Do All Dogs — and Cats — Go to Heaven?
Q: I recently had to put down a beloved pet cat. Is there any hope from Scripture that she is in heaven or do animals just cease to exist?
A: I am truly sorry to hear this. I’ve always been more of a dog person (please don’t throw rocks, cat lovers) but I can empathize with your sadness. Our relationships with our animals are often close and special. When death intrudes, it may well grieve us almost as much as the loss of a close human friend or family member.
It’s especially trying when we are the agents of our pets’ deaths. I went through this several years ago. We had three dogs — the mom and pups from two different litters. The two older dogs loved to roam and hunt. Duchess could catch jackrabbits on the run, and Duke benefitted from mom’s speed and agility as she shared her catch.
They crossed a porcupine one night, and that proved their undoing. Duchess was so filled with quills that the vet couldn’t remove them all and we had to have her put down to spare her the ever-increasing pain she felt. She was our family’s all-time favorite dog, and Dad buried her under a huge sandstone slab in our church’s patio, so scavengers could never get to her.
A few weeks later, I found Duke dead on the back porch, evidently from a quill we’d missed which had worked its way into her brain. I picked him up and hid him in our camper so my younger brothers and sister wouldn’t see him as they left for school. I told Dad in private, and he prepared to tell everyone when they got back home that afternoon.
Since my dad was a pastor, he worked through this with his five children. I was finishing high school, while the youngest was about ten, so we each got as much as Dad thought we could take. We also had the benefit of Princess, another of Duchess’s progeny. Through her, Duchess and Duke lived on, even as she blessed us with her own particular personality.
More recently, just before Christmas 2010, our beloved Sparky died after nine years with us. She showed up on our porch on a cold, wet day in early spring, limping and underfed. We couldn’t resist her and she soon wormed her way into our hearts and lives. She was a bird dog and bull terrier cross with the sweetest disposition imaginable. Her main drawback was the ability to dig like a badger, so wherever she was looked like drop zone for bombing runs.
Again, we’ve had help in dealing with our loss. This time, it’s a coon hound who was impounded and slated for death. The life we gave her has certainly added life to our family. She’s scatter-brained but smart and daily re-earns her name, Adhdie.
I say all this to establish my pet-lover credentials, so you’ll know that I understand your concerns. My family owned probably a dozen dogs and was owned by three or four cats while I grew up. My theological credentials should be established by my years of college and seminary, plus my time putting it into action.
The short answer to your question is, “I don’t know.” We do know that humans are the only creatures on earth who were made in the image of God. This sets us apart from the animals more than logic, planning for the future, or anything else that behavioral scientists and biologists might indicate.
Perhaps heaven will have its share of animals. Still, the only “animal” definitely mentioned in heaven is the Lamb — who is, of course, Jesus Christ. I guess that you could also say that the “sheep” get to heaven, while the “goats” are definitely culled out. We do know that a new heaven and a new earth will be established. How the new life will be populated — except for God, the heavenly beings, and the saints who were saved by faith in Christ — we aren’t told. It could be that earthly animals will be replaced by something else altogether. Maybe only certain creatures will be introduced into the new creation.
It may be that animals, while they glorify God by their very existence on earth, are destined to pass away at the end of time. Pets may be part of God’s providence to a world filled with sin and sorrow. Most people know by experience (and scientific experimentation bears us out) that pets are usually good for us. They help to provide companionship for people who feel lonely or alienated. Their mere presence around the sick and the elderly helps to ease physical and emotional symptoms. Spending a few minutes each day petting a dog or cat can dramatically lower blood pressure. Pets help parents teach children responsibility.
I do know that the special relationship between dogs and their masters is a theme depicted in a number of medieval, Renaissance, and later works of art. Several different artists who depict the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden show animals either running away in fear of man or else threatening to attack.
However, a number of these also show one animal remaining with him — the faithful dog. For example, this woodcut depicts a loyal dog just behind the angel’s sword, preparing to follow Adam and Eve into the world. So the love and fidelity became a theological model, showing that even in a fallen world, God provided mankind companionship and protection through at least one of His creatures.
Regarding life on earth, much of what we assume as “normal” is not forever, or even truly normal and natural. Death itself was an intruder brought into our world by sin. Marriage, which God instituted and blessed, and which is the greatest and best of human relationships on earth, is only “until death do us part.” Jesus told the Sadducees who came to challenge Him, “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. (Matthew 22:30 )” So also it may be with our other earthly relationships.
What truly matters is our faith relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Heaven and earth can pass away. We might forget everyone and everything we knew on earth. We’ll still know no loss, because what is gained is an eternity with the God who loves us, who has made us His own forever.
Woodcut of the banishment of Adam and Eve courtesy of the World Mission Collection of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. It was created by Julius Schnoor von Carolsfeld and scanned from Das Buch der Bücher in Bilden and has been used according to published terms.
Pet photos from my Facebook album Critters.
Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.
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Walter Snyder is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author of the book What Do Lutherans Believe, and writer of numerous published devotions, prayers, and sermons.
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Revised and expanded from newspaper column #63