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Saturday, July 03, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Is there an afterlife for pets?

By David Briggs
Religion News Service

Tim McCarthy listens to grieving pet owners at a recent memorial service for animals at the Cleveland Buddhist Temple. More houses of worship are responding to owners' beloved pets.
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Do all dogs go to heaven?

In some households, a dog's life could be considered paradise on Earth, with an indulgent baby-boomer generation creating such institutions as doggie day care, doggie spas and doggie vacations.

And the connection doesn't stop there — witness the growth in pet cemeteries and sympathy cards for grieving animal owners.

But what about the next life?

As houses of worship respond by offering more services, such as the blessing of animals, speculation has increased on the afterlife of pets.

Several books, Web sites and religious services keep alive the memory of pets and offer hope to owners that death will not separate them from their canine loved ones.

In an animal-memorial service at the Cleveland Buddhist Temple, Arlene Rosenberg joined other grieving owners in a ceremony celebrating their pets' lives. She placed a picture of her pooch, Golda, on the altar and talked about "the tremendous joy, empathy and compassion" the dog brought to her family.

Still fresh in her grief from her pet's death three weeks earlier, the Jewish woman from University Heights, Ohio, said she found the Buddhist service comforting.

Louise Foresman of Cleveland mourns the death of her dog, Laughter, at a recent memorial service for animals at the Cleveland Buddhist Temple.
"There's no doubt in my mind (Golda) has an incredibly beautiful soul," she said. "I feel very strongly that I will be reunited with her one day."

Dog owners need the reassurance that they will be reunited with their pets in the next life in much the same way that religious people cope with the death of a loved one with the belief they will meet again in heaven, some observers say.

"It gives more than comfort," said Mary Buddemeyer-Porter, author of "Will I See Fido in Heaven?" "Until they actually believe their pets are in heaven, they can't have any comfort."

Though speculation by academics on animal afterlife is limited, and there are no direct biblical texts on the subject, several trends have led to a serious interest in the issue. The trends include the gradual historical shift from animals as servants of an agricultural society to the modern pet culture.

Several theories have emerged.

Some say cats and dogs are immune from both heaven and hell because they do not have the mental capacity to make choices affecting salvation.

Others say that, precisely because they are sinless, dogs and other animals will be restored in the new creation. It wasn't animal sin that ruined the first Eden, and there is no reason animals will be kept out of the kingdom to come, believers say. They point to the presence of animals in the images of heaven in Revelation.

"All of the animals will go to heaven. They are sinless," said Niki Behrikis Shanahan, author of "There Is Eternal Life for Animals." "Every creature that was created was created for eternity."

A third theological stream speculates that some animals will go to heaven and others will not. For example, animals that exhibited viciousness toward other animals or human life may not make it; animals that were caring and gentle in this life could have a place in paradise.

Animal-rights advocates often point to the parable of the rich man and the beggar in the 16th chapter in the Gospel of Luke. The rich man who feasted sumptuously while the beggar sought scraps from his table ends up in hell. Would not the dogs who did not ignore the beggar but licked his sores in apparent comfort end up in heaven with the poor man? The Gospel does not speak to that question.

Just as human beings must wait to find out what the afterlife will be like, so, too, will the fate of pets remain a mystery in this life, many say.

Still, it is important that clergy and theologians are talking about the issue, said Webb, author of "On God and Dogs: A Christian Theology of Compassion for Animals."

"To think about animal resurrection means that these bodies are valued and will be restored; it means that their lives, as well as their deaths, will have to be treated with respect."

And while clergy still are hesitant about giving definitive answers, observers say pet owners are much less likely today to be dismissed as childish or told offhand that their dogs or cats are excluded from heaven.

In a recent discussion in The Joyful Noiseletter, the publication of the Fellowship of Merry Christians, the Rev. John Battern, a United Methodist pastor from Iowa, said it seems reasonable God would want humans to use their full capacity to love in heaven. Thus, he said, "Yes, Virginia, there are dogs and cats and other wonderful creatures in heaven."

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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