The subject of whether or not companion animals go to Heaven is a controversial one. After we let Snake go in 2006, I did a lot of reading on the topic including a wonderful book by M. Jean Holmes called, "Do Dogs Go to Heaven? Eternal Answers for Animal Lovers." It helped.
There was a big hullabaloo in the media a couple of years ago after Pope Francis made some comments about dogs going to Heaven which were initially mistranslated and later clarified. Regardless of what Pope Francis really said or how you interpret it personally, most of us have our own opinions about whether or not animals have souls. (And pretty much every animal lover on the planet got a kick out of a meet and greet Pope Francis had with some service dogs last year which led to some memorable images in which a dog "photo bombed" the Pope.)
There is a new movie coming out called "A Dog's Purpose" which is based on the W. Bruce Cameron book by the same name which tells the story of a dog which is reincarnated many times and "who finds the meaning of his own existence through the lives of the humans he teaches to laugh and love."
I have my own beliefs regarding companion animals which have been forged through time, experience and loss. Whether you agree with me or not is of little consequence. I believe our companion animals do have souls. I believe that when they leave this Earthly place, they move on to another existence, as do people. I believe that some animals come into our lives to teach us lessons and to help us learn how to be better versions of ourselves. They are part of our becoming. I also believe that some of us are animal guardians or paladins and that there are times when animals are put in our path (or we develop some awareness of them) so we can either personally help them get where they are meant to be or to facilitate that process in some way.
So, that is an animal guardian? In my view, these are people who are focused enough on animals to know when they need help, are willing to help those animals in need and who believe that they are used as instruments as part of a bigger plan to help certain animals. If you view yourself as an animal guardian, you may be nodding by now, thinking back to all of the times that an animal crossed your path or entered your life inexplicably, not to become a member of your family, but so that you could be used as an instrument to help that animal. Most people in animal rescue are eternal guardians and may feel like animal magnets. Something that happened to a friend recently served to reinforce my belief about her status as an animal guardian and I thought it worth sharing her story.
Shelley was staying at a the Harrah’s in Reno for the holidays over the Christmas Eve/Christmas Day weekend. She and her family had taken the train to Reno with her mom for a holiday trip in 2015 and they decided to go for a memorial trip in 2016 after her mom passed away. It was a way to honor her mom and get through that first holiday season without her. It was cold. Seventeen degrees to be exact. Shelley and her family were coming back from dinner on Christmas Eve when they saw a young cat run around the long entry to the hotel, crying. The cat was obviously trying to get someone’s attention. Shelley and some others did their best to get the cat, feeding it chicken at one point to distract it. They had no luck at all. Shelley stayed up most of the night revisiting the entrance trying to get the cat but with all of the foot traffic, it was impossible. When she got up at 4:00 on Christmas morning, the cat was nowhere to be found. They were scheduled to leave Reno at 8:00 a.m. Shelley called a local rescue group and left a voice mail to explain the situation and to ask them for help, only to get a text later that day saying there was nothing they could do and to contact animal control. Shelly was despondent, later telling me, "you know what it’s like, one of those situations that you cannot help, and that will haunt you forever."
But all was not lost. Shelley told me about her "Harrah’s kitty." Reno? I have contacts there. I checked in with Diane Blankenburg of Humane Network whom I know from my no kill advocacy. Diane was the Community Programs and Development Director of Nevada Humane Society in Reno for years up until 2013. I was sure there was something which could be done. I asked Diane if there wasn’t some way that the NHS could help refer Shelley to a local organization which does TNR (trap, neuter, return) in the city. (Much like other "entertainment" cities like Las Vegas, Reno has a large population of free roaming cats who live in certain areas due to the resources they find there.) Diane said she was sure NHS still had a TNR program. She connected with Denise Stevens, the Chief Operating Officer at NHS to explain about the cat. Denise was gracious enough to contact Harrah’s security staff about the cat and was told that the talkative little cat had been taken to Washoe County Animal Services (which shares a building with NHS). The Harrah’s cat was safe. He was transferred to NHS from animal control and was temporarily named "Feral Tune" due to his propensity to talk. We’re waiting on an update now about his condition.
Looking at what happened over a period of days, the outcome was surely improbable. What are the odds that a single cat seen at a very busy hotel in a very busy city would be helped over a holiday weekend? Surely lots of other people saw and heard the cat. Shelley was worried for days, not knowing the outcome and fearing the worst. She felt responsible in some way. But she also underestimated her role as an animal guardian. This is not the first time an animal in need found Shelley and it won’t be the last.
I have no doubt that Shelley saw Feral Tune so she would seek help and set a series of events in motion which would ultimately confirm the lost cat was safe. California + Nevada + Alabama = a saved cat. As it was surely meant to be.
NOTE: If you think you are an animal guardian, I cannot encourage you strongly enough to educate yourself about some basic issues regarding companion animals and to connect with local animal shelters and rescue groups so that you have a plan in place in the event that an animal in need finds you. Be prepared for your next guardian encounter and be prepared to see the situation through to the point where the animal is placed in a new home or with a reputable organization. In short, be prepared to "own" your guardian status. It is not enough to by sympathetic to animals in need; you have to be prepared to actually help them in a direct and meaningful way to the extent you can.
Please also do not assume that any animal you help is unwanted or was abandoned. Pets go missing very day for a host of reasons and not all of them relate to someone's irresponsibility. If you find a lost animal, report that fact to your local animal control personnel and list the pet on Helping Lost Pets. Every municipality has a "property hold period" so people can reclaim a lost pet. The best outcome for most lost pets is simply to get back home where they belong with people who care about them.
(image of Tashi courtesy of Becky Lynn Tegze; image of Feral Tune courtesy of the Nevada Humane Society)
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson