“All Dogs Go To Heaven,” But What About Felines?

Pets Offer Us the Closest Brush We Can Have with Grace This Side of Things

Jason Thompson / 11.16.20

If animals could speak, the dog would be a blundering outspoken fellow; but the cat would have the rare grace of never saying a word too much.
— Mark Twain

I suppose he didn’t feel any pain as the doctor injected the chemical solution into his IV, but I don’t know. Just like I don’t know what “happens” to animals when they die, or where they “go” per se. I guess there’s that one obscure passage in Ecclesiastes 3, and then there are references in Isaiah and Romans — but even there, it’s vague at best, and open to multiple interpretations. The point is, our family cat died, and he’s not coming back.

As I struggled to process my emotions while consulting with my wife about what decision to make — do we pay out $3000 we don’t have just to get our dying cat somewhat stable and up to speed? Especially in light of a pessimistic assessment from the vet at the Animal Hospital where we had rushed poor Jack, who was showing every sign of imminent mortality? Or do we cut our losses and euthanize … ?

The kids were of course devastated as we reluctantly proceeded with the option to put the cat to sleep. I too was grief stricken, though I have tried to conceal my pain from the kids, all in the interest of being strong for them. Plus, I feel guilty about crying over a pet. I mean, it is just an animal, isn’t it?

However we might feel about all dogs going to heaven — or whatever our theological position is about the place of animals in the eschaton — the reality is that we legitimately hurt when we lose a friend, even a four-footed, furry companion, or rather especially a four-footed, furry companion. Animals (the relatively domesticated kind, at least) offer us possibly the closest brush we can have with the realm of grace this side of things. They inhabit virtually every characteristic of the grace of God, or rather a life liberated thereby. Think about it: They are carefree, they live only to lounge, eat, and play. And Jack loved to play. He instinctively engaged me and the kids by nipping at our feet, boxing with his outstretched paws, and when he was feeling especially affectionate, cuddling and climbing into my lap for a good purr and the obligatory strokes he knew I would give him. My wife hated when he climbed or even dared to recline on the furniture. But when she wasn’t looking, I would let him sleep next to me in the bed. (Don’t tell her.)

A pet doesn’t judge us. A pet doesn’t interrupt us when we’re venting and unloading our frustrations, seeking nothing but a listening ear instead of a condemning tongue. A pet accepts us as we are. In fact, there’s a curious passage in Romans 8 that indicates, the animals are in a sense waiting on us to “get it together” — not in the sense of judgment and disappointment that we fall far short of what God created us to be, but rather in joyful, quiet anticipation that we will one day step into the fullness of whom Christ died to make us. In other words, our pets, in a sense, believe in us, more than we believe in ourselves.

I miss my cat, and I didn’t think I would. I’m allergic to felines, after all, and we only got him initially because we had a problem with mice. But our resident exterminator grew on me and became an irreplaceable companion and member of the family. I mean, what wasn’t to love? After all, he lacked all the vestiges of canine ineptitude and stupidity. Cats, after all are the best philosophers

As the days have passed since his untimely death (he was only 3 years old), I have considered the passage in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” And while I have tried to deny my genuine grief, it eventually occurred to me: Jesus wept. He is the blessed One who mourned at his friend’s funeral, who mourned over the unbelief of the people he came to redeem, who understands the temptations and trials we face, and who, to save us, interceded on our behalf with “strong tears and crying.” Jesus is the fulfillment of the Beatitudes. And this has helped me because I don’t want to admit I’m sad, nor do I want to experience the sorrow welling up in me. In short, I don’t want to be reminded of my frailty and of the fact that I ultimately need God. I really don’t want to be “poor in spirit” — I rather enjoy the illusion of self-sufficiency and resilience. Yet Jesus became the needy person I should be as he hung on the cross and in perfect humility trusted God in my place.

I don’t know if I’ll see Jack again, though I hope I will. I do know I will see the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The One who wept will one day wipe away every tear from my eyes, even the ones I keep trying to hide from my kids. (By the way, don’t tell them I’m secretly in the basement crying as I reminisce about Jack.)