Here is the second of hopefully many, many newsletters for Riley’s Fan Club. Dave and I talked about newsletter content, and decided I would cover a different medical topic every other month. I tried to write the first newsletter on heartworm disease, and it turned out to be on health maintenance (not such a different topic). I tried again to write a newsletter on heartworm disease, and this one is completely off the wall, but bear with me… I believe it is just as important.
I held onto this newsletter for several weeks until today, when I had to euthanize a precious pet for a grieving owner. The only way this sad ending to such a horrible disease made any sense was to picture the bunny hopping, once again healthy and young, from her owner’s arms into the arms of God.
You recall from my first newsletter “I love to be boring.” I love helping owners maintain the health of their pets. Yet, inevitably we end up in the exam room or living room or outdoors, making end of life decisions… hopefully with an old pet, full of years. However, sometimes it is a pup with a rare disease, a kitten who has had an accident, a pocket pet who is here for only a matter of months…you get the idea. Most of you have been through the heartbreak. We live 80 years or so, they live 10 years or so… that’s a lot of sadness for animal lovers like us.
Almost without fail, a question comes up that I am not qualified to answer. I was not taught the answer in veterinary school. I was not taught the answer in church. But I need the answer as badly as you do, and I am absolutely sure of my conviction. So please work through this with me. Do not be offended or afraid to disagree. I will just walk you through my heart struggles and hope it helps you answer the question for yourself.
Everyone has asked at some point in their life, “Do pets go to heaven?” and I can tell you when a seven year old asks, almost in a panic, before you are about to euthanize his friend, a shoulder shrug will not suffice. When Russ and I held our first dog Benji, knowing what a rare, horrible, untreatable heart condition he was suddenly dying of, I had to be able to tell Benji that it was ok to let go–not for his own sake, but for mine.
Do pets go to heaven? I can tell you emphatically “YES!” Of course they do. Do you want to argue the philosophical questions of whether or not they have a soul? Whether heaven exists? Whether this is all there is? I will be happy to, but debate is not my strong trait. You may have guessed… I lean a tiny bit toward the emotional.
However, I will try to move on to logic.
1) Animals are not separated from God by sin. There is no such thing as a “bad dog,” or a bad creature of any kind. Not really. They do what they instinctively know or have been conditioned to do. They are not born with a sin nature, as we are.
2) Animals have inherent worth. Every animal is actively created by God. If we have to back up to “Does God exist?” or “Is the creation account of Genesis true?” we’d better talk in person! If we agree on these, and that God is good, I believe we can surmise that God still has his hand in active creation in the world. Therefore, even if Benji had not been our pet, but a Wild Mountain Poodle, he would still be important to God, and thus worth keeping beyond this world.
3) Heaven is perfect. Jesus has gone to prepare a place especially for us there.
4) The Bible says that animals are there.
5) Do you think heaven is not big enough??
If, when we get to heaven, we do not see OUR beloved pet, we WILL see our Savior, and be so overwhelmed, everything we wondered about will be outshined, or make perfect sense or both.
I hope with all my heart that this is a happy time for you, that you have your pet in your lap at the computer, or are maybe deciding on a pet to adopt when the time is right. When you do have to make the difficult decision to end a friend’s suffering, or have to go through the pain of having a pet pass away, I want you to have peace. Peace that he or she will be with you when you get to heaven. At least peace that ultimately, everything will be ok.
More often, it is not the seven year old who stops me before euthanasia to ask if their friend will be in heaven. It is the adult, who asks and then says with his or her eyes, “I don’t care what you believe or whether it’s true. I need you to say ‘Yes.’”
Now you know… I have not told you “yes” in your saddest time to make the grief process less painful, though I hope it has. I have not told you “yes” because I know you need desperately to hear that everything is going to be ok. I have told you “Yes, your friend will be there” because I believe with all my heart it is true. I BELIEVE our pets will be with us in heaven, and I KNOW God is good, and really, if we have that assurance, everything will be ok.
Benji and Baby Amanda, 2/00