Might Dogs Be in Heaven?

I took my brother’s dog, Rocco, out for a glorious hike recently. He’s a golden retriever, raised in my brother’s home from his first days as a puppy, born just over two years ago on the feast of Saint Roch (August 16th) who is, providentially, the patron saint of dogs. Rocco’s a good dog, obedient, faithful, gentle with children, full of what seems like joy, and always appreciative of affection. He’s part of the family.

Even though he’s still in his salad days, dogs only live for just over a decade (for reasons we don’t fully understand – in fact, animal life spans, including our own, are still a question of some debate). We will miss him when he’s gone, presuming we all live to that ten-year-plus mark.

A question was raised in class the other day – by a priest who just happened to wander in – what happens to dogs when they die, ensuing from the death of the priest’s sister’s beloved dog. Will our canine companions join us in heaven?

A discussion ensued, and I said I might write a reflection on this dubium. So, here are some thoughts, for what they’re worth:

Dogs have souls, but not ‘spiritual’ souls that have an act and a corresponding nature that transcend the body. Hence, unlike ours, dog souls cannot continue to exist without the body.

Until the end of time, heaven is more of a ‘state’ than a ‘place’, for there are, as far as we know, only a select number of bodies there – Our Lady, Our Lord, and perhaps Saint Joseph, Enoch, and a few others – so it’s mainly populated by souls without bodies, for the return of which they pray, awaiting the resurrection, and the new heavens and earth.

It is on that last note there is some hope for dogs, insofar as they can have hope, at least of a natural, sensitive sort. For God, in His omnipotence, could re-create dogs in that world that will never end, and maintain them in existence. I like to think there would be a myriad of animals surrounding us humans – like the garden of Eden, only a whole lot better.

There are two caveats, however:

Dogs, and other animals, do not have an intellect, and hence cannot see the beatific vision. Their experience of the ‘new earth’, where God’s glory shines undimmed, would, to them, be like this earth. They would not be beatified, only resurrected, in a way. What it would be like for a dog to live forever is, of course, opaque to us, and they certainly would not be aware of the gift of immortality. It may even, eventually, be a suffering for them.

We ourselves would have no strict need for dogs, and how they might increase our happiness in heaven is dubious. God would provide all of our needs and desires, the ‘fullness of joy’ in His presence. In fact, Saint Thomas goes so far as to say that we won’t even need friends in heaven – Solo Dios bastaGod alone suffices, as Saint Teresa of Avila wrote. Friends will only help with our happiness in a certain limited respect.

As Thomas puts it:

But the fellowship of friends conduces to the well-being of Happiness. Hence Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. viii, 25) that “the spiritual creatures receive no other interior aid to happiness than the eternity, truth, and charity of the Creator. But if they can be said to be helped from without, perhaps it is only by this that they see one another and rejoice in God, at their fellowship. (ST, I-II., q.4, a.8, resp.)

That is, friends will rejoice in the fullness of each other’s happiness, and, perhaps, just maybe, as Man’s best friend in this vale of tears, where other friends so often let us down, dogs may have some small share in that. Then again, they fulfil that noble role well enough here on earth.

And in that, we may all rejoice.