…But Do Bad Dogs Go to Hell?

It was somewhat of a surprise when George died despite his old age, for he had seemed to live through everything—much pestering from our younger dog, Wolfie; consuming way too much chocolate, candy, and paper towels; chewing on a poisonous tick collar; jumping out of a moving (quite fast) pickup truck after another dog; surviving the deadly disease called “bloat,” and then its horrific surgery.

George had quite the will to live and quite the will to love. His eyes shone with love, and everyone who met him saw this, and remembered it. He had a presence that charmed people—everyone from the pharmacy delivery man (who always remembered to put a treat in the bag with our prescriptions) to our out-of- state friends who couldn’t wait to get a picture of him along with their Christmas cards. At the vet, George was a complete brat to all the other dogs, demanding attention on him, and yet none of the vet technicians denied him this. How could they? It was George!

George was a creature of God, and sometimes he seemed closer to God then I have ever been. I used to wonder, “What does George do all day? Doesn’t he get bored lying around on the couch?” Now I know, he was merely soaking up life, resting in the arms of his Maker. Something we could all learn to do.

So is George in Heaven? If I had been five I would have frantically asked this question. But now I have my answer: Why not?

As a child I was told by most of my elders that animals had no place in Heaven. They had no souls, therefore, they had no immortality and when they died, their bodies wasted away and ended forever. When my cat died, I insisted on this theology. I thought that believing Tom could be in Heaven would be a lie, and would make me a heretic. But the thought of Tom ending forever would not let me sleep. Finally, I had to imagine him sleeping and purring peacefully on Jesus’ lap. I concluded that Jesus wanted the little creature on earth, and loved him, so why couldn’t he be in Heaven?

Now I am not arguing for some sort of Church document recognizing the immortality of animals. However, I don’t really think we have any place denying it, either. The argument that I often hear against animals in Heaven is, “They don’t need it. They lived their lives fully, and they were happy. They were created for us, and we will have so much more in Heaven, so their purpose has ended.” This argument makes a lot of sense. Practically speaking, there is no need for any animal in Heaven. We will have God. I love George, but I love God much more, and Heaven can be Heaven without George, but not without God. So it makes sense to say that animals don’t have a practical purpose in paradise. We will clearly have much better things to do than pet their fur.

And yet, who said our God is one of practicality? God doesn’t need us in Heaven, and we definitely don’t need each other. And yet He brings us there, because He is a God of utter impracticality—a God of complete graciousness. I know that we are higher than the animals. We were “created in His image.” But we are not Him. We are humble, fallen creatures that He has chosen to elevate. We have His tenderness to thank for this. And I believe it is that same sort of tenderness that sculpted the foolish, clumsy little puppy. Animals don’t need to be in Heaven, and we can never conclude that they are until we get there. But I would not be surprised if a God who loves His animals so dearly, who saved them, every kind of them, from His massive flood, who uses them in so much of His poetry and imagery, and who paints the picture of paradise with them in it, will bring them to the eternal paradise. No, they don’t need to go there—they lived their lives fully. But maybe God wants them there, as He wanted them here. And maybe it won’t be George, but another version of George, or perhaps just George’s essence. Perhaps when I meet God, I will see the side of Him that George embodied and say, “Ah, that’s where you came up with the idea for George.” If there is anything I do know about Heaven, I know it has to be a big place to be inhabited by a Being with such a big heart. And a big house has plenty of room for little creatures.

Sometimes we paint God as too serious. We act as if He can’t appreciate the simple treasures in life—that He is too great for them—that He would be ashamed of the child expecting his puppy to be in Heaven. But God created that childlike impulse within us to cherish creation, and I believe it only makes us more like Him. We forget sometimes that God knows how to laugh—rather, created laughter. As G.K. Chesterton says in the last paragraph of Orthodoxy:

“He concealed something… He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was his mirth.”

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  • Frank

    Really enjoyed this column. Fr Benedict Groeschel also has commented similarly, that there is, even in Sacred Scripture, reason to hope that we will be re-united with our beloved pets in Heaven. He points to Ephesians 1:10 and Colossians 1: 19-20, where St Paul beautifully expresses Christ’s purpose to “reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven…” (Col. 1:20, RSV).

    Of course, no less a theologian than St Thomas Aquinas completely rejected the notion of non-human creatures going to Heaven, but as far as I know the Church has never spoken definitively on the matter. And even St. Thomas could be wrong…once in a while, anyway.

    I’ve also heard people argue that if we make it to the “Beatific Vision”, in the words of Augustine, we’ll be so overwhelmed with the sight of God that nothing else will matter, for all eternity. Well, maybe…but if that’s so, why would God give us back our glorified bodies after the Final Judgment? Doesn’t that pretty strongly suggest we will have some use for them? And what about the “new Heaven and the new Earth” promised in Scripture?

    In any event, I share Ms Hanna’s hope, and it gives me one more reason to strive for holiness, so I can see how this question turns out!

  • anne1947

    Amen – very well said. I never could believe that – as some learned theologian types would have it – that Heaven contains only God and “rational souls.” How boring! My own images of heaven include the great Tree in Tolkien’s “Leaf by Niggle”, and “The Great Divorce” by C. S. Lewis, where he describes a woman in Heaven surrounded by the people and animals she loved on Earth.

    When God created the Universe, He found it “very good” (Genesis 1:31) – and we’re told that “all Creation” is being renewed by Christ (see Romans 8). So I hope that all that is good and beautiful in Creation – animal, vegetable, and mineral – will share in that renewal.

  • anne1947

    Frank: I posted my comment before I read yours, and wanted to let you know I agree! Thomas Aquinas was brilliant but he certainly wasn’t right about everything (e.g., the Immaculate Conception). If he’d had a dog, I bet he never would have said that animals don’t go to Heaven!

  • sparkletina

    Aaaaw! We had a most lovable beagle who once ate an entire pound of chocolate (then threw up all over the house) & was constantly snatching cupcakes, drumsticks–whatever she could get her paws on–until was attacked & killed by by neighbor’s loose dog, as she walked on-leash. I was devastated. When she died in surgery, I ran over to my neighbor whose children cared for our animals when we were away. As we mourned the fact we would never see her again, the younger teen daughter said to me, “Didn’t Jesus say if we pray with a sincere heart, God would grant our requests? Well, let’s pray that you will see Sparky in heaven, because he wants you to be happy on earth AND in heaven, and I know you won’t be happy without her.” At the time, I thought it was a crazy idea theologically. But the older I get, I’ve been thinking: why can’t we enjoy the beatific vision AND frolic with our precious former friends, oops, pets. Well, that was what they were–our furry friends, who always gave us unconditional love, no questions asked. Love the story, love the breed, specially those floppy silky ears!

  • MaryS

    I’ve always loved my pets and was sad when they had to go. But then, my pets were only dogs or cats. What about all the other pets, and what about all the other animals we see, but don’t make pets of them because they are beautiful in the wild? What about all those frogs that are torn assunder by budding scientists in school labs? What about the parakeets, the song birds, the butterflies, the bumble bees, the mosquitos, the fleas… ?

    Well, there are limits to everything. I would think that if good dogs and cats made it to heaven, God would eliminate the fleas wouldn’t he? After all, they were a big mistake anyway! And no dog or cat would have to be ferral again, or wind up at the humane society to be euthanized if not claimed in 3 days. And they would never have to fear that mankind would ever again be cruel, make them fight one another, or left out in the cold, their food and water dishes would always be full, and a warm lap would forever be available to curl up in.

    What a wonderful world! (er, Heaven)

  • fidelis

    When St. John Bosco would be attacked at various times by evil men who hated his mission for wayward boys, a big German Shepherd-type dog would show up out of nowhere and attacked the bad guys, saving Don Bosco! Maybe the dog was a real dog, or maybe he was a manifestation of Don Bosco’s guardian angel, but in any case, GOD SENT THE DOG! If God thinks that much of dogs, why wouldn’t they be in Heaven? There were all kinds of animals in Paradise with Adam and Eve, the place of perfect happiness, no death, no disease, no sorrow, no suffering, etc–just like Heaven!

    Our beloved pet bird, a cockatiel named Sparky, got outside a few years ago and was gone FOR 3 DAYS! We and so many friends were praying to St. Anthony, St. Jude, St. Francis of Assisi. A good friend sent her guardian angel to accompany Sparky and keep him safe! Well, a miracle occurred and he was found several miles from our house–he flew right onto a lady’s shoulder while she was having cocktails on her deck with her husband! We had flyers all over town, and she called us, and he was rescued, hungry and terrified, but safe and sound! He’s now 15 years old and still brings us joy and love!

    If God does a miracle and preserves a little pet bird lost for 3 days (wasn’t Our Lord in the tomb for 3 days?!) how can we doubt that He loves His precious and innocent creatures who do nothing but His will (maybe not consciously, but at least instinctively), and that He delights in them…after all, they’re His own brilliant creation!

  • cajunhillbilly

    I would agree with all the above. I have studied theology and a lot of theology seems to imply only God and people are in heaven. But I believe God will renew the entire universe, and that will include our furry friends. I totally expect to see a passle of pets waiting for me in heaven.