Will Our Pets Join Us in Eternity?

Note: Due to health challenges of a serious but not severe nature, blogging will be light this week. Here is one I composed last week: 

Most of you know that I write a column for Our Sunday Visitor entitled “Pastoral Answers.” A few years ago a collection of over 500 questions and answers was complied into a Book called Catholic and Curious. Every now and again, here on the blog I like to feature an interesting question covered there. You see my weekly columns at OSV.COM

So Here is a recent question and my answer:

I am told that pets do have a soul, but not a rational souls as do we. What happens to the souls of pets when they die? Is there any divine consideration?  Paul VanHoudt. Erie CO 

In terms of answering your question, some definitions and distinctions should be made. You are correct in asserting that pets have a soul. The term “soul” technically understood is the animating or life-giving principle of any living thing. Hence animals have souls, even plants do, and clearly, we have souls. When the soul (or animating principle) mysteriously departs the physical aspects of the living thing cease to function and fall into decay and disintegration.  What makes the human soul unique is, as you also point out, we have rational souls. It is that part of our soul we often call our spirit. The spirit is not a third aspect of our being. It is part of our soul. 

Having rational souls distinguishes us dramatically from animals such as mammals and primates. Some today assert that we are not very different at all from the animals. But this is demonstrably untrue. Physically we have many similarities with other mammals: lungs, eyes, heart, limbs, etc. But the similarities stop there. You will know something by its fruits and it is clear that animals lack  a rational soul while we have one. We are highly organized and have made vast technological progress over the centuries. We have governments, universities, libraries, hospitals, courts, cathedrals and endless technologies. We debate justice, hold each other accountable, reward good and punish wrong-doing and mourn our dead. We are innovative and always asking “why?” We have been to the moon and back and search the stars. The list could go on, but animals, even the highest primates do none of this and have shown no progress toward such things. This demonstrates that they do not have rational souls whereas we humans do. 

As to your question, it is revealed to us by God that we have immortal souls and further, that our bodies too will rise in a perfected and glorified state. This is not said of the animals, at least not every individual animal. So the most common and “safe” answer is that when animals die they just cease to exist. 

However, this is not definitively taught and there are indications that animals, at least in some general way will partake of the new creation at the Second Coming. For example, Isaiah described the Messianic age as a time when The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the nest of the cobra… (Isaiah 11:6-9). St Paul also writes that Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:19-21). And finally St. John in his vision of the New Creation saw Christ seated in glory and Christ said to him: “See I make all things new.” (Rev 21:5) 

This does not necessarily mean that every cow or hyena that ever lived will come back to life but only that animals, as a group and in varied species will partake of the New Creation after the Second Coming. 

Therefore I think our pets will, as you state, receive a special  “divine consideration” since they were part of our lives. I cannot know this for certain, but I think the argument can be made. Further, in heaven, we will live in eternity, in the fullness of time. And while we may not experience the comprehensive now that God does, it would seem we do have some access to our past which includes our pets. How we will experience all this is mysterious and so I pose this whole answer as speculative theology. 

There is however, one danger to avoid. We must not reduce heaven’s joys to having earthly things. Heaven is far greater than any thing we can imagine, be it pets or any earthly joy. 

14 Replies to “Will Our Pets Join Us in Eternity?”

  1. The “afterlife” or “life after death” is present in many different religions and beliefs. In Christianity, the afterlife comes in the form of heaven and hell. If one accepts Christ as their savior, they go to heaven. Otherwise, they go to hell. Putting it that way, shouldn’t dogs be unable to enter into heaven?

  2. This question has exercised me since the death of my beloved cat Molly. If inanimate creation can and will be transfigured (not beatified) then a fortiori animate creatures can be restored to existence and transfigured.

  3. Thank you for this very insightful theological analysis, Monsignor. The indifferent, if not contemptuous, attitude toward animals among many Catholics does not serve well the Church, especially when the support for animal welfare is the only positive development in the secular ‘progressive’ camp.

  4. I have lost many animals and just lost two of my parakeets; one was over nine and the other over six years old. I miss them terribly and the thing that comforts me is that God created them and He takes everything He created back to himself; they are His. What He does with them is fine with me.

  5. Having rational souls distinguishes us dramatically from animals such as mammals and primates. Some today assert that we are not very different at all from the animals. But this is demonstrably untrue. Physically we have many similarities with other mammals: lungs, eyes, heart, limbs, etc. But the similarities stop there. You will know something by its fruits and it is clear that animals lack a rational soul while we have one. We are highly organized and have made vast technological progress over the centuries. We have governments, universities, libraries, hospitals, courts, cathedrals and endless technologies. We debate justice, hold each other accountable, reward good and punish wrong-doing and mourn our dead. We are innovative and always asking “why?” We have been to the moon and back and search the stars. The list could go on, but animals, even the highest primates do none of this and have shown no progress toward such things. This demonstrates that they do not have rational souls whereas we humans do.

  6. Sorry my first comment was incomplete. Here is the complete comment:

    You write: “Having rational souls distinguishes us dramatically from animals such as mammals and primates. Some today assert that we are not very different at all from the animals. But this is demonstrably untrue. Physically we have many similarities with other mammals: lungs, eyes, heart, limbs, etc. But the similarities stop there. You will know something by its fruits and it is clear that animals lack a rational soul while we have one. We are highly organized and have made vast technological progress over the centuries. We have governments, universities, libraries, hospitals, courts, cathedrals and endless technologies. We debate justice, hold each other accountable, reward good and punish wrong-doing and mourn our dead. We are innovative and always asking “why?” We have been to the moon and back and search the stars. The list could go on, but animals, even the highest primates do none of this and have shown no progress toward such things. This demonstrates that they do not have rational souls whereas we humans do.”

    While you are no doubt correct that non-human animals have not done the kinds of things that you mention that we have done, none of this “demonstrates that they do not have rational souls whereas we humans do”. The difference between human beings and non-human animals is a difference of degree, not one in kind. Scientists have observed some non-human animals to engage in all of the rational activities human beings are capable of. Primates can engage in long-term planning; dolphins have an articulate language which allows them to engage in conversation; many animals such as bees have been observed to engage arithmetical reasoning; and researchers at Harvard in the 1990s documented what Jane Goodall hypothesized earlier that apes have a moral code and engage in moral reasoning about how to treat one another. There is no rational ability that is special or unique to humans that some other non-human animals hasn’t been observed to possess. So, the line between human beings and non-human animals is not as sharp as saying that human beings have a feature that non-human animals do not.

  7. From Msgr. Pope: “… the most common and “safe” answer is that when animals die they just cease to exist.”

    Given that it is *not* revealed to us what happens to animals, I think the safest and best answer is “we don’t know whether animals will be in Heaven.” I’m not sure why the default answer is “no” – it seems like the default answer should be neutral, given our lack of information from God.

    It’s not like there are just one or two individual things God created without immortal spirits… it’s a whole vast array of different species and particular animals in each species. That’s a whole lot of beautiful, living creation to “wipe out” from the new heavens and the new earth. And these are feeling and communicating creatures as well (communicating both to each other and some to humans as well), not just merely living things like plants.

    Many animals have experienced great and prolonged suffering on earth…it seems like in His justice and compassion, God would recreate them in Heaven to experience joy.

  8. My wife found an angel in disguise at the pet shelter a little over six years ago. She gives us Jesus’s love unconditionally and has shown us more about faith in these five years than all the years prior. I have it on good authority that she will definitely be looking us up after we lose our mortal coil.

  9. It could also be argued that God ‘remembers’ all blessings of our earthly lives, and so while our pets may not really be in heaven, we might be gifted with a memory of them so full and complete it would almost be as if they were with us.

  10. I find it ironic that any intellectual energy is expended weighing the eternal disposition of pets, alongside those of our fellow brothers & sisters in Christ.

    It is scripturally clear that the value of one single human soul is incalculable in God’s eyes. Little Fido and Muffy aren’t even comparable.

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