppy-eared mutt—she was anything but a pure bred Poodle–but Snookie’s charms and canine kindness quickly changed her mind.
From the moment I, as a teenager, met Snookie as a puppy, she loved me with all her mighty little heart. We were inseparable, and whenever I was home, she made the most of our time together. As busy a teenager as I was, her dedication touched me and I always took the time to return her affection.
When I was happy, she was happy, and when I was somber, she was there to comfort me. She always knew, and remained equally sad until I felt better.
Skateboards were new then—yes, it was back in the 1400s–and whenever she would see my skateboard, she would demand I attach a leash to her collar, and she’d pull me–a 6’, 155 pound kid–at breakneck speed down the sidewalk. That was her choice from the moment she first saw me skateboarding. I didn’t teach her a thing; she wanted to be a part of everything I did.
I married young, and we couldn’t bear to separate Snookie and Suzi–it would have broken Suzi’s heart–so we left her at home, but whenever I returned to visit, it was as if I never left. Snookie didn’t hold my absence against me, and her love burned with unquenchable intensity.
As with all dogs, she aged quickly. Those that burn so brightly burn briefly, and she died when I was living out of state. That I wasn’t there for her when she died still brings tears decades later.
Snookie couldn’t talk, or do math. She never learned to cook or write. She was a dog, just a little mutt, but her faithfulness and love never waned, not for a moment. She never told me she loved me, but to this day, I’ve seldom been more convinced of anything.
So what? Instinct. That’s all it was. Dogs are pack animals. They do what’s necessary to get along and survive. They’re all alike.
I’ve had other dogs before and since. All live, vividly, in my mind and heart, as we live in theirs during their all too short lives. All had distinct personalities.
I don’t, like some “animal rights activists,” think animals human beings. The Bible makes clear animals are here for the benefit of Man, for Man’s use and purposes. Does that mean Snookie had no soul? That she can’t attain paradise or something like it?
Will Snookie, and my other animal friends be waiting for me when my time here is done? Yes. How do I know? I don’t—I can’t–but the fundamental nature of Christianity, of God, is love. It’s what he asks of us, and what he gives us in unimaginable abundance.
The greatest of these is love. Love abides. It precedes us and lives on when we die, and it remains with us forever.
I hope to see Snookie again. I have faith I will, because my love for her has not lessened these many decades, just as her love never wavered. This faith harms no one, and comforts me. Can I be absolutely, provably, scientifically certain I’ll see my beloved little dog again? Of course not. But I have faith, and love, which are required–-and entirely voluntary.
She’ll be waiting for me, delighted and energetic as ever, with her leash and a skateboard.