Do All Dogs Go to Heaven?

“Where do animals go when they die?”

It is easy to dismiss this question as a young child’s curiosity, but not the business of serious religious thought.  But I don’t think that we should be dismissive of the question.

Many of us have experienced the heartbreak that comes with losing a beloved pet.  We invest so much of our affection, that their loss leaves a noticeable absence in our hearts.  And whether or not that pet goes on to an afterlife, the pain of the person is real.  The pain is real because the affection is real.

If we delve into the question we must do so honestly and without pandering.  We don’t want to spin tales about the great doggy heaven in the sky if there is no foundation for it.  Even if that belief makes us feel better, we cannot fall into the trap of believing in something simply because it is comforting.  That is what those like Sigmund Freud constantly accused us of doing.  Without prejudice we must answer with honesty.

We should probably make a distinction that Dr. Peter Kreeft uses.  Humans are animals, but we are not like other animals because we have reason and free will.  Aristotle defines humans as the rational animal.  The other animals do not have these qualities, so we shall call them “beasts.”  Like us they have mortal bodies that experience pleasure and pain.  The question is whether or not these beasts have immortal souls that will endure past death, as ours do.

Scripture does not tell us anything about the subject.  In fact, much of the Old Testament is vague about an afterlife for humans, let alone beasts.  And Jesus makes no indication that there is a salvation for the rest of the animal kingdom.

However, St. Thomas Aquinas was very clear on the subject.  For him, it was obvious that beasts do not exist in the afterlife.  He points out Aristotle’s observation that humans have a mind that experiences sensation, or as Thomas puts it, a “sensitive soul.”  This sensitive soul is something we have in common with beasts, whose experience is tied directly to the body.

But Aristotle believed that the reason that the human soul can exist after death is because it has an intellect that is not purely tied to the organ of the brain.  In other words, the sensitive soul needs a body to exist.  But man has within his soul spiritual realities like love, truth, and beauty that are not physical things.  So when the body dies in any animal, the sensitive soul dies with it.  But man has also an intellectual soul that does not need a body, and for that reason it can live on (Summa Theologiae I.75.3)

If Thomas and Aristotle are correct then there is no afterlife for our beloved pets.  Their death is a final parting from us.

But are they right?

We must be honest and since God has not given us the answer in Divine Revelation, this might be the case.

But let us also look at it from the point of view of the great C.S. Lewis.  In his book, The Problem of Pain, Lewis tackles not only the mystery of human suffering, but also of other animals.  He admits freely that his thoughts on the pain of beasts are purely speculative, since he too acknowledges an absence of data from the Scriptures.

But he makes some of the same basic observations that Aristotle and Thomas do.  The human soul is immortal because of its intellect.  But that intellect comes from our individuality; that is it comes from the idea that there is a self who can become immortal.  If, as the Buddhists believe, there is no self, then there is nothing that can continue to exists past death.  But since we are a self, we have some kind of immortality.  Lewis believed that beasts could achieve some kind of immortality inasmuch as each they become a “self.”

Let me put it another way.  Most of us don’t care if all dogs go to heaven.  I want to know if my beloved dog, Fred, will be reunited with me.  I don’t want some random dog.  I want Fred.  Fred had no name until he came to our home.  He had no individuality, except by being with man. Keep your dog happy with special cbd treats you can get from

Lewis uses the analogy of how, by man entering into relationship with God, we take on Christ to ourselves.  But by entering into relationship with man, he has been granted something like personhood.  And in that there is a possibility for a self, thus a possibility for immortality.

Dr. Peter Kreeft’s answer to the question of animal immortality is much more straightforward: “Why not?”  There is nothing to prohibit God from providing some kind of afterlife for all beasts.  Isn’t God big enough?

And keep in mind that God is always more loving than we are.  If we love our pets, how much more does God?  If we desire goodness and joy for beasts, whom we did not make, how much more does the God who designed and willed them into being?  They are his creatures.  They are his art.  They are more His pets than ours.

Finally, we believe that there will be a resurrection of our bodies, as well as a new Earth at the end of time.  Why could that resurrection not also bring back the beasts?  This would fulfill Thomas and Aristotle’s reasoning that the soul of beast could only exist within a body.  In this case it would, but in an immortal body.

But notice still have not landed on solid ground.  God has not given us any.  So didn’t God give us a clear answer to the question?  I think that the answer is twofold.

1.  If God told us that beasts could achieve some kind of salvation, there would be those who would preach to them and try to convert them. 

I’m not kidding.  In 2004, a man marched into a lions’ zoo enclosure in Taipei.  He said to them, “Jesus will save you,” and tried to convert them.  It went about as well as you could expect.  Beasts cannot be good nor bad.  They have no ability to be moral, as man does.  But for man to achieve salvation he must be moral.   If God gave a strong hint that beasts could be saved, perhaps too many people would attempt what the man in Taipei did.

2. Humans are above the beasts. 

We are not called to love beasts the same way we love other people. I once asked some of my students if they were caught in a fire and could save either their pet dog or a total stranger, who would they choose.

Some said they would choose their dog.  They said that they loved their dog but did not know the stranger.  It was lost on them that though the man was a stranger, he was made in God’s image in a way that their dog was not.

That stranger has a value greater than their dog.  And while there is nothing wrong with lavishing your pet with affection, it should not be done at the expense of other people.  If God gave us a strong hint that beasts could be saved, I believe that this could lead too easily to others devaluing the lives of other people.

And so, even though these speculations have not brought us certainty, they demonstrate the diversity of thought among Christian thinkers.  But when we are faced with the sadness of losing that pet, that beloved companion, let us trust in the God who loves my dog Fred more than I do.

Copyright © 2013, W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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