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FROM THE MAIL: WHETHER OR NOT THEY GO TO HEAVEN, TO MOST THERE IS SPIRITUAL ELEMENT TO ANIMALS

A recent article about a book that tackles the issue of animals and eternity (Animals in Heaven? Catholics Want to Know!") elicited a number of responses, most of which backed the notion -- which has never been totally ruled upon by the Church, and for the most part, is unanswered in Scripture.

Do animals have a soul? Do pets really find an eternity?

It's a question that's as controversial as it is fascinating.

"Through my years as a mom and catechist this question has come up often," noted Ellen Weigant, of Pawhuska, Oklahoma. "My dad was very well-versed in his Catholic faith but this was the explanation he gave me when a dear pet was killed (we lived on a ranch and the coyotes were a menace):

"He told me Heaven was going to be everything that we ever wanted and that while pets don't have souls he felt that if we wanted our pets in Heaven God would give them to us. Sounded good then and now. I fully expect a little black rat terrier to be wagging his tail for me when I step across!"

"I read your article about animals and was reminded of an incident that happened to us," said another viewer, John Bouret, in Montpelier, Virginia. "My wife Kimary and I had a conversion experience after a visit to Conyers, Georgia on December 28, 1995.

"The next year -- on August 11 -- our family dog, 'Layla,'  was suffering. She was old for a large dog of her breed and it was obvious that it was her time.

"It was a Sunday and the vets were closed, I was considering putting her down myself but was saddened at the thought. In the phone book we found a vet who would come to our house and put her to rest. We were at her favorite place near our pond in the back of our property and the vet injected her as we sat with her during her final moments -- petting her and telling her it would be okay.

"As life passed from her a blue butterfly appeared between my wife, the vet, and me. It fluttered over our faces -- even touching our noses. All of us had tears in our eyes as we looked at each other. In a few moments, it was gone and there was peace. The vet even commented. I donít know what happens to animals after death but to us this was clearly a sign that there is some type of spiritual connection, even with the passing of a family pet who was much loved. My wife and I will never forget the experience and I would guess that the vet may not either."

"Several years ago, when I had to put the family dog to sleep, I asked the question, 'Do dogs go to Heaven?' to a priest, and his answer was, 'I don't know,'" says Darlene Kerfien.

"Well at least he was honest. So I decided to ask Jesus:

"'Lord, let me know, if You will, if dogs go to Heaven. I will accept whatever answer you give me.'

"The next day you ran a story on Spirit Daily about a Franciscan nun on vacation whose stomach ruptured, and she was very near death.
Her community was praying for her, her family was praying for, and everyone at the hospital was praying for her. It was touch-and-go, and they 'lost' her several times, but were able to resuscitate her.

"She later recalled her 'near-death experience' in which she said she could see her parents waiting for her on the other side, but the prayers of all the people kept pulling her back. The last line in the story: 'she was surprised to see the family dog, a Sheltie that had died many years before, with her deceased parents, waiting for her.'

"As far as I was concerned, Jesus had answered my question."

In Revelation, John writes of creatures. But we also know from Jesus how much more the Lord values humans (and that only we are in His image). "And I heard every creature in Heaven and on earth and under the sea and in the sea, and all therein, saying, 'To Him Who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might for ever and ever!'" he wrote in 5:13.

From Ecclesiastes 3:21  "Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down to the earth?"

It tells us right there that we don't know for certain.

What about putting pets down, or killing other animals? When needed for food, and done with dignity, there seems nothing wrong with it. Most of us eat meat. But how about "sport" hunting? One priest who's an avid outdoorsman has written that for him it is a spiritual experience seeing life leave a deer's eyes (after shooting it). That struck us as a bit odd.

At any rate, more viewpoints:

"Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote about animals and the afterlife," argued another viewer. "The animal is owned by God and reflects the love of God; when it dies, the animal's soul no longer exists. The love of God that the animal reflected, however, lives on."

"I frequent your website often and want to relate a conversation I had with my then five-year-old son," wrote yet another, Glen Dempsey, of Destrehan, Louisiana. "He asked me if our dog would go to Heaven. I try my best to be honest and prayed for an appropriate answer. Without much thought the answer came to me. The response was: 'If God thought enough of his animals to save them on the ark, they must be pretty special in his eyes.' While I didn't answer my son's question directly, he was more than satisfied with the answer and I never heard the question again!"

Said John Gilligan of Peekskill, New York: "Your comments on animals and the new book are tremendous and important . I forwarded article to the president of U.S. Humane Society,  who deals with the issues you mentioned every day and really does God's work. I will buy book next month from you."   

"When I was probably in grade school Ė maybe 7th or 8th -- our next door neighbors had a son who was a teenager," noted a viewer from West Grove, Pennsylvania. "I played with his brother who was my age. He developed testicular cancer and ultimately succumbed to the disease.

"His mother used to talk to my mom and I know he was in a lot of pain. They were sportsmen and always had guns around the house. At some of these times he would be in terrible pain and say that he was going to shoot himself to put himself out of his misery. My mom, who is very devout, prayed that he not kill himself. 

"Our family had three dogs at the time and one would do all in his power to get out and run the neighborhood. Very rarely would he come back on his own Ė he even got lost on several occasions. The other two dogs would accompany him but he was the leader. 

"My parents live on a quarter acre lot; the street is perhaps eighty feet from their house. He had an old van that he always parked up in the street in front of his house. 

"Well, the week after this neighbor died our dogs got out again and my mom went to look for them. She was astounded to find all three dogs laying under his van on the street. They had never done this before and if you knew them you would know this was other-worldly. My mom always believed it was his way of thanking her for praying for him so that he didnít take his own life. I wanted to share this with you given your recent articles on the topic of animals." 

Many of those who have brushes with death claim they glimpsed animals -- including pets -- in eternity. There are even entire books on the topic.

Claimed one (for your discernment!):

"The tunnel was dark, and every once in a while something that looked like lightning would flash across my path. These flashes were brilliant in color and didn't scare me. At the end of the tunnel was a bright light.

"From the light came two dogs of mine. One was a collie named Mimi who had died three years previously from an infection, and the other was a boxer named Sam who had died two years before after being hit by a car. The dogs came running and jumped on me and kissed my face with their tongues. Their tongues weren't wet, and I felt no weight when they jumped on me.  The dogs seemed to glow from a light that was inside them. 

"I recall saying to myself, 'Thank you, God, for letting my dogs be alive.' I hugged my dogs as tight as I could. I then called my dogs and together we started walking toward the light. All colors were in the light and it was warm, a living thing, and there were people as far as the eye could see, and they were glowing with an inner light -- just like my dogs. In the distance I could see fields, hills, and a sky." 

[resources: Animals in Heaven? Catholics Want to Know!]

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