Chaplain Bill, “All Dogs Go to Heaven. Fact or Fiction?”

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Image Credit: A Beautiful Mess.

This is Chaplain Bill’s space where he is able to articulate his views on theological, biblical, and philosophical matters. Chaplain Bill has also recently published his own book, Blue-Collar Believer, available in hard copy or for eBook purchase. Also visit his blogsite. The views expressed by Chaplain Bill, and other co-writers, are not necessarily the views of website owner, James Bishop.

All Dogs Go to Heaven

Fact or Fiction?

Is this a product of our creative imaginations and fantasies?

Pop culture, many books, and movies help with thinking that dogs do, pushing Disney films such as the 1989 animated movie “All Dogs Go to Heaven.”

Here we have the dog “Charlie” finding himself in Heaven by “default” because “all dogs go to heaven” after he is murdered. Charlie then con’s his way back to Earth to get back at the killer, finding his old partner, and an orphan girl who can talk to animals. He then has nightmares on what is waiting for him on the other side unless he can prove he is worthy of heaven.

And then of course we have the 1996 sequel, “All Dogs Go to Heaven 2.” Here we have Gabriel’s horn falling from the sky, and Charlie is entrusted to go back to Earth to get it back. It is a fun filled adventure, very imaginative, and Charlie even makes a deal with the devil.

I was talked into going to the movies a few months ago to see with my wife and children the 2017 film “A Dog’s Purpose.” I really did not know much about the film before I went, but just knew of a scene I saw on the news that created some controversy showing “alleged” animal abuse that caused quite a stir. But what I had come to learn that while watching this movie I did become to feel a bit uncomfortable. It was not because of the scene that I saw on the news, but it was basically because of the story line. I did not realize that it was going to be about a dog whose entire life is shown from birth to death, to his five reincarnations as different dog breeds also going from male and female. Every time the dog’s soul is reborn and reincarnated into the body of another dog, it tells a new story from life to death. The climax of the movie is the exception in the last life, where he meets his original owner again as a full-grown man. I guess this is where we find this dog’s particular purpose in life as then the movie ends. This then leaves the questions by the children,

“What happens when the dog dies again?”

Which leaves me with saying,

“I honestly don’t know. That would be up to the writers.”

Even, I, personally have been touched by films with dogs starring in them. I remember when I was a child seeing the 1957 film produced by once again Walt Disney, “Old Yeller” for the first time. Who doesn’t love a good movie based in the 1860’s post-Civil War Texas era? I just fell in love with the family and the dog that grows up with them “Old Yeller,” as they live life and the adventures set before them in this setting. But as a kid watching it, I could never forget the scene where “Old Yeller” defends his family from a wolf, but is bitten, contracts rabies, and young Travis is forced to shoot him. A heartbreaking scene to say the least, and I get all teary eyed even thinking about it now being 41 years old! Travis first refuses the offer of a new puppy that was fathered by Old Yeller, but then after the puppy steals a piece of meat (a trick he learned from his father) he then adopts him naming him “Young Yeller,” and life goes on as the movie ends. There is no reincarnation in this movie or Old Yeller being escorted to heaven immediately after he dies.

The bottom line is that movies appeal to our emotions and it is hard not to fall in love with all the creative writing sometimes even mixed with biblical narratives and eastern religious superstitions, superb acting by all-star casts, and the exceptionally trained animals that pretty much make the movie. But this often brings up the question not just by children but by many adults as well,

“Do all dogs actually go to Heaven when they die?”

Which then leads into more questions,

“If dogs do, why not cats or a pet snake or goldfish?”

Many of these pets that people adore all across the globe are actually part of a daily menu for people in other cultures. We may find this offensive, but the reality of the situation is animals that are part of our daily diets are often worshipped in other cultures. It can go either way depending on where you live in the world.
Recently, my family’s beloved Dachshund “Kirby” passed away. It is always heart breaking when you lose a pet, especially for your children.

About 12 years ago, when my wife and I first got engaged, we received an extra ordinary gift as an engagement present. We were offered to become the owners of the cutest little puppy, who at the time was known as “Toby.” I have to admit, I was never really fond of “wiener dogs,” but there sure was something special about this one and Dachshunds are just so cute when they are a puppies! From their short little legs and oversized ears, to their adorable little barks and the wagging of the little tail, and Oh, who could forget the puppy breath? We immediately fell in love, but the name had to go, and we renamed the first addition to our family “Kirby.”

From day one, he certainly was our – everything. We dressed him up in silly clothes and even got matching shirts that said, “I love my wiener” with a shadow imprint of a Dachshund of course. 😉 We were dangerously close to practicing extreme forms of “anthropomorphism” which is the attribution of human traits, emotions, and intentions to non-human entities, in this case to a dog, which is considered to be an innate tendency of human psychology. I am sure you know people like this, maybe you might be one of them. But some people tend to take it a little too far. I once knew of a person who would only give their dog the best crystalized, purified water, and talked to the dog and dressed it like it was a human infant. The dog, I am sure of it, would have been just as happy drinking from the toilet. My wife and I used to argue back and forth, very playfully about Kirby having “hands,” which I would correct her stating that they were “paws.”

We took that dog everywhere with us! He just did not feel comfortable being in the car unless he was up on top of my shoulders. I guess he considered it his “safe place” and never grew out of it, from puppy stage to being an “old man.”
Holidays were fantastic with this little guy around. Here we go again with a little bit more of our anthropomorphism, because we just loved to watch him open his stocking stuffers, all wrapped, and prepared for a treat, or perhaps his favorite, a doll with a squeaky toy in it! We laughed hysterically as we saw him rip the doll apart getting stuffing everywhere, finally getting to the “squeaker”, spitting it out, and tromping away very satisfied claiming, “Victory!”

He watched our every move closely and followed us everywhere that we went. He lived with us in our first apartment together, to 2 houses, watched 3 kids grow up, and we all surly loved him very much. The memories that we have with him are priceless; some good and not so good, but now we can look back and either shed a tear or even laugh about them. I can still here my dad saying, “Shoot that dog!” Because he constantly barked at, it appeared to be nothing, which got my dad just crazy!
With everything in life though, all living things have an expiration date and times certainly go by fast, and we can all attest to that. Dogs tend to age much faster than humans and we watched his health slowly decline over the years. He was a diabetic that needed a daily dose of insulin, he was going partially blind, and really was getting to the point of being deaf. I know for a fact that he never suffered though, he lived an incredible life and even ate better than me, thanks to my wife spoiling her little fur baby. 🙂

He lived the life only the best of dogs could ever dream of. But when he died, it left me with a daunting task, and that was consoling and encouraging my children.
My kids have had grieved before over “human death.” They had lost my dad, their “Pop Pop,” a couple of years ago and their “Na Na” as well pretty recently. They were both Christians, so as a believer and a dad, I was able to encourage them in the faith with a hope that they will one day see them again.

Losing a family pet that was so near and dear to them was a new task filled with different types of challenges for me. After they had seen such movies that I have shared on this blog, I am sure their heads were filled with a bit of confusion. Through the emotional trauma, they needed to grieve as anyone would need to do.

There a five natural responses that professional counselors will attest to that people go through about death. If you have ever comforted someone or needed to be comforted, you will be familiar with them: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. They do not all necessarily have to fall in that particular order, but “acceptance” is the goal we all need to achieve.

I am familiar with these stages all too quite well, not just for me with losing my dad, but helping others cope with someone that has passed away. What I have found with helping my children cope with losing their dog that grieving over a family pet, these stages apply as well.

But the biggest challenge set before me was answering their little heartfelt questions, with tears in their eyes like,

“Is Kirby in Heaven with Pop Pop?”

I often pondered the question, “Do animals have a soul?” People who believe in reincarnation and ancient phenomena such as Hinduism, some Indian religious traditions, and even some New Age beliefs would seem to believe so.

Personally, as a Christian I have read and heard many good arguments “for” and “against” an animal having a soul. It is hard not to imagine a type of heaven without your beloved pets being there. I am sure we have all imagined reuniting with them someday.

I know that in my 41 years on this earth I have had seven dogs: Boomer #1, Boomer #2, Spike, Ralph #1, Otis, Midge, and Kirby that have passed on. I have imagined in my mind time and time again, especially when I was younger, that I would see them someday again in Heaven.

Sometimes, even as Christians though we are at war with our emotional feelings. The fact of the matter is that Jesus died and rose again for the sins of the world. It is hard to imagine an animal “sinning” against their conscience. They are primarily instinctive creatures, a separate creation from mankind.

If animals do have a soul and go to Heaven then it will bring great joy to a lot of former pet owners who are there. If they do not have souls we can be assured that we will have joy as well, because Heaven will be a place with no more tears or crying, no death, no mourning, and no pain. A wonderful place of “no mores.”

Revelation 21:4 – “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

This is a hard concept to grasp since we are mortal and “the former things have NOT yet passed.”

So these are the things that I tell my children. Basically, that “I do not know, but I trust God, and they certainly can too.” But I know for a fact that with my study of Scriptures, I can certainly attest to that they can see all throughout the Bible, that God does provide care for the animal kingdom and that we should too, especially when a “pet” becomes such a big part of the family.

I had a special moment with Kirby about 4 days before he died. I was relaxing in a chair after a long day of work. I noticed that Kirby seemed a bit “off” possibly because he was low on sugar due to his diabetes. He looked “lost” wandering about and very sad. I just had this feeling that death was approaching but I did not know when.

I decided to pick him up and have him lie on my lap while I sat in the chair just like many years ago when he was a puppy. He immediately rolled over onto his back and I just knew that he wanted me to rub his belly.

As I began petting him, I looked into his eyes and flashbacks of memories with him just flooded my memories. I have heard it said that, “eyes are the windows to the soul.” There seems to be a great deal of debate over the origins of the phrase. It’s been attributed to Shakespeare, Leonardo DaVinci, Hiram Powers, Max Beerbohm, Ralph Waldo Emerson, English and Traditional Proverbs alike. Andrew Hamilton has been given credit to saying something similar which I find a little more deep and beautiful: 

“They say that the eye is the window to the soul. But it is the soul that is the window.”

Whether we look into the eyes of a human or an animal there sure is something there. The eyes do communicate lots of information about another person’s emotional state and their individual personality.

When I looked into my dog’s eyes I did not see an aging, deaf, near blind dachshund near death, I saw him for who he is and who he was – a part of God’s wondrous creation only wanting to give and receive unconditional love.

I thank God for that moment with him, it really meant a lot to me.

So long Kirby, you were loved very much, and I know you loved us all. We are grateful for the time we had together with you, and I just know that you were grateful for having us. Our home just won’t be the same without you.
How have you handled telling your children about death with a beloved pet that they lost?

How do you think I did?

God bless and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this often controversial subject.

 

Chaplain’s Corner
William H Schnakenberg IV
“Chaplain Bill”
Author/Chaplain
-Pastoral Apologist-
Blue Collar Believer
http://www.bcbschnakenberg.com
bluecollarbeliever.wordpress.com

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