Do pets go to Heaven?

By Chris Sparks

The "blessing of the animals" takes place at churches around the world on Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Ask any pet owner if their beloved Fido, Kitty, or even Pudgie will join them one day (God willing) in Heaven, and the answer is always an emphatic “Yes!”

This has to be one of the most common questions people have about the Catholic faith. Of course, in the face of the grief of a person who has lost a beloved pet, it’s hard to say anything other than yes.

But the true answer is: We really don’t know.

The Church does not teach definitively whether or not there will be animals in Heaven, or in the new earth after the Resurrection of the dead. The Scriptures do describe animals at peace in the new creation (see, for instance, Isaiah 11:6-9; 65:25), but that may be symbolic.

Aquinas says
Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) held, according to his followers, that there would be neither plants nor animals in the new world after the end of time. He didn’t put his answer in writing, since he left his Summa Theologiae unfinished when he died. It was completed after his death by his students, and they settled on animals being excluded from the afterlife.

However (brace yourselves!), St. Thomas Aquinas and his students have not always been right — we see that in his rejection of the Immaculate Conception, which the Church later defined as infallible dogma in 1854.

Apologist and author Jimmy Akin points out that the “standard theological analysis” has generally been that animals would not be in Heaven, but that this is not binding. Generally, the reasoning is that human persons are immortal because we have spiritual souls; animals, on the other hand, have a lower sort of soul, a merely animal and not personal soul. The Church has not taught in a binding or official way on this point, Akin says.

Philosopher Peter Kreeft, on the other hand, asks in Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven: Why not?

Much more reasonable is C.S. Lewis’ speculation that we will be “between the angels who are our elder brothers and the beasts who are our jesters, servants, and playfellows” (That Hideous Strength). Scripture seems to confirm this: “thy judgments are like the great deep; man and beast thou savest, O Lord” (Psalm 36:6). Animals belong in the “new earth” (Revelation 21:1) as much as trees.

He also cited C.S. Lewis’ theory about animals sharing in the salvation of their human masters as humans share in the life of Christ. Our pets, then, may in some fashion follow us to Heaven, elevated and sanctified when we are elevated and sanctified.

When a pet is not a pet
There’s a further possibility, hinted at from the lives of the saints.

We know that angels can arrange matter to look like whatever God wills and permits. So some pets may be waiting for their masters in Heaven because the “pet” wasn’t an animal at all, but an angel assigned to them. Consider the famous example of St. John Bosco’s mysterious dog Grigio, whom he considered a possible guardian angel. The dog would appear when he needed it and, on at least one occasion, disappeared from inside a house with the doors and windows shut. It lived for at least 20 years with no sign of slowing down.

Also, remember that St. Faustina saw demons under the appearance of a pack of black dogs (see Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 320). If fallen angels appear like that, then holy angels can certainly do it, as well! Still, best not to leap to any conclusions that one’s own beloved pet is actually an angel-in-disguise without some solid evidence. Non-angelic pets too can be a great blessing from God.

Further, as my colleague Zeke Chichester likes to point out, from the eternal perspective, all of creation, past, present, and future, is present to God simultaneously. That means that every animal, every plant, everything that ever has existed, is existing, or will exist, in some sense, is before God. All of creation depends on the knowledge and love of God for existence, and the knowledge and love of God are eternal, everlasting.

Eternal lives
Also, as C.S. Lewis hypothesizes, things that are part of our lives may be part of our eternal lives. During apparitions to saints and mystics, the saints appear clothed as they were in life, at times carrying tools or objects associated with them; Jesus and Mary, the two people we know for sure whose soul and body are already reunited, appear to visionaries clothed.

If non-living things like clothing have a place in the next world because of their connection to adopted sons and daughters of God, there’s no reason to definitively exclude living things like pets.

There may be hope yet for Fido, Kitty, and Pudgie.
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