My Mom rarely asked me a theological question but I will always remember the first question she ever asked me. It wasn’t on atonement theory or justification or transubstantiation or on the theology of glory or the theology of the cross. It wasn’t even on sanctification or on the ontological nature of God (see how many big words I can use!). Nope. The first question she ever asked me was this: “Do you think dogs go to heaven?”
At the time, our dog Shiner had just passed away and my Mom called to tell me in tears. She was in pain and hurting and my response, without hesitation, was “Yes.” I didn’t have any theological or scriptural evidence for that answer. But I still believe that answer is correct today, no matter what theology or anyone else says.
I thought of that on Friday as Amy and I said goodbye to our first dog, Henry. Henry was eight years old and we drove all the way up to Finlayson, MN, to get him on a May afternoon at a farm when he just two months old. I was the one who actually picked him out as Amy couldn’t decide between Henry and his brother. We went to get him without a single supply: no collar, leash, dog bowl, toys, or food. We stopped at a tiny Wal-Mart on the way back to get some of those things and one of those toys still survives to this day. Amy held him all the way in the back seat of the car and a bond was formed that won’t ever be broken, in life or in death.
Henry was a good dog who loved freely and had the ability to charm everyone. It seemed that everyone liked and loved Henry, from members of our family to the vets who cared for him to dedicated cat-people and even other dogs. When we got our youngest dog Kapono, it was so that I might have a dog as Henry was clearly Amy’s dog. Instead, Kapono became Henry’s dog and would follow him everywhere he went.
Henry loved many things, most especially Amy’s lap. But when he wasn’t on Amy’s lap, he loved to play with racket balls and until Kapono destroyed them all, his fuzzy toys. He loved to be outside, to explore the yard, chew on sticks, or lay on or under the hammock as Amy laid in it. He loved walks and sitting on the porch with Amy, hardly ever getting off her lap. He loved bananas and would almost try to take them out of my hand, even though he knew I would give him a small piece at the end of the banana. He loved lettuce and popcorn and licking out a bottle of beer after it had been drunk. About the only thing he didn’t like were baths, people on bicycles, and wearing the Santa suit we put on him every year at Christmas.
Henry had a great ability to know what you needed. If you were sad, he knew just how to come up and give you comfort. He loved to play when you were happy and knew just how to snuggle in when you were tired and needed a nap. He loved people and often barked at them, not as a warning but as an invitation to come and pet him. Henry had more tricks that I can list for getting you awake in the morning so that he could be fed and always knew the sound of my car or Amy’s car and would rush to the door to great us when we got home.
Henry always had health problems from the moment he was born. He had multiple kidney stones that got stuck in his urethra that caused him to have two surgeries and because of this was on special food his whole life and had check-ups every three months or more. He had Cushing’s disease, though never showed any symptoms’, and as we found out just before he passed, he had cancer, most likely of the liver. Yet he was always happy, always good with the vet, and even on Thursday, as he was hooked up to an IV here at the house, had a smile of brightness despite his obvious sickness.
There is a part of my rational brain that wonders why I’m using 900 words to talk about a dog. But my heart says that Henry (or any of the other dogs I have had in my life) was more than just a dog. They are a member of my family, a member the gives and receives love, a member who brings comfort and joy, who is there for you in good times and bad, just like many human members of families.
All I know is this: every night when I would come up to bed, Henry would cuddle up to my chest for a few minutes before finding his normal spot either next to mine or Amy’s legs. And every time I would feel, through that short cuddle, the love of God and the blessings of life, even in the midst of tragedy. When my mind was full of anxiety or worry, that cuddle would calm and soothe me. When the day had been good and bright, it would remind me to give thanks. When I was filled with sadness and grief, it would bring me comfort. If that is not a gift from God, I don’t know what is. For God uses many ways and things to show us His love and I know Henry was one of those things, at least to me.
The next time my Mom asked me theological questions was as she approached the end of her life. In the midst of our conversation about heaven, salvation, faith, and more, she again wondered if she would not only see her loved ones in heaven, but would she meet the pets she had loved in her life. Again, I told her that she would and I knew that brought her comfort.
Thank you, Lord, for a great dog in Henry and for the love that he shared with Amy and myself and the love that we got to share with him. And I’ll look for him when my time comes, to cuddle again in the splendor of heaven.