ON THE DEATH OF A VERY GOOD DOG
"For the 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 decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God." (Romans 8:19-21)
Our family is mourning the loss of our little mixed-breed dog, Daisy, who has been a faithful companion to us for many years. Since she was a rescue, we are not certain of her age, but she was around 15. That's a lot in dog years.
She was blind and deaf, her kidneys were failing, and she had difficulty getting up and standing, but she would still thump her tail on the floor whenever she was aware one of us was nearby. And she liked to be carried outside to bark -- while I still held her -- at whatever it was she thought she saw or smelled. She was ever the faithful watchdog. On her last night we carried her to a place to see and smell what she could of her last sunset in this world.
She was a very good dog. Better than most people, actually. Dogs teach us the beauty of trust, faithfulness, loyalty, persistence, and unconditional love. A friend once told me that if you lock your spouse and your dog in your car trunk, only one of them will be happy to see you when you let them out. I haven't tried this, but I am sure it's true.
When our dogs die, we weep not so much for them but for ourselves, how much we will miss them. No more long walks together, chasing balls, squeaky toys, happy barks, wagging tails, special snacks, car rides, and furry faces to stroke. The dog bowls and bed are now empty. There's no little pupper basking in the sunlight from the window today.
"Do dogs go to heaven?" Throughout the years I've heard this question dismissed as only a child's tearful concern when they've lost a pet. But I spent a lot of time on our family farm with a variety of pets: horses, dogs, cats, pigs, goats, even kestrels and crows. I've always felt there was more connection between us and them than we often give credit. (Of course, we can overplay that connection, too. I'm not speaking of pantheism or the lion-king-circle-of-life thing.) Consider the following:
God tells Job about the mountain goats giving birth, and about the wild donkey, and other creatures that God watches over (Job 39). The Psalmist proclaims, "O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great" (Ps 104:24-25). This psalm is echoed in the Anglican hymn by Cecil Frances Alexander (1848)…
All things bright and beautiful, / All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful, / The Lord God made them all.
And more from the Psalms: "Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O LORD" (36:6). "The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing" (145:15-16). The righteous man has regard for the life of his beast (Prov 12:10). Isaiah wrote that the wolf and lamb would graze together in the new creation (Isa 11:6; 66:25). The Father, Jesus says, watches over the sparrows (Luke 12:6). The little dogs (family pets) entered into Jesus' consideration of a Gentile woman's request for healing (Matt 15:27). And we read that our Lord himself will return mounted upon a white horse (Rev 19:11). If we know nothing else about animals in heaven, we know this -- horses are there (Rev 19:14).
So the question, do dogs go to heaven is not a childish one but one that resonates within us, and reflects our stewardship over God's good creation. As seen in the words from Romans 8 above, the lower creation shares in both the suffering and the glory of the redeemed. All of creation groans in bondage to decay, and yet creation will be set free "in the freedom of the glory of the children of God" (Rom 8:21). We can only imagine what that will look like.
Perhaps the following scene, a favorite of mine from C. S. Lewis's story about heaven and hell may illustrate this. Here, a visitor to heaven is asking about a glorious woman he sees, who is being followed by a happy entourage of family, friends, and other creatures. The visitor asks his guide...
"And how … but hullo! What are all these animals? A cat -- two cats -- dozens of cats. And all those dogs... why, I can't count them. And the birds. And the horses."
"They are her beasts."
"Did she keep a sort of zoo? I mean, this is a bit too much."
"Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them."
I looked at my Teacher in amazement.
"Yes," he said. "It is like when you throw a stone into a pool, and the concentric waves spread out further and further. Who knows where it will end? Redeemed humanity is still young, it has hardly come to its full strength. But already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life."
(C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce; MacMillan, 1946; pp 108-09.)
So, thank you, Lord, for the blessing of having this little creature of yours!
And may you rest in peace, dear Daisy, until the dawning of the new heavens and earth!