This is one of my favorite pictures of Vera, my Newfoundland, taken in May of 2019, with her PCV, Josh Hinkle, DVM. Dr. Hinkle is the Chief of Staff at Robinson Animal Hospital. Vera had just had a haircut and a bath, and had overnighted for some nice spa (really laser) treatments.
Over the past several months, I’ve written Vera’s obituary or tribute dozens of times in my mind, but never on paper, nor on my computer. I will say significantly more in a blog at a later date, because I know I’ll think of things I should add.
Thank you to Dr. Hinkle for coming in on his day off, to put Vera to sleep very early this afternoon. It was a decision that I certainly didn’t make lightly, but only after much prayer for God to give me His wisdom. I also prayed that God would give Dr. Hinkle wisdom in advising me.
Thank you to Michelle Esterline! Michelle is one of the fabulous vet techs at Robinson’s, and has taken care of Vera for years. Michelle, knowing that I wanted a swatch of Vera’s fur, cut some and put it in a small glass vial for me. It also fell to her to harvest several of Vera’s whiskers after her death, as well as to make paw prints and nose prints for me. Thank you, Michelle for helping to preserve the memories!
In early 2018, soon after Rufas, another Newfoundland who owned me, had his 12 ½ year-old physical, Dr. Hinkle told me he was 99.9% sure that he had cancer. Several days later, I made the difficult decision to put Rufas to sleep.
As I have blogged before, from the time that I disclosed Rufas’ diagnosis until after I had him put to sleep, several friends – some devout Christians, some marginal Christians – assured me that I would see Rufas in Heaven. My thoughts are that dogs, nor any other animal, do not go to Heaven because they do not have souls. Salvation is through Christ; therefore, pets do not go to Heaven. With that said, however, I know that Heaven is a remarkable place, filled with all kinds of things we are unable to even imagine. I believe there will be animals in Heaven, but I don’t think they will have first been our pets.
I asked my minister, Ethan Magness, the senior minister of First Christian Church in Johnson City, what his thoughts were and how I should respond to well-meaning friends, especially those who were not devout in their beliefs.
I’ve edited Ethan’s remarks, which are in italics, a bit but I hope and pray they bring comfort to you if you’ve ever lost a pet you love. I know they certainly have to me. I initially posted them in February, 2020, with his permission, and I am posting them again, below. Thank you, Ethan Magness, for both the permission to quote your email from 2018, but more importantly for the wisdom you shared with me.
I am so sorry to hear about Rufas. I shared with Betsy (his wife) and we are both praying for you. The love and companionship of pets is one of God’s great gifts to us and the pain of their loss is so real. We have a dog who is 12 and I already think about his loss to us.
As to your theological question, I have never considered it before and I wanted to take some time to reflect before I responded. Here are a few scattered thoughts that may help. I still think that I have more questions than answers about this thoughtful question you have raised.
First I reflect on God’s great goodness to us and all creatures. The Bible describes God as caring for even the lilies of the field and this means that God loves Rufas as much as you do. So whatever God plans, it is a good plan. I am convinced that God delights in your love for Rufus and Rufas loves for you. This is a blessed and wonderful part of how God has made the world and specifically how God seeks to care for you. So we can trust God’s love both in the present and in the future.
Second, I think that you are right that God’s word does not specifically talk about the eternal fate of living creatures other than people. It is only people that are described as eternal beings who can be saved by a right relationship with Jesus and so I think that your caution is very appropriate.
Third, when the Bible describes our finally restored state with God, it always talks about the new heavens and the new earth and it describes us living in a new a restored earth with God. We see this picture in Isaiah and Revelation and several other places. Some of that language is metaphorical but certainly the picture is a of a perfected world. And in some of those descriptions animals are present. (A common image for heaven is the image of the lion lying down with the lamb.) While it is not clear, it also is not impossible that this restored world might include companion animals as well. Obviously the text never clearly says this, but it does not specifically dispute it either as far as I can tell.
I think that I will probably end where I started. While I clearly don’t know everything about this question and I am just beginning to consider it and reflect on what scripture might say about the issue, I do know this. God loves you and God loves all of God’s creation and that includes Rufas. God rejoices over the love that you have shared and how you are loving Rufas even now by caring for his needs in this time and protecting him from great suffering. Our God is a God of good plans. God has good plans for you and for Rufas. Even though I don’t know exactly what they are, I know that God is good so I can trust God. And I hope and pray that in this moment, you can have the same experience, you can know that God is good and will care for you and for all of God’s beloved creation including Rufas.
Vera Barker Henderson, Bred by Diane Judy.
Bred, born, lived and died in Johnson City.
October 22 – 2006 – September 14, 2020.
A extraordinarily long life for a Newfoundland.
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Copyright, 2018, 2019 and 2020 by Rebecca Henderson