Do pets go to heaven?
It's a question that's drawn an increasing amount of speculation in recent years -- and that's a window on the social and religious changes in America, as I write in today's article about the growing recognition of pet bereavement.
Speculation about pet paradise coincides with the shrinking of household size, the growing importance of pets to many Americans in an era when dogs have moved from the "doghouse to our house*," and the fact that people are freely mixing and matching traditional religion with non-traditional spirituality.
"It sounds deceptively simple and maybe a little bit cute in some ways, but it's an important topic," said John Ferre, a University of Louisville communications professor who has surveyed more than two dozen books on pet heaven, with poignant titles such as "Cold Noses at the Pearly Gates."
"It gets at the idea of: Is death permanent? And if that's the case, what does life mean?" Mr. Ferre said. For many children, their first experience with death is with a pet, and one man told Mr. Ferre he abandoned his faith after his pastor refused to assure him his pet was in heaven.
It just so happens that Lifetree Cafe, a Colorado-based Christian organization that sponsors coffeehouse discussions of current topics, is hosting forums on pet heaven in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
"Do Good Dogs Go To Heaven" will be held Wednesday, Feb. 19, at 6:30 p.m. in McKees Rocks and Thursday, Feb. 20, at 7 p.m. in Lower Burrell. Look here for the details.
"We wanted to create a safe place where everybody’s questions and doubts are welcomed," said Craig Cable of Lifetree Cafe. "There’s going to be a lot of people with very heart-felt experiences with their pets."
Many people can't imagine heaven without their beloved pets. Which puts a new twist on the expression, "Love me, love my dog." Apparently that's not just an expression, it's a prayer. And the phrase, as it turns out, has quite a pedigree: It was popularized centuries ago by -- how appropriate -- St. Bernard.