Monday, June 1, 2015

Pet Loss: Do Pets Go To Heaven?

Reviewed and updated October 23, 2017]

If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.  ~ Will Rogers

A reader writes:  I have been grieving the loss of my cat for some time now, and the pain does not go away. I am still very sad and wondering what kind of help you can give me.  I keep thinking—did my Mittens go to heaven or not?  I had a very tight bond with this cat.  I miss her companionship every day and I miss her so much.

My response:   I’m so sorry to learn of the death of your beloved cat Mittens, and I offer you my heartfelt condolences. Having lost so many cherished pets myself over the years, most recently my beloved Tibetan terrier Beringer, I certainly can relate to what you are feeling. 

You’ve asked if your dear little Mittens went to heaven. I’m not a cleric or a biblical scholar, but I can tell you that you are not alone in asking that question. Many bereaved animal lovers struggle with whether they’ll be reunited with their beloved pets in the afterlife.

I can also tell you that, whenever we are confronted with a significant loss, it is absolutely normal for us to question the spiritual beliefs that we’ve held all our lives—the really big ones, like “Is this all there is?” and “What is the meaning of life?” and “Where do we go when we die?” There is no denying that death is a very spiritual event. When one of our cherished pets dies, it is evident to us that the pet’s spirit is no longer in his body. So where did that spirit go? What happened to it? Is your cat’s animal spirit okay? Can you still communicate with her spirit in any way?

As a grief counselor who also specializes in pet loss, I have worked with hundreds of bereaved animal lovers over the years, all of whom have their own spiritual beliefs. Some take great comfort and peace in the belief that their animals are okay and being cared for in a different realm (see, for example, the Animals’ Eden and Rainbow Bridge stories you’ll find on my website’s Comfort for Grieving Animal Lovers page). Others believe their animals may come back and be reincarnated in a different form. Still others experience a crisis of faith, questioning everything they ever believed before.

This is what I consider to be one of the great lessons of loss, that such a profound life crisis forces upon us an opportunity to re-examine our basic values and beliefs and pushes us to grow. I encourage you to think of your Mittens’ death as an opportunity to explore your own values and beliefs, in your own way, in your own time. Don’t let anyone (relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers, clergy) tell you what you should believe or even what brings you comfort. We can look to others and their beliefs as models to learn from, but in the end we each must discover and clarify our own beliefs. We can find comfort in them and let them serve us.

I can also tell you that there are a number of books out there about this subject, which in itself tells you that you are not alone in your search for an answer to your question. Some are better than others, of course. I happen to prefer children’s books, because their message is simpler and less preachy, they are so beautifully illustrated and they bring me more personal comfort. But there are books directed at adults as well. Here are just a few of both types: 

I WillSee You in Heaven ©2010, by Friar Jack Wintz

Bill atRainbow Bridge ©2010, by Dan Carrison

Who SaysAnimals Go to Heaven? © 2008, by Niki Behrikis Shanahan

ColdNoses at the Pearly Gates ©2008, by Gary Kurz

Will ISee Fido in Heaven? © 2005, by Mary Buddemeyer-Porter

All God’sCreatures Go To Heaven © 1996, original story by Amy Nolfo-Wheeler (with beautiful illustrations by N. A. Noel) 

For EveryCat An Angel © 2001, by Christine Davis

For EveryDog An Angel © 2004, by Christine Davis

If you click on the titles above, you’ll be taken to Amazon’s description and reviews of each. I’m sure you could find one or more of these at your local library, or you could ask your librarian to order some of them.  Be sure also to visit some of the wonderful sites I’ve listed on my Memorializing a Pet page.

I hope this information proves useful to you, my dear, and I hope it helps to know that I’m thinking of you and your precious companion at this sad time.

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below.

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 © by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC

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