Will our pets be with us in Heaven?

Dear Father Joe: My dog died and my priest told me that pets don’t go to heaven. This really breaks my heart – how can it be heaven without the creatures God gives us? Is he right?

Possibly not, but I’m sure he means well. I’d like to start off by offering you an image and see if it doesn’t help you with your question.

As a priest, I celebrate funerals often. In many churches, there is a luncheon afterward right on site. In my last parish, the hall where we had funeral lunches was right below the place where we prayed the funeral Mass. As a result of this, at almost every funeral, the wonderful smells of the upcoming lunch would seep into the church. As we finished the funeral Mass, the church was filled with the smell of fresh rolls, cheesy potatoes and all sorts of other wonderful delights, The smells we enjoyed were a hint of what was to come.

In the same way, our beautiful, generous and all-powerful God has filled the earth with things that can serve to remind us of the joy to come in the kingdom of heaven. (The Mass is a perfect example of this.)

Beyond the Mass, there are all sorts of other wonders God has given us to provide us with a sense of the joy to come, and for some of us, that includes our pets.

Some people like pets, some people don’t. That’s wonderful. What isn’t wonderful is when one group assumes that their preference is somehow superior or more holy than the other.

Me? I like ‘em. My crazy, wonderful, knucklehead dog is literally right here next to me as I type this on the back porch. Currently, he is trying very hard to eat the bumblebees that keep flying by. I love it. When I think of heaven, I hope and pray I make it and, if I do, I hope that my dog is there and it hurts nothing at all for me to hope that. As my life is right now, I can’t imagine it being heaven without him.

At the same time, I recognize that I am not God (that one’s easy!) and I don’t claim to know his mind, so I recognize that heaven may not include pets. My assumption is that if this is the case, I won’t be sorrowed by that fact because if I were in sorrow, I would not be in heaven.

Get it?

So – let it go. Be at peace. If it brings us comfort to picture our pets in heaven, then there is no harm in doing so. If you and I are right and our pets are there, that’s going to be awesome and I assume my dog will be successful there in catching bees. If we are wrong and our pets aren’t there, I assume that we won’t notice because part of what will make heaven heavenly is the fact that, as Scripture promises, there will be no more pain, no more sorrow.

In the meantime, if someone tells you that I am wrong and that they are absolutely sure there are no pets in heaven, just smile, nod, pray for them and thank God for the gift of your pet.

Enjoy another day in God’s presence.

On Oct. 4, in honor of the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, many churches hold a blessing of pets and other animals. Check with your local parish.