Have you ever wondered if your pet dog or cat goes to heaven when they die? That can be a hard question to answer, especially if a young child is asking the question. How do we answer someone who has lost a pet animal that they love and consider to be part of the family? Do animals go to heaven? Are animals “saved?”
Well, the first thing that needs to be answered is what do we mean by the word heaven. Principally, heaven is the possession of God in the beatific vision. In other words, that is the core meaning of heaven. Heaven isn’t so much a location, but it is a state of being. But because one day we will have our bodies reunited with our soul, then there is a sense that heaven could be a location as well. And so in that sense, if there will be a new heaven and a new earth, then I see no reason that there could not be animals there.
But, the one thing we know is that only man has an eternal soul, animals do not. You and I as a human being, were created for God. Animals were created for man. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way: “Of all visible creatures only man is ‘able to know and love his creator’. He is ‘the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake’, and he alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God’s own life. It was for this end that he was created, and this is the fundamental reason for his dignity…Being in the image of God the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons. And he is called by grace to a covenant with his Creator, to offer him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his stead (CCC#356-357).”
In Catholic teaching, man alone is called to know and love his creator and to possess God in the beatific vision, and not animals. Animals can certainly be in the new heaven and the new earth, but their natures are not one that possess an immortal soul and thus have immortal life. Remember, animals are ultimately created for man and so that’s why we can eat them. Man alone is created in and for God. That’s why you and I can not eat human beings, because we are made for God. Man has a unique dignity.
So, how do we answer someone who wants to know if their pet animal is going to heaven, especially a child who you do not want to crush his spirit? In other words, you don’t want to tell the child that his dog “Fido” is just going to turn to dust. No, I would explain that if you want “Fido” to be in heaven, then he will be there. God has a plan for all his creatures.
Now of course, when we get to heaven, we are not going to will anything but God’s will. So, we will be able to understand the fact that animals were created for man and that they can not be “saved” in the sense of the beatific vision.
Until next time, God bless.