Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Pets and the Afterlife

By Virginia State Parks staff (Ghost Dog Uploaded by AlbertHerring) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

This is a good time of year for some speculation about what role, if any, animals in general and pets in particular might have in the afterlife.  The traditional conclusion, of course, is that they have none, but until it can be shown to me that this is actually a binding Teaching of the Catholic Church, I will feel free to entertain other ideas.

Let me begin by putting forth a few thoughts and observations that can serve as the raw material for a hypothesis (though certainly not a hypothesis in any of the natural sciences).
  1. Ghosts are usually -- in fact almost without exception -- reported wearing clothes.  Most ghost stories are pure fiction, of course, and most sightings are the result of excessive imagination or some sort of altered state of consciousness, but anyone who believes in God, angels and demons, the survival of the soul, and the final resurrection should be open to the possibility that sometimes, for reasons that may not be clear to us, the spirits of deceased humans may have some business in our world.  The fact of ghosts wearing clothes, though, is frequently noted with surprise or even derision; after all, clothes are not actually a part of a living person, right?  Consider, though:  hair is also not living (at least above the root), and it likewise contains little DNA; hair is basically a kind of natural clothing that mammals produce for themselves.  No one seems to expect ghosts, should they appear, to appear without hair or nails, so why should clothing be any different?  After all, ...
  2. According to Peter Kreeft, though I forget in which book, it is a mistake to picture, as most people do, the body containing the soul.  A more accurate picture would be the soul containing the body.  In fact, Abbot Alois Wiesinger goes quite a bit farther in Occult Phenomena in the Light of Theology.  Wiesinger claims that the traditional belief is that Adam had the preternatural gift to understand and control objects outside his body.  He even claims that this remains possible after the Fall under certain circumstances, though he emphasizes that it is a very bad idea to attempt to extend the soul beyond the body.
  3. Back to reported ghosts.  One thing that stands out is that although animal ghosts are reported, they are almost always the ghosts of pets or of working animals (mostly horses, especially when ridden by a human ghost or pulling a ghostly wagon or carriage).  Wild animals and food animals seem not to leave ghosts.  The obvious objection is that if ghosts are the effect of psychological biases, or even disorders, it makes sense that we would most often see as ghosts the animals we interact with while they are alive; once again, I assume there is more to the story than that, though.  Also, I have to exclude "animals" that are believed to be demonic manifestations -- hell hounds, the Black Shuck, etc.
  4. Finally, animals that become cherished pets often behave in ways that are surprising for animals.  Part of this surprise is no doubt due to the inadequate credit we give animals -- wild elephants and chimps have been observed to grieve the death of family members, for example -- but again, nearly every culture has stories of dogs who guarded the graves of their masters until they themselves died.  On a less dramatic level, it has often been observed that pets and their owners start to look alike, even physically; much more obvious is that they begin to act alike, at least as regards being friendly, or suspicious, or nervous, etc.
The cat is also a ghost, as the full performance makes clear.

At this point my conjecture should be fairly obvious:  pets become extensions of their owners, and so they participate in some way in their owners' immortality.

If true, this would parallel our relationship to Christ.  The Church is, after all, called the Body of Christ, and each Christian is a member of that Body -- not by nature, but by adoption, because we are loved.  As such, we participate in His immortality.

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