Wednesday, March 27, 2013

All Dogs Go to Heaven: Musings on the Souls of Animals

11:22 am: HE'S NOT IN KIDNEY FAILURE!  He's still a very sick little kitten and he may never be terribly healthy, but he's not in immediate life-threatening danger.
Sparkle and Levi, 2012

The Question I'm Anticipating

When a pet dies, it's natural for a child to ask if or assume that they will see the pet again in heaven.  After all, pets are a part of the family, especially from a child's point of view.  Pets and kids share a place in the pack order (at least my kids and my dog seem to think so) and see the world from a similar perspective (approximately adult knee level). The question of pets and heaven is a question that I've been asked many times since Pepper died last spring. It's a question I'm likely to be asked again in the near (I hope not too near) future.
Dr. Pepper and Gloria c. 2006

"Your kitten is a very sick kitty."

Our sweet little 18 month old kitten we adopted only three months ago is having serious health issues and the vet isn't very hopeful. He thinks there is some sort of aggressive genetic issue going on that is shutting down various systems in the little guy's body. We're going to do everything we reasonably can to keep him healthy for as long as possible and give him a fighting chance, but we are also being realistic about the fact that he may not have long to live. We've had just long enough to fall in love with him, but not nearly long enough to. . . well. . . just not nearly long enough. He's been a little off kilter since we got him and this is the second time the vet's rushed over to see him. Antibiotics and steroids seem to be perking him up a bit, but the heart of the matter is that while we don't know for sure how long we have with him, we know now that our role in his life is to treat him with kindness and dignity for his short little life. 
Coca Cola and Clark, 2013

Our Pets are Memorable Parts of our Lives

Our pets are such a big part of our lives. When I look back on my childhood, many of my fondest memories involve the dogs and cats that we had.  One of my first memories is of when our Old English Sheepdog, Nelson was hit by a truck. I was devastated. He was my best friend. We loved our animals with passion in my home when I was a kid and it's an ethic that I'm proud to be passing on to my own kids.  It's really not much of a wonder why I feel such a kinship with St. Francis of Assisi.
Nelson and Sparky, c. 1981

This is sucktastic

Inevitably, my children will ask sometime in the next weeks or months (a year if we're lucky, several if we're granted a miracle-I'll be thrilled to see him reach his 2nd birthday in October) where Clark has gone when he dies and why God let such a sweet young cat die. It's confusing and "sucktastic" (as a friend on facebook called this situation) for me as an adult, let alone for a kid. I'm really struggling for the right words and the right timing as I talk to the kids about this while it unfolds.  Right now, we're going with minimal explanation.  Basically, "Clark is sick, but we don't know how sick yet." It would honestly be way easier to talk to them about if he were much older.
Sweetie Pie and Mischief, c. 1996

Will I see my pet again in heaven?

Yes.  I truly believe you will. God has promised that one day this whole world is going to get the ultimate makeover. No.  Better than that.  I don't even know how to describe it but it's even better than just a makeover.  We're going to be resurrected like Christ with new bodies.  Not new angel wings and harps sissy pointless bodies like when the cartoon character goes to heaven but really new physical bodies that work right. If God is reconstructing the whole world and all of our bodies, of course there are going to be animals there!  They are a big part of creation.  No, they are not created in God's image in the way that humans are, but they are still created.  No, they don't have souls in the way that we do, but I challenge you to spend quality time with some animals and still find a way to assert that they have no sort of soul or connection to God at all. Will our pets be resurrected too? No, not the way we will. It might not exactly be Dr. Pepper or Cinderella the stinky cockapoo I grew up with or little Clark the kitten with a rotten lot in life that are there, but that hole that they left when they died will be totally healed and they will never be forgotten.  So when my kids ask me if our pets are in heaven with Uncle David?  I will answer emphatically, "Yes. And I bet he's feeding them french fries right now."  The most theologically sound answer?  I doubt it.  The most pastoral and parentally responsible answer? The best I can come up with, anyway.

Cinderella and Clark's Lady Bridget, c. 1996

Why did God let my kitten die?

This is a much stickier question that gets to many of the deeper problems people have with the idea of a good God. God does not want your kitten to die. He didn't "give cancer" to your dog. But our world is broken. Because our world is broken, kittens die. But in that brokenness, we can see glimpses of beauty and blessing and promise. We can allow the hardships of life to consume us or we can cling to the beautiful. We can thank God for the blessings or we can rail at him because things right now don't seem fair to us.  We can be defeated or we can be a light. The bottom line here for us is that we have a chance to give a dying kitten a home where he is loved. If we hadn't adopted him, we'd never have had the joy of getting to know him, the laughter he adds to our lives while he's here and he would have sat in the shelter (or worse found a home and gone back when the medical problems were uncovered and then sat in the shelter or been euthanized too soon) until he died. At least this way, he'll have a short but loved and full life. What we need to do right now is to make sure he is treated with love, respect and dignity no matter how long he has left.

Clark and Sparkle, 2013

Sometimes "Forever" Just Isn't Long Enough

My apologies if this is a depressing post.  I'm feeling a bit sad today. We just didn't realize when we gave Clark his forever home that forever was going to be so short. I really thought he was going to be one of the pets the kids remember as being there throughout their childhood like Sparkle and Coca Cola. We knew we needed to take him in.  We knew he was the "right cat." We are just a little surprised by the why.  It wasn't for our sakes, it was for his. It wasn't so our family would have another cat, it was so this cat would have a family. Even if it's only for a short while, he's part of our family and he will be cherished while he's here.

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