Over the holidays, we got our 7-month-old puppy spayed. What we thought would be a routine, normal surgical procedure went horribly wrong. The night Sadie came home, she lay in her dog bed resting, and I started bathing our 3-year-old, and the fire alarm went off in our building. Panic set in, and as I quickly got our daughter from the tub, dried her off, and changed her, our puppy still lay on her bed. Drowsy from her medications and in pain, my husband had to carry her down eight flights of stairs to the van, and we waited for the fire department. Thankfully, this was a false alarm, but taking our recently operated puppy out and back was an ordeal, to say the least.

 As time went on over the next 3 days, Sadie got worse, not better, and fear and anxiety set in. She was having trouble with her bladder; she was peeing uncontrollably while she slept, went around the house, started vomiting, and refused to eat. As someone with a background in animal care, none of these signs are good. As I prepared for the worst by hinting to my children that she may not make it, I prepared for questions about death and heaven. Unfortunately, we did end up putting Sadie down after nine days of pain and suffering and a few different medications. As I watched our 7-month-old puppy swaggering and almost falling over, peeing on herself, going to a quiet room to be alone, and seeing her bones sticking out, I realized how quickly we go from living to a state of despair. As a mom, I let my children know the truth: suffering happens, and sometimes the most humane way to show love is the hardest. 

As a Christian, I wonder how I can follow God’s commands when it comes to something like this. The right thing was two options: A) spend money on diagnostic testing and hope that through maybe more medications our dog may get slightly better but have no quality of life. or B) put her out of her pain and send her to God? to animal heaven! That’s what I told my four crying children—that their beloved pet was now with Jesus in no pain and with my other beloved old pets who met the same fate. Part of me knows, as I have studied animal legislation, that animals are considered property, kind of like Israelite slaves. I can also say my act of love, as I look at it, saved my pet from pain and suffering, yet there are some who believe they have no soul or spirit, but I beg to differ. 

Not growing up in the reformed church I do not want to get into a theological debate on if or where animals go but I do want to contemplate it a bit. A lot of us who have pets or have owned and lost pets will argue with each other over the fact that our animals have a soul. But where do they go, and what do we tell our children about animals as this is usually their first experience with death and dying? I asked my pastor and my current professor, who teaches on Christian death, what their opinions, or the reformed opinion, are on this. My pastor, who has a family dog and has also lost a family pet, shared with me his interpretation of New Earth, and he believes that of course there will be “Golden Retrievers” there. That is his current dog breed, I believe; he did not state if his past animals would be there. However, he did say something that I think stuck out to me and that I think would also be a good way to explain these situations to my own children. And that is that there are some people who are winter people and some people who are summer people, so the heaven or realm we will go to where God is present would have these types of things to suit all people’s joys. That is the way I want to look at it. My passion is animals. I have always loved them and found that they often understood me better than people. Prior to ministry and parenting, I took animal care in school and have long had bonds with various animals. The last animal I had to put down was a rankin dragon or reptile, and you better believe I cried. 

So I am sure there is a heaven for these creatures that our God has created. Maybe, as my professor said, the reformed faith or Christian faith position is that animals do not live in an intermediate state or will be resurrected because they are animals and not persons. Therefore, they are not made in the image of God and all that entails; however, like my own pastor, she too believes that in the new heavens and earth, there will be, of course, dogs, cats, etc., just not the beloved souls of our passed-away pets.

I am torn on how to explain this to both my children and my future parish, which I am sure will include small or young children. How we talk to and teach them at an early age is how they will see and deal with their emotions in regard to death and dying, grief, and emotions. In Genesis, God creates all living creatures prior to us and gives us dominion over them. Before the fall, we hadn’t needed to use them as tools for our existence, such as food or clothing.  To the best of my knowledge and research, please don’t get angry if I am misquoting or paraphrasing a bit here. God intended us to care for these creatures, so he must have loved them and had a purpose for them as well, and if you watch any number of nature programs or believe in the global warming theory, you can see each and every plant and animal was created for a purpose to keep this planet going. When we lose a species, we have lost a piece of the enigma that we call our heritage, and it has had a detrimental effect on us.

There are 79 verses in the NIV with just the word lookup of the animal. There is an obvious importance to our existence here, or we wouldn’t have been created. It’s not until after the fall that we went from living with them to killing them once sin had come into the world. Yet there are references even to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus as the Lamb. The sacrifice of the lamb for the sins of the people When God chooses Noah, he doesn’t tell him to make a small boat for his family and flee, but to build a huge ark and that must have taken an insane amount of time and effort to build, and for what? To take two of each animal with him to restart the broken world of that era. In Gen 9:5 (NIV), it says, “And for your lifeblood, I will surely demand an accounting.” I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.

There are so many references in the scriptures to the sacrifices of animals and the uses of animals, from the snake to the lamb and so forth. I think as Christians we really need to consider that God created these animals for not only his pleasure but also ours and for a purpose, just as he did when he created us. Therefore, I will in turn teach my children to love them as such, both the ones we have as pets and the ones we use for our nutritional purposes, and that all animals, great or small, have a purpose in God’s kingdom and will have a place to rest their souls. Maybe, I made the choice to put her out of her pain and suffering because I loved her, and when I had to make the choice for what was best for her, I also felt sadness, love, and grief.                    At one time in my life, I wanted to care for and tend to these beautiful, wonderful creatures properly. In fact, we as humans have done such horrible acts that have caused such various animals to become extinct such as Tigers which I have worked with at an animal sanctuary in my twenties. We have used them as food, hunted them for sport, slaved and harmed them, taken away their land, put them in cages, forced them to do tricks for food, separated them from their young or pods, only to slaughtered them, tested them, mutilated them, and made pets out of them.

Don’t get me wrong. We have also championed causes for them, given them love and lives with so many benefits, beautiful zoos and habitats, a home inside our own homes loved them, cherished them, and, like I did the other day, ended our beloved animals’ pain out of love. 

I can also look at the sad fact that I caused this fate for our beloved family pet, I caused it because of a human preference and need to control nature that went horribly wrong. Playing God if you will, trying to stop my pet from being an animal. From the same urges that we as humans have to breed and make more in our image. Something we have in common with animals that I don’t think we truly want to acknowledge is to think about how similar we are as humans and as animals. Especially as Christians, we don’t like to go into this universal discussion of our existence and its similarities however if we could stop arguing about if we were created from God, a bang, or frozen apes and we actually joined in understanding how God made us all be in harmony with each other, the world would be a better place of understanding God true will and love for all creation. The place God intended it to be when he created all of us and gave us the job of protecting what he created not destroying it.

 I miss my puppy. I miss her, and I wish I had never had to make this choice. I wish my children didn’t have to watch their first dog get sick so suddenly and then die so horribly. So as I pondered my faith and how this world works, and where and how humans and animals find our place together, I answered my children’s question about where our dog went and if she went to heaven with a “Yes, all dogs go to heaven.” Because in my heart I believe that if God made them all, then God must also have a place for their souls to rest in peace, and if and when our new earth comes, I too believe that all the creatures God has created will be there, as they should have been long ago each and every one of those beautiful creatures. A place created for all the wonders of God’s creative abilities to live in peace and harmony with each other, and if and when Jesus comes back, then I do hope and pray that we will all live together, both the people who love animals and the people who don’t, that all animals that have gone extinct will be once again, and that love, care, and compassion for all life will be at the forefront of each and every human being’s true heart and soul. And that we will not keep slaves or even pets because all who have a purpose will live in a place together where they can actually live with the freedom to live out God’s purposes for them, be it a tiny snail or a huge elephant, without fear of death or destruction, both human and animal alike.

Amanda Mason

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