Conservative Roman Catholic theology says animals cannot go to heaven because they have no souls, but Pope Francis appears to have kindled a new debate on whether there is a place for them in the afterlife.
During a weekly general audience at the Vatican last month, the Pope sought to comfort a grief-stricken little boy whose dog had died saying, “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”
The Humane Society of the United States says it has been flooded with e-mails. If Francis does, in fact, believe animals have souls, "Then we ought to seriously consider how we treat them. We have to admit that these are sentient beings, and they mean something to God," said Christine Gutleben, Senior Director of Faith Outreach for that organization.
I have owned many dogs in my life. I remember years ago when my little Pekingese “Chubby” passed away it took me three years before I welcomed another dog into my life.
My best friend emailed me to say that someone she worked with had a dog that needed to be adopted. The dog belonged to an elderly man who was having difficulty taking care of her. Attached to the email were three pictures of her. My friend was concerned that she might be intruding, but knew that I needed someone to polish the rust from my heart.
I contacted the person and made an appointment to come and see the dog. When I arrived at his home the man said the dog had belonged to his father. He led me to the back door where I saw a fluffy dog with feet as big as plates and a face to die for. It was love at first sight. The man said “Duchess” was ten years old. I said I didn’t care. I wanted to take “Duchess” home. He gave me her leash, a bag of dog food and all her papers. He refused to take any money for her.
“Duchess” was part of my life for four years. I came home one night after work to find her in the bathroom. She seemed disoriented. I managed to help her get her bearings and let her out to do what dogs do.
When she did not come to the door to come back in, I went outside to look for her. I called her name and she came. I opened the door for her come in but she had great difficulty climbing the three steps so I helped her up.
I gave her some fresh water and put down her food. She ate and drank a little and laid down next to me on the floor. I fell asleep on the couch only to be awakened by her barking in the bedroom. I went to her and found her walking around in circles.
I was frightened and called the emergency animal hospital to let them know I was on my way. After I hung up the phone, I knew in my heart that she was dying. I immediately called a veterinarian who made house calls. I didn’t want her to be frightened by being placed on a cold metal table facing a stranger in her final moments of life.
While I waited, I laid on the floor with her stoking her fluffy fur and telling her repeatedly that I loved her. The look in her eyes is something I will never forget. She was trusting me to help her.
When the vet arrived about two hours later, he examined her and gave me the devastating news that she was full of tumors.
I asked if he could put her to sleep. Answering “yes”, he went to his car and returned with two needles. One to make her go to sleep and the other to stop her heart. As he gave her the first injection, I placed her head in my hand and gave her a kiss. Then came the second injection. Within moments my pal was gone.
As I write this, memories come flooding back. I was inconsolable and somewhere I read a quote that comforted me. “Gone to fetch the stick that God has thrown; to wag her tail forever and hear the loving words: Good dog. Good dog.”
Friar Jack Wintz believes from the Garden of Eden, to Noah and the Ark there is evidence of God’s fatherly care for his creatures. "Our God is a God of overflowing love, goodness, and beauty who is ready to give over everything to those he loves. Surely the Creator would not suddenly stop loving and caring for the creatures he had put into existence with so much care!"