Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Animal of the Month: Cedar
(in answer to the question: do dogs go to heaven?)

    Long before my daughter moved to another town and took the dog with her, I had become disturbed by the depth of my attachment to this…animal. I miss him a lot now, the sound of his toenails clipping along the wood floor as he follows me from room to room. From the day she brought him home he’s been surrounded by love. He’s a handsome fellow, but it’s the eyes that get you.
       They were in town this past weekend, and the old routine quickly established itself. If I’m at the kitchen counter, he’s down there beside me, hind paws on the floor, forepaws on my leg, tapping. Yes, tapping. "I know you’re there, Cedar," and something will usually fall his way. He loves cheese and pizza crust. He loves most anything except black olives. This trip I couldn’t give him any of that. He’d contracted pancreatitis from too much people food, and a couple days before the trip had spent one of them throwing up. So his diet’s been tightened. I can still give him dog treats, and when he hears the rattle of a bag being opened, he sits because he knows he won’t get the treat until he does. Sometimes he just stands on his hind legs, forelegs in the air unsupported, begging for food. No one taught him this, and he can do it for quite a while.
       That night he slept with me. He usually likes to curl up against my stomach or back. He likes to feel your breathing and heartbeat. Sometimes, if I’m on my back, he sleeps on top of me; other times he’ll go for the curve of your neck. At home with Bern he’ll crawl under the covers and all the way to the foot of the bed to sleep against her feet. She worries about him suffocating, but when she reaches down to drag him back up, she’s greeted by a sleepy growl, dog for “I’m comfortable where I am.” Another favorite position is on his back with his feet in the air, with which he makes a tent of the covers. He’s also slept beneath my arm a couple of times, the only creature on the planet to have reveled in my armpit without being asked.
       If I’m sitting on the edge of the bed changing clothes, he’s right there in the middle of it trying to run off with socks and underwear, or just licking and nipping at my nose and ears. This gets me laughing, and when he hears it he somehow knows that he can continue without correction. If it’s late and I’m at the computer for a long time, he comes round between my legs, stands with his front paws on the chair, and demands (with those eyes) to be picked up and put on my lap, where he settles down while I continue working. If it’s earlier in the day, he sometimes stands on my lap and paws at the mouse on the screen, chasing it around.
       When I get out of the shower he licks the water off my ankles. I pick him up and he does the same to my brow from ear to ear. After I eat dinner he inspects the front of my shirt closely for fallen scraps of food, having discovered that I am a purposely sloppy eater when he’s in the room, although my wife maintains that the trait long precedes the presence of a dog in our midst.
       One day, as he sat beside me on the couch watching me eat, I said, "You know, you’re very mouth-oriented."
       He looked at me, ears erect.
       "Do you love me because I feed you or because I’m me?"
       He cocked his head.
       "In other words, which is the Governor of your soul, your heart or your stomach?"
       He put a paw on my forearm.
       "What’s that supposed to mean?"
       He licked my cheek. Seeing I made no protest, he moved to my mouth, seeking remnants of whatever I was eating. That tongue will go into your mouth if you don’t stop him.
       ”This is most disappointing,” I said. He looked at me. "Dog," I declared, "cannot live by milkbone alone."
       He licked my mouth. "I’ll take that as a sign of affection." I sat back and he scoured my lap once more for crumbs. Finding none, he resumed his seat beside me.
       "Have you understood a thing I’ve said?" I’ve been somewhat dismayed by his reluctance to pick up English syntax, though he does seem to understand some of it. When I ask if he’d like to go out, for example, he leads me to the back door, just as now, sitting together on the couch, I looked into those attentive, expressive eyes and thought we were on the verge of breaking some barrier.
       "You know," I mused aloud, "a couple more grey cells and you’d be right there with me."
       He put his paw on my arm again.
       On another day I called Bern at the golf course while the dog was with me. He was sitting behind me on top of the couch, resting against my neck and looking out the window. When people walked by I’d hear a low "grrr." If the people had an animal with them, the grrr got louder.
       "Thanks for keeping watch," I said, turning my head. He licked me, which I took to be dog for “no problem.”
       Bern answered the phone. "Hey, Dad."
       "Do you think dogs go to heaven?" I asked.
       "Oh, definitely."
       That she answered without hesitation, and with dogmatic certainty, meant she’d already thought about it.
    "How do you know?"
    She explained that when she was in high school, she never understood why a classmate would come to school crying because the family dog had died. For Pete’s sake, she used to think, it’s just a dog, get over it. But now she understood.
    "So what?" I said. "People get sloppily sentimental about pets. We tend to anthropomorphize - "
    "Anthro what?"
    We tend, I explained, to attribute human character traits to their behavior. We even do it to inanimate objects, like dolls and cars and hurricanes.
    "Don’t you want Cedar to go to heaven?"
    "I, uh -"
    "There, see?"
    "But wishing won’t make it so. He’s a mammal. If we let him in, we have to let them all in."
    "So that means hyenas in heaven."
    "So I don’t like hyenas." I told her I didn’t like the way they looked, sounded or behaved. She thought they were cute. I asked her how far down the scale of sentience we had to go before we got to a creature ineligible for heaven. What about bats and moles and mice? She wasn’t sure about bats and moles, but she thought mice probably made the cut. (When she was in college, she found one in the house she shared with another girl. She found it, in fact, in her dresser drawer among her clothes. She gave it a name and even set food out for it, to her roommate’s horror.)
    This was getting ridiculous. I was dealing with an irrational person. I asked if she remembered that line from the Bible, that not a sparrow falls to the ground without our Father knowing. Yes, she did.
    "And what did the passage mean?" I asked.
    "It means that sparrows go to heaven."
    "Maybe it just refers to His omniscience," I said.
    "Then why bring up the sparrow," she countered, "unless the sparrow’s important?"
    Granted, she had a rationality of sorts.

    This conversation continued over several occasions, without resolution on my part. The exchanges left me wondering how many people think their dog will go to heaven. Lots, I’m willing to bet, based partly on the proliferation of pet cemeteries. But why? There is no intimation (that I’m aware of) in either scripture or tradition, that animals get to go there. The fact that Christ speaks of fallen sparrows and of people like sheep and of rescuing an ox on the Sabbath might simply mean that he had a storyteller’s eye for the precise detail that brings an analogy to life. Though He might have spoken to us in syllogisms, he chose parables instead. Surely most people can see this, so why would they think their dog is going to heaven?
    For one thing, they love the dog. They love him more than they love you. They prefer his companionship to yours. When they hear that Christ said to “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” they think, “Why? My neighbor’s an unsociable ass. But my dog loves me.” Your neighbor does not generally give evidence of actually loving you. Your dog does. Your neighbor is moody, allows his children to misbehave, drive too fast, blare lousy music from their bedroom windows, use foul language, and to dress like whores and slum-dwelling gangsters. You may harbor a similar discontent toward some of your closest relatives, who are sometimes glad to see you and sometimes not, and who always have an unwelcome opinion about your private affairs.
    Your dog is not like that. When you come through the door, he is always glad to see you. Always. He asks only for a pat on the head, a bite to eat, and the pleasure of your companionship. He will follow you anywhere. There are discernible health benefits to his presence in your life. Though a few have been known - under very odd circumstances - to chew the faces off their owners, these few are far outnumbered by tales of unfailing loyalty and even selfless heroism.
    I happen to own a wildlife encyclopedia which assumes an evolutionary stance toward life's variety on this planet, and yet to me seems nearly infallible in its description of the nature of the domestic dog:

In addition to its intelligence and stamina, the character that made the dog so useful to man was its sociable nature...More especially does it attach itself to one person and will then show the highest degree of co-operation. Conversely, the domestic dog readily suffers loneliness...

And you've all heard about dogs knowing when their master will arrive, running to the door or front window even as your car is still a mile away. Yes, they have an internal clock, but some of them do this even should you come home early. Splain that to me, if you will. (I know it's true because I saw it on TV). It is a myth, however, that St. Bernard's were first bred in a Swiss monastery in the 11th century of that saint's lifetime, or that they spent a lot of time rescuing humans from snowdrifts in the Alps, though there is some minor truth in this latter. But

this does not mean that dogs could not show the compassion needed to carry out the work popularly ascribed to the St. Bernard. There are many stories of the loyalty of dogs, of their faithfulness unto death. Even wolves will look after their own kind and there are stories, seemingly well-authenticated, of wolves supplying food to an injured or senile member of their species.

Though evolutionary admirers of the ostensibly brainy chimpanzee think him to be our closest cousin, and though others think a porpoise might take his seat in a human classroom if we only had the intelligence to decipher his beeps and clicks, there is something about the domestic dog that suits him to human companionship in a way unmatched by any other creature. He is "with you" in a way not to be experienced in the company of any other animal. I ask you to imagine a chimp serving as a guide to the blind, or assisting a police officer in cornering a criminal.
    So, what is the case for the possibility that dogs go to heaven, if such a case can be made? Dog lovers might think that, in light of the above, the matter is pretty well settled. But if you're a Christian doglover as well and go looking for backup among the intellectual lights of our heritage, whose first commandment is to love, you won't get much help. Rene Descartes held that consciousness was "a uniquely human phenomenon", and that therefore animals could be considered no more than "insensate automata." You'll be glad to know, however, that this is not a traditional Christian holding, Descartes' view of it being determined by his philosophy, which required breaking from the Aristotelianism of the schoolmen, who had long taught that animals possess consciousness but not reason. Oh well, Descartes, who's he anyway? Doesn't exactly rank up there in respect with Aquinas, does he? So what happens if you turn to him, the one and only Angelic Doctor? Well, as far as I'm concerned you can remove the angel and keep the doctor. In a subsection of the Summa entitled "Whether the souls of brute animals are subsistent?", do you see how he gets off on the wrong, speciesist foot from the get-go? The word 'brute' is repeated many times. I have known brutes in my time, may have been one myself, and Cedar is no brute. How would the Dumb Ox like it if, every time I referred to him, it was as that 'effete philosopher with an abnormal abhorrence of whores'? He wouldn't, for it wouldn't tell the whole truth about him (but part of it to be sure). It has long been maintained that, among living things, three kinds of soul are possible to them: the nutritive (or vegetative), the sensitive, and the rational. In man, of course, all three cohere in one. Cedar is restricted to the first two. It is the Insensitive Doctor's position that

The sensitive soul is incorruptible, not by reason of its being sensitive, but by reason of its being intellectual. When, therefore, a soul is sensitive only, it is corruptible; but when with sensibility it has also intellectuality, it is incorruptible.

Notice the self-serving appeal to "intellectuality"? (Which the show-off ought to reduce by about four syllables). You'd think that's all we were made of. Show me, Tommy Aquinass, where in scripture Jesus cries out, "Oh ye of little intellect!" Or, "When the Son of Man returns, will he find intellect on the earth?" Or, "If you have intellect as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move..." Or, “Lest ye become as child prodigies, you will not enter…” We should also note that Jesus asked Peter to feed his sheep, not his eggheads. And that the second commandment is like unto the first, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Try substituting intellect for love in that passage, or any synonymous phraseology. It won't work. How many smart people have you known who were abysmal human beings? (And remember: this is coming from a guy who thought that the human fetus was ensouled at 40 days. You know the old saw – wrong in one thing, wrong in others.)
    This habit of attaching degrading adjectives to the higher members of the animal world continues at that hoped-for port of solace, New Advent, in an article on animal cruelty, where we find again "the brute creation," and again the admonishing intellect of the Emotionless Doctor reminding us how we ought to behave, "lest anyone by exercising cruelty towards brutes [!!] may become cruel also towards men." So the animal is not deserving of kindness in his own right, as a "sensitive soul"? Or heed the words of the immortal Zigliara (of whom, if you've never heard, you can join my club): "When, therefore, man, with no reasonable purpose, treats the brute [!!!] cruelly he does wrong, not because he violates the right of the brute, but because his action conflicts with the order and the design of the Creator." Or of another immortal, a guy I used to like, Cardinal Manning: "It is perfectly true that obligations and duties are between moral persons, and therefore the lower [!!!!] animals are not susceptible of the moral obligations which we owe to one another; but we owe a seven-fold obligation to the Creator of those animals."
    So I have a duty to treat the animal with benevolence, but he has no right to the treatment. I must treat him well so that I am more likely to treat you well. I suppose we can't codify animal rights in quite the same way as those of humans, for in truth I will order the dog about in ways I'd never attempt with, say, my wife, on pain of injury. But there are laws on the books in most cities that can get you arrested for animal cruelty. (See Animal Planet's "Animal Precinct", which I can't watch anymore). I guess they're arresting you for displaying behavior degrading to your own human nature, and, by example, to that of others, not because it actually hurts the animal. But how can that be enough to get someone arrested? There is a colossal porn industry in this country in which the participants degrade their human nature every day and no one gets arrested. I see grown men on television getting paid real money to hit each other with their bare hands and throw each other against the inside of a metal cage in an effort to find out who's the toughest. Some of them come out pretty bloody. Millions of people watch it. For fun. Well, that's different, you see; the participants are agreeable to the arrangement. It is a reasoned arrangement. Oh, then it's not degrading. But the 'lower' animals don't do that. When they attack each other, it's for what passes as an animal reason. They don't do it for fun. They don't rationalize it as a form of free speech, or another example of the free market at work.
    Besides, as regards treating animals well that you might not degrade yourself, life just doesn't work that way. How many of you behold an animal like Cedar and think, "Oh, I must make sure I'm not cruel to him, lest by doing so I become cruel to others and an abomination to myself"? No. Your first reaction - unless you're a blooming serial killer, amongst whose numbers the practice of animal cruelty provides a frequent and fertile training ground - is to want to pet him, to pick him up and cuddle him. Your first reaction is an outpouring of affection, isn't it? And why is that? And of what worth?
    According to the New Advent article, not much: "While Catholic ethical doctrine insists upon the merciful treatment of animals...Excessive fondness for them is no sure index of moral worth; it may be carried to un-Christian excess; and it can coexist with grave laxity in far more important matters. There are many imitators of Schopenhauer, who loved his dog and hated his kind." To which I say that Schopenhauer was probably a keenly observant fellow.
    As example, you might be interested in knowing how the ‘higher’ animals in certain parts of the world treat the lower. It turns out that there is a considerable market for the flesh and fur of what you and I ordinarily consider household pets. I have heard, and read, in more than one place that in China perhaps 10 million dogs a year are slaughtered for one or the other purpose, and that the method of execution is, shall we say, rather drawn out for being inflicted by an animal possessing both sensitivity and intelligence.

The market, on the outskirts of China’s bustling southern city of Guangzhou, supplies the surrounding restaurants with dog meat, a specialty dish favoured by well off provincials. The locals believe the meat will taste better if, at the moment of death, the dogs are panic- stricken, electric with adrenalin. So their death comes slowly. First a heavy blow to the snout with a rough-hewn truncheon resembling a baseball bat, then the dogs are left to absorb their pain for a minute or so, their cries curdling the blood of the other dogs in line. Often they stagger up to their tormentors, tails feebly wagging, in the hope of a reprieve. But there’s no mercy here. The beating continues at a torturous pace until the dogs, in and out of consciousness, finally succumb to the blows.

You can read the rest here. I don't have the stomach for it. At the bottom of this page you can see what the fur trade looks like. And it's not restricted to Asia. The cuisinary relish for dogmeat flourishes in sections of Switzerland, and even the Prince of Denmark has developed a taste for it: "…dog meat tastes like rabbit, like dried baby goat, or perhaps like the veal of a baby suckling calf, only drier." He left out chicken. And all this is being done by creatures reputedly created in the image of God, possessed of an immortal soul, intellect included.
    Our eminent Dumbinican Doctor did get me thinking, however, about things like ‘soul’ and ‘consciousness,’ what they are and how connected, and especially the difference in the latter between sensitive and intellectual. Supposedly, one must possess the second of those two if the grave is not to become your stopping point. Saith Baldy:

In everything that is apt to arrive at any perfection, there is found a natural craving after that perfection...But in dumb animals there is no craving after perpetuity of being except in the form of perpetuity of the species... since the sentient soul apprehends only what is here and now, it cannot possibly apprehend perpetuity of being, and therefore has no physical craving after such perpetuity. Therefore the soul of a dumb animal is incapable of perpetuity of being.

    First of all, I know plenty of people who exhibit no more of a “natural craving after perfection” than is bestowed by their most recent dose of Viagara. I’ve seen women who so strive for perfection that they can’t tear themselves away from the mirror. I know both men and women who so desire the perfection of love in their lives that they’ve come to the reasoned conclusion that it is necessary to wreck their marriages. About half of all of them in this country. (Did you know that male and female wolves mate for life?) Nor do I see much evidence of their “apprehending perpetuity of being”, not of any kind that would instigate a change for the better. True, most of them have some brand of pro forma religion, but they tend to reshape it in their own image so that their behavioral habits won’t be disturbed. Now, it is true that when I hold Cedar before a mirror, his reaction is one of uninterest. If I hold him close and wave wildly, the movement will get his attention momentarily, but he never seems aware that that is he in there. He can’t see himself because he’s not self-aware in the same way as you and I, though if you accidentally step on his foot he will give a good impression of it. He doesn’t know how beautiful he is, which seems a shame, and mystifies us - given his other token signs of intelligence and sensitivity: a keen capacity for experiencing pain, for taking and obeying instructions, for receiving affection and, quite possibly, for giving it – and which would constitute a virtue were we able to say that he had chosen such self-effacement. Nevertheless, when Pompous Aquinas concludes that “there is no activity in the soul of dumb animals that can possibly go on without a body,” a dog-owner is initially dumbfounded. “How can he possibly know that?” he wonders, convinced that there’s much more to his pet than eating, sleeping and excreting.
    And we are saddened by the conclusion, for by the light of whatever consciousness they possess, they do seem to love life, and us, so very much. (When we take Cedar to the golf course, he begins running in feverish circles around the putting green, apparently elated by the freedom of the open space and the chance to use his body as it was designed. His tongue hangs out and his eyes, which look at you as he’s running, have something in them for which the human analog can only be joy.) And in their importance to us as members of the family, we come to feel that they are important in their own right as well.
    If you are a dog owner, tell me:
1. Do you believe that your dog has an emotional life?
2. Do his emotions sometimes seem tuned to yours? For example, you’re feeling blue and he comes up and starts licking you or puts his head in your lap while looking up with sad and sympathetic eyes?
3. Does he seem capable of receiving love? In other words, of receiving it apart from, or in a manner greater than, the instinctual comfort that comes with being a valued member of “the pack.”
4. Does he seem capable of giving love, that is, does he ever display affection which seems offered without anticipation of recompense or reward, such as food? Does he ever, in your opinion, do this simply out of apparent affection for, and devotion to, you, his human companion and loyal comforter?
5. And do you believe that love, like intellection, is an activity that “can go on without a body”?
    That’s what I thought. Unfortunately, the case is not closed, but there is reason for hope.
    Consciousness is a highly under-rated thing. We tend to take it for granted since we have it all the time, and many of us do not put it to much good use. Every now and then we’ll sit back and say, “I’m thinking. I know that I am thinking. What’s more, I know that I know I am thinking. Isn’t that remarkable?” And then, rather than following that thought straight to God, it’s back to deciding with what physical pleasure we can next distract ourselves. Cedar can perform this latter function, but not the former. Against which my thesis here will be: so what?
    Theologians have not been much help thus far (to my purpose, I mean), but in the world of philosophy consciousness presents a nearly intractable problem (I am not being ironic). It’s called the mind-body problem. It is so intractable that Dr. Thomas Nagel felt inspired to write an essay entitled “What Is It Like To Be A Bat?” In it, he takes on the difficulties presented by materialist (or physicalist) philosophers who would reduce all mental phenomena to physical events. (You’ve heard it before: those precious thoughts of yours are no mark of immortality, but simply the chemistry of neurons firing, this activity, being physical in its essence (contra Aquinas), being also doomed to cessation upon death.) It is not Dr. Nagel’s purpose to refute the physicalists, but rather to point out that “we have at present no conception of what an explanation of the physical nature of a mental phenomenon would be.” In other words, if mental events are, not also, but nothing more than, physical events, we have no way of demonstrating it in any conceptual vocabulary known to man, be it mathematical, chemical, physical, or plain old English. It is a premise that must be assumed. It is the difficulty encountered when we attempt to analyze subjective experience by the ordinary standards of scientific and philosophical objectivity, for the subjective experience has (must have, by physicalist standards) it own objective reality. The problem is that the objective nature of that experience is accessible only to its subject. We can generalize about behavior common to creatures of like kind, but of the experience of which that behavior is evidence Dr. Nagel is driven to assert: “…the fact that an organism has conscious experience at all means, basically, that there is something it is like to be that organism… fundamentally an organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is to be that organism—something it is like for the organism.” Hence those moments when Bernadette, after observing Cedar for awhile, turns to me and says, “Sometimes I wonder what’s going on in his head.” And you, if you own a dog, have done the same. And you can’t quite give the answer. In fact, not by a long shot. A dog’s consciousness, let alone a bat’s, is an impressive thing, the fact of it being widespread throughout the animal kingdom, though where it begins to disappear would certainly create minor debate, not as rancorous, perhaps, as in the larger one concerning its ultimate cause, especially as regards a human being. (A debate which, I should add, is one most congenial to a Christian, as he is able to observe the materialists striving to analyze their own mental meanderings into unimportance. If it were me, I’d lose motivation, though perhaps a materialist has a religion to keep him going of which even he is unaware, unable as he is to objectively analyze subjective experience, even his own)
    In the end, Dr. Nagel’s essay left me in awe of consciousness in any form, and in the case of higher mammals like Cedar, deeply so. In our inability to say what it is, it has the look of the miraculous. The sensitivity of a soul like Cedar’s displays certain character traits that are in fact abstract nouns: bravery, loyalty, altruism, affection. One strains mightily, and vainly, to see how such traits can find their complete explanation in an arrangement of chemicals. By illustration, a brief story. When I was a kid I owned a part Shepherd part Chow by the name of Lance. This was in the days when dogs were still allowed to run free in the neighborhood. I did not witness the event, but my mother did from the kitchen window, and remembers it vividly. Across the street at a neighbor’s house she saw an infant crawling toward the cement steps leading down to the street. Its parents were doing something in the backyard and, in a glorious exercise of intellect and parental solicitude, had lost track of the child’s whereabouts. Suddenly, Lance came into view, running across the street and up the cement steps where he stood lengthwise across the top one, barricading the child’s progress. And he remained there until the parents came to their senses and reclaimed the precious issue of their loins. This is a true story, as verifiable as any other eyewitness account in history, and you are welcome to explain it to me in terms of what it was like for the dog, what it was like to be him. And if you start talking about the complex chemical bases of genetic structure molded into such a form after eons of evolution, you will have moved us not one inch closer to the mystery.
    But this is all nonsense, some will object. An animal, incapable of moral choice, cannot be redeemed. Besides, it’s manifestly unfair that animals go to heaven while some people go to hell. Well, suppose I were to hand you the keys to the kingdom, and then set before you Osama bin Laden and Cedar, with the instruction that you must choose which goes where. What would you do? That was easy, wasn’t it?
    But it is true that animals cannot be redeemed in the same way as man, and by arguing for their place in eternity, I must be assuming a redemption of some kind. And I am not the first Christian to do so. It turns out that our old friend C.S. Lewis found it necessary to discuss the matter at some length, so fond was he of animals, and so especially disturbed was he by the fact of their suffering. I made mention of his general approach in a long ago post:

…starting from the premise that the animal world may have already been corrupted by Satan before the advent of man, resulting in the incessant viciousness which so distresses us, he makes a hypothetical case (entirely hypothetical, he admits) for some sense of the immortality of sentient creatures, for their possible ascent to an afterlife where we might still enjoy their company. Something about animals finding their true personalities in their relationship with man, much as we find ours "in" our relation to Christ. It was a bit too mystical for me, requiring too much blurring of the boundary between nature and supernature, and yet just mystical enough to make you wonder if it could not be true. Frankly, I had trouble taking it seriously and considered that, if widely disseminated, which it is, it would only add to the sentimental mischief.

    To make a long story short, I’ve changed my mind. It’s a tentative change, to be sure, but I insist upon entertaining it. Lacking time to explore that part of Lewis’ thesis that focuses upon animal redemption in virtue of their pervasive suffering, both at the claws of other creatures and at the hands of man (Lewis was opposed to vivisection in the latter case, and did not believe that the savagery of predation was a necessary requirement of the natural world), I wish to focus on the other part dealing with an animal’s redemption in his relationship to man. I would like to make the claim that any sentient creature capable of giving and receiving love ought to be eligible for a life in which that is the only relationship that one creature is allowed to have with any other. For I do believe that an animal’s “animal” nature is elevated by human love. It may be that it moves him in the direction of his true nature. The evidence is purely anecdotal, and based only on observation, but sometimes I’ll kiss Cedar on a spot between his ear and his eye, and when I do he ceases all activity, even rough-housing, to absorb it. It cannot be the purely physical ecstasy that results when I scratch his neck or behind his ears, for it’s nothing more than a light touch on his fur. Occasionally he turns to look at me as though baffled by my gesture and his own reaction to it, then turns back so that I may continue. And then there are those times when he seems to reciprocate in dog fashion licking his human companion with no obvious need of reward, or snuggling close for no other reason than that, as with humans, closeness is a sign of affection.
    On one occasion his sensitivity was made manifest by a human attempt to interfere with his animality. Bernadette had him neutered (castrated says it more truly). Yes, she went through with it over my objections. The day she brought him home he stumbled groggily on the step leading into the house, so she picked him up, brought him to the bedroom and laid him on the bed. I knelt beside him. He raised his eyes to mine and, with an expression of pained and puzzled distress equal to any human’s, lifted his hind leg, looked down there, then back at me. He knew something awful had been done to him. I kissed his neck as his head fell to the bedspread and he collapsed into sleep, the anesthesia still taking its toll. In time he returned to normal. He was his old self again, minus the outward signs of a particular reproductive urge, until one day a few months later he was wrestling with, snarling and biting at, the towel I keep wrapped around my arm for such occasions, when suddenly his wrestling graduated by degrees to more of an embrace. All at once he was humping the towel. Bernadette was aghast. “Oh my God! I don’t believe it. Make him stop.”
    Me, I just laughed. “Ha! Attaboy. They couldn’t get it all out of you, could they?”
    No, a dog will not enjoy the beatific vision, not as you do, anyway, but what’s to prevent him from basking in it as he basks now in the love of man, freed from the savagery which might have been his lot had fate played its hand a little differently? He is capable of knowing what it is to be loved, and he can give it back according to his measure.
    What balderdash. You are too earthbound. You can’t let it go. You can’t conceive of a life in which all the pleasures of the earth play no part, in which the beatific vision is all and sufficiently consuming.
    All right then. I’ve heard that limbo is a place of perfect natural happiness, free of the death, disease, torment, and cruelty of this life, sustained by God’s love but yet veiling His face from its inhabitants. If it has animals in it, you can send me there instead.


Peony Moss said...

Sheldon Vanauken wrote an article on this very issue. It was published in the NOR in September, 1996, shortly before his death. The beginning's linked here (NOR makes you pay to read the whole thing).

His basic conclusion is that, by learning from and being obedient to men, perhaps some animals can become "ensouled."

Of all the species on the earth, man has domesticated only a very few. It's like God created them as a special gift to us.

Peony Moss said...
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William Luse said...

Peony accidentally double-posted is why I removed it.
Vanauken and I once shared a correspondence back in the early 80's (concerning his impending conversion and a poem of mine he wanted to publish). He was a good man. Never read that article, for by then I had long drifted away from that mag, but I will go read what little they give of it.

Mild Colonial Boy, Esq. said...

I think that the story of "St. Guinefort" may be of interest to you: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Guinefort

I remember, as a child, being upset by the unfair fate of the dog in this story.

William Luse said...

Thanks, mcb, I'll have a look at that too.

Jeff Culbreath said...

What a pleasure that was to read. Or it was to read that. Almost makes me want a house dog. Almost.

TS said...

A few links here and here. For what they're worth anyway.

Chesterton wrote of St. Thomas:

"And before we come to those aspects of St. Thomas that were very severely intellectual, we may note that in him as in St. Francis there is a preliminary practical element which is rather moral; a sort of good and straightforward humility; and a readiness in the man to regard even himself in some ways as an animal; as St. Francis compared his body to a donkey. It may be said that the contrast holds everywhere, even in zoological metaphor, and that if St. Francis was like that common or garden donkey who carried Christ into Jerusalem, St. Thomas, who was actually compared to an ox, rather resembled that Apocalyptic monster of almost Assyrian mystery; the winged bull."

Paul Cella said...

Now that was blogging at its best.

smockmomma said...

my chichi would be an adorable playmate for cedar. they're both the same beautiful colors. of course, chichi has spent so much time by the pool this summer, she's going blonde! anyway, i put in my two cents on the subject over at the mamas.

Amy said...

All right then. I’ve heard that limbo is a place of perfect natural happiness, free of the death, disease, torment, and cruelty of this life, sustained by God’s love but yet veiling His face from its inhabitants. If it has animals in it, you can send me there instead.

I thought limbo was supposed to be a higher level of hell?

William Luse said...

Paul Cella has spoken. The case is closed.

TS, in the course of my, ahem, "research", I'd already come across those links. I guess the passage from Chesterton, which I'd read many years ago, was intended to take up for St. Thomas. Good for you.

Culbreath - either will do. A farmer needs a house dog to laze around on the porch. Just go to your local humane society or animal shelter or breeder's kennel and you will walk out of there with one unless your heart is hardened beyond repair.

Amy - technically it is, since it's not heaven. But it's not like the rest of what's below it. And I'm not recommending that it be the goal of your spiritual striving. It's not really mine either unless...do you think they have beer there?

Amy said...

do you think they have beer there?

I'm guessing no, since beer requires fermentation which involves the birth and death of millions of yeast. Nothing will be born in hell, and nothing will die in heaven.

Do you know that song:
In Heaven, there ain't no beer,
That's why we drink it here

Anyway, about dogs and heaven (and now that I've forgiven you for picking on Tommy boy):

The three types of souls are nutritive (plants), sensitive (animals), intellectual (human beings). Plants have a nutritive soul because they change and grow while they're alive. Animals have all of the powers of the soul that plants have since they're on a higher level (they change and grow) but they also have senses (hearing, smelling, tasting, emotions, etc.). Humans have intellect and will, but we also change and grow, and experience things using our senses. We can choose to sin, plants and animals cannot.

Death is a substantial change - the substance or essence of the being is changed. Since the form is dependent on the substance, the form changes as well. Since the substance and form of plants and animals is all that there is to them, they cease to exist at death (there's no such thing as a dead dog: since a dog must have both a sensitive soul and a body, when the animal dies, it's no longer correctly called a dog since only the body remains, not the soul). Only humans have an immortal soul, so when we die the soul continues to exist. There's a substantial change, since the soul is the form of the body - our body will decay as soon as the soul is separated from it.

So dogs can go to heaven, but only if they are assumed, body and soul, before death.

John said...

Well, it seems to me that if the penultimate line of the Apostle's Creed is true {"I believe . . . in the resurrection of the body. . .") than it implies more. Bodies are made of stuff and stuff needs a place to be. If it's going to be heaven, i.e., a jolly good place, than the place needs to be a place suitable for the stuff involved. In this case, human bodies. So it needs to be a place suitable for a human body. And that means grass and trees and azaleas and fresh air . . . and dogs.

But than I'm a material heretic anyway so you may not want to take that to the bank. Or the Holy Office, either.



TS said...
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William Luse said...

Don't know why you removed it.

TS said...

Don't know what or why I removed it now, at least at this long remove in time.

John is a "material heretic"? Whoa whoda thunk it. I thought he was more orthodox than the Pope, given his traditionalism. SSPXr's ain't heretics, I think they're schismatics. But then he would know his status for better than I. But i digress...

Over the years I've gone from a "dog"matic (that pun was so intended) position of no animals in Heaven to a greater openness to the idea. The New Jerusalem will be a living material world, not a merely spiritual world. And the material part would surely include animals and plants, if only to please the great St. Francis. And if there's going to be animals and plants, why not our animals and plants, i.e. all animals and plants?

Animal Chaplain said...

Thank-you for your beautiful blog. The photo of the dogs piled together like garbage in a cage makes me so sad. I can't imagine how many dogs and cats suffer in Asia, and how desperately they wish someone would save them...

If anyone here is further interested in Animals and Spirituality, please come visit our site and our blog, as well. We are the Interfaith Association of Animal Chaplains. We serve animals and the people who love them.

Thank-you again, for your gentle spirits. May our compassion be used for the greater Purpose.

Yours in Peace,
Chaplain Nancy

Anonymous said...

Wow i love the story and your dog is so cute!!!!

WL said...