I’m often asked about the eternal fate of our four legged, furry friends once they pass away. I am a firm believer that everything God breathed life into, He also gave a soul. Here are some thoughts by others on the age old question, “Do dogs go to Heaven?”
“You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.” Robert Louis Stevenson
Title: The Song of the Animals
The sea gulls who daily fly past our house have a regular pattern: east to the rock called Norman’s Woe in the morning, west to Kettle Island in the evening, with the setting sun rouging their feathers to glowing pink. Sometimes, in a strong wind, they sail up and over our house, but they do not land nearer than the sea-washed rocks. One day I was surprised to find a lone gull sitting on our deck. There was something odd about the way he sat, and the shape of his head. Moving to the window I saw that he had the plastic rings from a six-pack of drinks clamped in his bill and circling his neck. He sat very quietly, a little hunched, his head tipped inquiringly. He was caught in the rings, unable to close his beak. Was he perhaps, by daring to perch on our deck, asking for help? Slowly I opened the door and tiptoed toward him. His fierce bright eyes followed me unblinking, but he did not move. When, incredulous, I nearly touched him, off he flew. Captive to one of the complicated “blessings” of civilization that sea gulls were never meant to cope with, my gull will have starved to death by now. That ninety seconds or so on our deck brought to focus once more a phrase I turn over and over in my mind: the redemption of creation. “Redemption? But animals have no souls!” someone objects. Have they not? My Bible tells me of a great hope shared not only by angels and men and women, but “all things, whether in heaven or on earth” (Colossians 1:20); it tells me that all is to be “brought to unity in Christ” (Ephesians 1:10). What can this mean if not that in some way unimaginable to us now the suffering sea gull, along with all feathered, furred, scaled, and carapaced creatures, will be redeemed? “The universe itself is to be freed from the shackles of mortality” (Romans 8:19). Will not our ears someday hear the Song of the Animals? I think so. I pin my hopes on the vision of John: “Then I heard every created thing in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, all this is in them, crying, Praise and honor and glory and might to him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever” (Revelation 5:13).
Copyright 1989, by Elisabeth Elliot; all rights reserved.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the ocean depths. You care for people and animals alike, O LORD. Psalm 36:6 (NLT)
All Creatures Here Below
The New Yorker had a picture on its cover in February 1968 of a group of people looking at sleeping puppies in a pet shop window. Every face was alight, and the women, of course, were tapping on the glass, trying to elicit some response from the fetching little beagles in the pen.
What is it we see in the faces of puppies? What else in the whole world instantly softens the expressions of the hardest people as does the sight of a little puppy trotting gaily along the sidewalk? Is there something eternal, some intimation of unutterable sweetness there which we know will be gone in a matter of weeks? We want to get
our hands on the softness; we crave response. People who would not dream of addressing a stranger on the street will address a puppy and then often, as though they cannot help themselves, the owner of the puppy as well.
Some years ago my husband and I bought a tiny purebred Scottish terrier. He had a box-shaped body on which black fur grew in the shape of a horse blanket, shaggy and shiny. He had another smaller box for a head, with jaunty chin whiskers, wonderfully bright black eyes and a glistening black nose. His ears pointed sharply, and he moved them up, sideways and back–he could even revolve them–depending on whether he was looking, listening or waiting hopefully to be petted. His tail was a little cone in almost constant motion. His feet were like short flanges at the ends of his unbelievably short legs. His legs were, in fact, just barely long enough to keep his chin off the floor.
The dog’s name was MacPhearce. He had a terrier’s feistiness and could bark sharply or growl like a tenor gargling, but was putting on an act (“Is he trained to kill on command?” a man on the street asked), for he was really very affectionate and badly wanted friends.
I put a blue collar on him and took him out on a blue leash. (He did not, however, wear a plaid coat or rubbers. It seemed logical to me that the coat he came with was designed for his needs.) People would catch a glimpse of him and stop in their tracks. “Look at this dog!” they would say, if they had anyone with them to say it to, or, “Isn’t he adorable?” they would say to me. People under forty often said, “What kind of dog is that?” and people over forty said, “Oh, a Scotty! You don’t see many of them anymore!” MacPhearce was not aware that he had gone out of style. He had been succeeded by Boston terriers, then by poodles and boxers and Lhasa apsos. But it never bothered him much, and he behaved as though he was exactly what he was meant to be, which is more than can be said of some human beings. One said, “Ooohhh–I can’t stand it, he’s so cute!”
I wonder if God felt anything like that on the day he created such creatures. “It is very good” is what he is reported to have said, and I suppose we cannot expect the Almighty to have been thrilled, or even impressed. It was exactly what he had meant. The animal was the living proof of the divine idea.
MacPhearce was not a sinner, theologically speaking, and therefore fulfilled God’s intention for him every moment of his life. My husband wrote years ago about a dog he had named Lassie. He believed that she had been “assigned” to him. It was her business to keep him happy, and perhaps of all the marvelous things dogs do for man (herding sheep, retrieving birds, pulling sleds, leading the blind, rescuing the freezing or the drowning), none is more marvelous than this: they are comforters and companions. They think always of their master. What is he doing? Can I accompany him? Is he happy? How can I cheer him?
A woman I know found her teen-age daughter lying on the living room rug one evening, sobbing into the curly fur of their cocker spaniel. The mother had on many occasions wondered if the dog was worth all the fuss and trouble of training, feeding, cleaning fur off the rugs and furniture. She stopped wondering when she saw that the dog was a refuge and a friend to the child when she would have found it impossible to cry on anyone’s shoulder. The mother made up her mind then and there that as long as she had children, at least, she would have a dog. (She has since decided that even she needs him.)
My old friend Dorothy who lives on the Cape has had dachshunds, terriers, poodles and a Scotty. “Oh my, they give so much,” she says, “and they ask so little!”
C. S. Lewis had some lovely things to say about animals in his Letters to an American Lady. “I will never laugh at anyone for grieving over a loved beast. I think God wants us to love Him more, not to love creatures (even animals) less. No person, animal, flower, or even pebble, has ever been loved too much–i.e., more than every one of God’s works deserves.”
In another letter he wrote, “We were talking about cats and dogs the other day and decided that both have consciences but the dog, being an honest, humble person, always has a bad one, but the cat is a Pharisee and always has a good one. When he sits and stares you out of countenance he is thanking God that he is not as these dogs, or these humans, or even as these other cats!”
A dog can gaze with adoration and not be embarrassed, but if he finds himself gazed at by a group not entirely sympathetic, he seems to know this and will often busy himself with licking a paw, or will perhaps decide that he has business elsewhere. He accepts himself for what he is, and us human beings for whatever we may be, and thus teaches us a lesson in the grace of acceptance. Dogs can adapt themselves to whatever treatment we may dish out. If we step on a tail by accident its owner may yelp but will be wagging it at once in forgiveness. A dog’s eyes may be filled with reproach if we have left him alone too long, if we go out in the car and tell him to stay, or if his dinner is late, but the reproach is gentle and loving, and he will come and lay his head in our lap seventy times seven.
A truck went by the house the other day labeled Old Mother Hubbard Oven-Baked Dog Foods and Laboratory Diets. The pet food business is an enormous and lucrative one. Any pet shop displays a staggering variety of feeding dishes, foods, toys, medicines, shampoos, flea soaps and powders, beds, baskets, carrying cases, cages, leashes, collars–some of them rhinestone-studded–and garments, including galoshes and raincoats for poodles. We insult our pets by not allowing them to be animals. We violate their being when we try to make them human.
“Love the pride of your dogs,” wrote Isak Dinesen. “Let them not grow fat.” Put not on them outrageous frippery, I would add. Pamper them not with furniture and food luxurious for people but indecent for animals. Recognize what they are, love them for that, let them love you because you love them for what they are and not because you have made of them a poor facsimile of yourself.
George MacDonald, the Scottish preacher and novelist of the nineteenth century, believed that “dogs always behold the face of the Father.” To study a dog’s face will make you wonder about the redemption of all creation. Do dogs have souls? We have no clue to that in Scripture. We are told, however, that “everything that exists in heaven or earth shall find its perfection and fulfillment in Christ.”
A lady once asked Dr. Harry Ironside of Moody Church in Chicago about the salvation of dogs. She was heartbroken over the death of her little white dog, and was not sure she would be able to enjoy heaven at all if he was not going to be there. “Madam,” replied Dr. Ironside, “if when you get to heaven you want your little white dog, I can assure you that he will be there.”
What the “perfection and fulfillment” of little white dogs or little black puppies named MacPhearce may mean is not, for us at any rate, a very important question. But it may remind us of unspeakably important questions. Responsibility to our Creator. Obedience to his call. Fulfillment of his purpose for us as men and women who have been given the mandate to take care of the earth. Then we can join with all creatures great and small, and even with the stars of the firmament of which Joseph Addison wrote in 1712: In reason’s ear they all rejoice and utter forth a glorious voice: Forever singing as they shine, “The hand that made us is divine.”
Copyright 1979, by Elisabeth Elliot all rights reserved.
“If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.” – James Herriot
Little Black Dog
It is a late October morning of glorious sunshine in New Hampshire and I sit in an antique rocking chair by the window of an old house which was once a barn. The gray rocks on Mount Lafayette’s broad summit are dusted with snow, and the sky is as blue as a sky can be. All that is still green today is the evergreens. Between them are the black line drawings of the thin leafless maples, wild cherries, aspens and birches. The feathery tamaracks are dark gold. Little yellow apples hang on one of the gnarled old trees of the orchard. I keep hoping a deer will come for them.
My friend Miriam and I drove up yesterday from Boston for a few days of quiet at my brother’s place. Both of us brought a load of desk work. No one else is here except Daisy, Miriam’s new friend, a little white Pekingese. (Her old friend, Pity Sing, died a few weeks ago.)
MacDuff, my six-year-old Scottish terrier, is not here this time either. We went for a short climb yesterday afternoon, up a rocky wooded trail that he used to love. He would race after the chattering chipmunks, bound up the steep granite slabs, and wait, panting, at the top for us to catch up. I missed him yesterday on that trail. I miss him today when I look out of the window.
MacDuff died of cancer last week. I knew he was sick during the summer when his routines changed. He sat in the middle of the back yard one morning, instead of in his usual place by the fence, looking bewildered instead of in charge. One rainy day he was not on his chair in the screened porch, but I found him lying in a hollow place under a bush. He no longer leaped for his Milk-Bone at the breakfast table. But he kept his ears and tail up, and thus kept my hopes up.
The vet said he had an infection and gave us pills. MacDuff got very cagey at detecting where those pills had been hidden in his food, so I had to try ever sneakier methods of getting them into him. They worked fine. He was well again–for a while faithfully putting in his self-appointed barking time each day, letting neighbor dogs know who was in charge, and keeping off trespassers, some of whom must have been demons since none of us humans could see them.
But I saw that he was losing weight. I could feel the shoulder blades and spine through his heavy, ragged coat. I bought new kinds of dog food, special hamburger, yogurt. He was apologetic when he couldn’t eat it, his eyes limpid with a plea for understanding, his stiff brush-tail quivering to explain.
“Little Duffer, little black dog–could you try this?” I would ask, offering some tidbit that would surely be irresistible. He would lift his black nose, take it slowly and delicately in his teeth, hold it for a moment hoping I would look away, and then place it on the floor as tactfully as he could. He did not want to disappoint me.
His suffering was a hard thing to watch. He was alone in it, as all creatures, human or animal, are alone in their pain. “The toad beneath the harrow knows exactly where each sharp tooth goes.” There is no qualitative or quantitative measurement for pain. It is simply there sharp or dull, shooting or stabbing, bearable or excruciating, local or general, it is unexplained, uninvited, unavoidable. It takes command. It is all-encompassing, implacable, exigent. But of course I am speaking only of what I know of pain. How was it for MacDuff?
He expected no special treatment. He did not pity himself. He took for granted that he would be able to go on about his accustomed terrier business and when he found that it was somehow not working well, he made his own adjustments as unobtrusively as he could. It was still the supreme object of his life to see that I was happy. I think he lay under the bush in the rain not in order to wallow in solitary self-pity, but in order that I might not see him in trouble. He liked to please me. He delighted to do my will.
Is animal suffering different from human suffering? I hope so. Animals surely must not suffer the agonies of anxiety which accompany much human pain. “How shall I carry out my duties? What am I to do if this doesn’t clear up quickly? Can I bear it if it gets worse?” The element of time is not a philosophical torment to them. They live as we have to be told to live–one day at a time, trustfully. I don’t know whether it is accurate to say that “faith” is required of them, but if it is, they fulfill the requirement perfectly. They look to God, the Psalmist tells us, for provision for their needs. They are watched over and cared for by a kind Father. Not the least sparrow falls without his notice. Surely MacDuff was of more value than many sparrows!
I watched him try to lie down on his side, but something obstructed his breathing. When he was asleep he would begin to pant and would waken to change his position, sometimes with little muffled groans. This fellow-creature, I thought, formed by the Hand that formed me, suffers for my sin–for I am of the race of men who brought evil into the world, and without evil there could be no pain, no death. A Scotty would not have had cancer.
His wonderful face bearded, with tufts of eyebrows springing and black eyes shining–had reminded me of George MacDonald’s belief that dogs always behold the face of the Father. MacDuff knew things–what did he know? What were the mysteries he saw–too deep or too high or too pure for me to be entrusted with yet? I think they helped him endure the pain. He was not bewildered, of course, by the questions that needle my mind–the origin of evil, God’s permission of an animal’s or a child’s suffering. He was a dog, and to ponder such questions was not required of him. What was required of him he did, in an authentically, thoroughly dog-like style.
I will not weep more for him. I will be thankful for such a gift of grace. He was, I am sure, “assigned” to me. In the sorrow of my late husband’s illness, when life seemed a desolate wasteland, MacDuff was there. Jesus, the Bible tells us, during his temptation in the wilderness, was “with the wild beasts.” I used to think of that phrase as descriptive of one of the elements of his dereliction, but it may be that the wild beasts, like the angels, ministered to him. Is it mere sentimentality to believe that? Is it too much to say that Duffer “ministered” to me? He did. He was my little wild beast in that wilderness.
The Bible does not speak specifically of the destiny of animals but there is a promise in the Letter to the Ephesians which surely must include them, “Everything that exists in heaven or earth shall find its perfection and fulfillment in Christ” (Eph. 1:10 Phillips).
Paul expresses his hope in the eighth chapter of Romans (verse 21 Phillips) “that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!”
Copyright 1979, by Elisabeth Elliot all rights reserved.
“God will prepare everything for our perfect happiness in heaven, and if it takes my dog being there, I believe he’ll be there.” – Billy Graham