I am not in the habit of writing about myself, but please indulge me, as I offer you all my thanks. On Monday, Aug. 12th, I had to put down my beloved dog, Benny, who had advanced renal failure. Since I live alone, having a pet around has offered me company at home as well as medicine against selfishness. What I mean by that is that Benny helped me avoid what I called the “bachelor syndrome” where home life is all about myself whereby selfishness can creep in. For you who have a pet, specifically a dog, you know that they require attention and care. You likely know how difficult it is to euthanize your pet when that time comes. I see the death of a beloved pet as a small glimpse, a slight touchstone if you will, to the grief that a person feels when their spouse dies. Again, the loss of a spouse, parent, brother or sister, or best friend is immensely greater. The pain of loss is deep for those who lose a family member, and all of us have or will experience it. It is part of life, a part of what reminds us that there is something more than this life. The mystery of human death is wrapped in the knowledge of Christ’s desire to raise us from that death into new life in heaven.
In the passing of Benny, I felt sadness coupled with gratitude. What a comfort that gratitude brought me. I was grateful for God giving me a four-legged partner in ministry. I was grateful that Benny had ministered to countless people, even sometimes inspiring near-miracles in our friends in the nursing homes. I was grateful for Benny’s unconditional love and ability to live in the moment, a trait that most dogs have, minus our terriers… or as I like to joke, our terrierists.” Grin! My previous dog, Gracie, was a Fox Terrier and she was quite independent… and sneaky! Grin again! Many of you also expressed your care and concern, for which I am very grateful. So, thank you to all of you for your prayers and support. Will I get another dog? The answer is, yes. The dog will need to fulfill some requirements: small breed, hypoallergenic and does not shed, low energy and rarely barks, and is good with children and other dogs. This may seem like a tall set of requirements, but there are many dogs out there that fit the bill. Benny was one such dog, and he was not the only one on this planet.
A question rises at the loss of a pet, “Will our pets go to heaven?” The Scriptures and tradition have been unclear. St. Thomas Aquinas spoke about how animals have “animal souls” while humans have “human souls.” Christ came to save humans souls and to draw all creation to himself (Col 1:20). So, it is clear that Christ’s Paschal Mystery is for humanity. The question is, where do our pets fit in? In one sense, we must be vary cautious about canonizing our cats and dogs while condemning other creatures such as spiders and mosquitos. The cafeteria salvation selection process is not part of our job description. Let’s leave that to God. The genius of Catholicism is that we are okay sitting in mystery and need to be cautious about declaring dogmas where we are unqualified to do so. We know that heaven will be the fulfillment of all our joys here in this life. They prefigure or foreshadow in moments something of what heaven will be like. Many of our lives have been brightened by the companionship of a pet. So, there is something to that companionship that speaks about heaven. But, again, it is shrouded in mystery. So, we await the answer to all our questions when we finally reach heaven and can know for sure. Do dogs go to heaven? I don’t know. But, the Saints in heaven do. Let’s all strive to join them in heaven by being reminded how our pets live out examples of how we should be.
Fr. William Holtzinger