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Dogs in Heaven

A Question of the Soul

Dogs in Heaven is much more than just a famous story by an anonymous author and available on many popular websites. It also is a phrase that gets to the heart of an important religious question that has kept philosophers and theologians alike debating for decades or possibly even centuries. Do animals have souls?

The author of Dogs in Heaven, obviously says yes to that question. As do a number of recent popular writers like Unitary Minister Gary Kowalski, whose 2004 book The Souls of Animals is one of the latest important entries in the discussion. And that stance seems a popular choice, given the popularity of works such as Dogs in Heaven, Kowalksi’s book, and even memorial products designed to ensure that departed pets have a safe and happy journey to the eternal peace of heaven.

The tradition of the Rainbow Bridge, perhaps inspired by Dogs in Heaven, is another popular legend that indicates most people believe that animals are, indeed, capable of having souls. According to the Rainbow Bridge tradition, a deceased pet’s soul travels over a beautiful Rainbow Bridge to a land of happy prairies where all the departed pets of the world frolic happily until they are Many pet parents wonder whether or not their companion animal has a souleventually recovered by the souls of their owners. The owners make the Rainbow Bridge land their first stop on the way to heaven, and its, possible, that the author of Dogs in Heaven had in mind that the man in the poem had recently come from that land before finding himself with his dog at the gates of heaven.

Despite all of the apparent belief that animals, indeed, have souls, there seems to be some discrepancies in the way mankind behaves toward animals. If animals have souls, wouldn’t it be exceedingly evil, for example, to raise, and then kill sometimes violently certain animals simply for meat? The author of Dogs in Heaven, and other advocates of the idea that animals have souls, does not seem to address that question. And that, for those who do not believe that animals have souls, is a curious fact. It is possible, one supposes, that the creator of life on Earth gave souls to only some animals such as cats, dogs, parakeets, and other standard pet animals. And that is likely the stance that the author of Dogs in Heaven take.

So, if it is true that only some animals have souls, that begs the question of which animals, precisely, have souls. Do gorillas have souls, do chickens have souls, and do sheep? What about snakes? It was a snake, after-all, that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. Perhaps that’s a sign that snakes have nothing but evil souls. But, then, if that’s the case, then it would seem that sharks, lions, bobcats, and even bears all very deadly animals would have evil souls too.

So, the question is certainly unsettled, and perhaps will remain that way forever. Mostly, one can argue that the entire question of the afterlife for animals and people alike is up for debate. In that sense, then the question of whether animals have souls can really depend on one's religious beliefs. In the meantime, it’s comforting for many people who have a beloved dog or cat to imagine that their best friend will always be around, somewhere, just like the dog in Dogs in Heaven.

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