Clergy Corner with Pastor Kevin Smith

Of Dogs and Death

On July 14, we made the difficult decision to put our almost 14 year old retired racing Greyhound, Walter, to sleep. He had a good life, a successful racing career, love and a comfy dog bed at our house for almost 9 years. Over the last few months, we had witnessed his daily decline due to spinal stenosis, cataracts, gum disease, and hearing loss. It had become difficult for him to have a quality life, even to stand and walk. Still, the decision and the finality of the moment was and is very difficult.

As a pastor, one of the questions I am asked is will we see our pets in heaven? Do “all dogs go to heaven” as the movie says? In short, I don’t know. There is no direct indication in the Bible that our pets will or will not meet us in heaven. Theologians are split on the issue. Some say that animals do not have a soul in the same way as humans, thus they will not experience the afterlife in the same way that we do. Others say that since God created all the animals (Genesis 1-2) and made a covenant not only with Noah but all creation in Genesis 9, that animals could experience an afterlife similar to humans. Some also make a case that God promises us that heaven will be a happy place and if seeing our pet again will make us happy, then surely God has the power and the capability to make that happen. In Isaiah’s description (Isaiah 11) of the new heaven and new earth, several different kinds of animals are present. Revelation 19 describes Jesus’ return on white horses, so it appears that animals are present in heaven.

As one who learned to walk by pulling up and holding on to our American Samoyed, Cotton, who always dreamed of becoming a veterinarian and started college as a pre-vet major, one who visited the LSU Veterinary school on many occasions, volunteered at the Baton Rouge Zoo, and has been owned by many dogs and cats through the years, I hope to see them again. But whatever comes, my trust is in Jesus and his grace, mercy, and love. Whatever comes, the animals I have known and loved have made me a happier and better person.

A veterinarian was called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolf hound named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife Lisa, and their little boy Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle. Belker was examined and found he was dying of cancer. The veterinarian told the family we couldn’t do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.

As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience. The next day, The veterinarian felt the familiar catch in his throat as Belker’s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last
time, that he wondered if the boy understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.

The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion. They sat together for a while after Belker’s death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, ‘I know why.’ Startled, they all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned them. He said, ‘People are born so that they can learn how to live a good Life – – like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?’ The six-year-old continued, ‘Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as
long.’

Do all dogs and pets go to heaven? I don’t know, but I certainly hope so.

Thinking about dogs and death,

Kevin Smith


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