“You know pets can’t go to heaven.”
I was a teenager when a strange man said this to me at a bookstore. I was browsing the religious section with my younger sister. I’d recently become more involved with a youth group and was looking for books that would support my deepening faith—books that would provide evidence that Jesus was the savior of the world and make me feel good about my choice to follow him.
As a child, my version of heaven had always included pets. Because if heaven’s a perfect place, then of course my pets who I’d loved would be there. Our cat, Jinx, who was hit by a car in the street right before my basketball game. My sister’s pet bird, Tweety, who our cat Clamboy killed when he was on his own deathbed. My rabbit, Hoppy, who was attacked by the neighbor’s dog after the dog had jumped over the fence and into Hoppy’s pen.
I’d been nearby when all of these pets met their tragic ends, and it was a consolation to believe someday I would be reunited with them.
When I met the strange man in the bookstore as a teenager, my faith was at a turning point. I’d grown up Catholic, but it wasn’t until I joined a youth group outside my church that I was introduced to the notion of accepting Jesus into your heart in order to receive the gift of eternal salvation.
This challenged my conception of what heaven might look like. Suddenly, it wasn’t guaranteed that all the people I knew would be up there with me. And if this man at the bookstore was to be believed, my pets might not be there either because—according to him—they did not have souls.
I don’t remember how my sister and I came to be talking to the man in the bookstore or how the conversation eventually landed on the topic of pets in heaven. I do remember, though, thinking he was a jerk for saying animals wouldn’t be allowed.
The man had convictions about Christianity—I’ll give him that. Ones that I would come to share as my faith deepened and ones that would fall away again as I grew older and less sure of things.
I don’t know where Toes is now except in my heart—where she’ll always stay.