Helter Shelter

Do all dogs go to heaven?

Back during the summer, ABC News teamed up with Beliefnet - an interfaith Internet website - to poll 1,018 full-grown Americans. They asked them if pets go to heaven. Forty-three percent said

yes, forty percent said no. I know, some of you skeptical types are thinking, "Yeah, sure. Pets in heaven. Let's see some evidence."

Well, don't you know, there's a whole book full of evidence, namely The Soul of Your Pet: Evidence for the Survival of Animals After Death, by Scott S. Smith. Smith says plenty of people have had contact with their departed pets, and they weren't just hallucinations. They were real. He tells one story of a respected veterinarian seeing a ghost horse, wandering his old corral. Apparently, once the critters pass over, they can talk, project holographic images, and do all kinds of fancy stuff. I'd say that's a pretty big upgrade. Shoot, if I were trapped in the body of your average shivery, eczema-infested chihuahua, I just couldn't wait to die.

I'm sure Scott Smith is a nice guy and all, but I wanted to check with a more authoritative source. So, I called the Reverend Robert Cowperthwaite. Besides being a real enough man of the cloth, Bob conducts an annual blessing of the animals at his church. I asked him straight up, "Do pets go to heaven?"

"I'd like to think that the ones we've blessed are going," he said.

"Even the cats?" I asked.

"Hmmmm," Bob paused. "Cats might have their very own heaven. And I'd guess that cats have a longer purgatory."

"I'm with you on the cats," I said. "Like some of the grouchier human sects, they wouldn't want to share their heaven with anybody else."

I got back to the dogs. "Now, tell me this: If dogs are going to heaven, do they know it? And does that knowledge change them?"

"All I know is that since I blessed my dog, I've haven't noticed any change in his behavior."

"One more thing," I said. "How about goats, pigs and serpents? Heavenbound, hellbound, or just plain old worm food?" Bob didn't want to commit on that one. "I'm not going to say that they won't get into heaven," he said.

Well, sure. That's a call best left to the Higher-ups. Bob does more than his share of uplifting the critters here on earth. If any animals have a head-start on heaven, they've got to be Bob's pre-blessed animals.

Bob did offer that he thought heaven would be a better place with dogs in it. Good dogs, anyway. I must agree. If I make it to heaven, I would very much enjoy visits from Nuisance, Daisy, Josh and Gracie. I would also enjoy flopping down supine in a heavenly green pasture, beside some still water, and letting Gracie's litter of 14 broken-tailed Basset pups climb all over me. Assuming wife Brenda is in heaven with me (and it sure ain't heaven if she's not), I'm sure she'll hang out with T.J. and Fluff.

But just to sample the other end of the stick: If Brenda and I arrive yoked in the afterlife, and we see Stan - our stinky, psychotic former dog, just one vowel away from Satan - we'll know for sure we're in hell. We'll just have to hunker down for an eternity of Stan's hideous farting, while Vegas Elvis sings Battle Hymn of the Republic, and special guest Karen Carpenter pounds out Wipe Out on the drums.

I talked to a lot of friends about this pets-in-heaven thing, and they were near unanimous in believing that heaven has to include good dogs. But what about the cats? From my informal polling, it looks like people just don't see cats in heaven. I didn't trust my mini-poll, though, so I investigated further.

First, I searched the Internet and found out that you can buy plenty of angel-dog Christmas tree ornaments - assorted breeds, with all manner of wings, halos and fancy robes. But just try to find a cat-angel tree ornament. They're not out there, bubba.

I decided maybe my polling was too heavily weighted with dog-loving Southerners. The ABC/Beliefnet poll said that Northeasterners are most likely to believe in heavenbound pets. So I checked with one of my Yankee friends, Pete, up in New Jersey. He is a strong supporter of dogs in heaven, but he also offered this, which he heard from the lips of a five-year-old: "Bad cats go to dog heaven."

Well, there you go. Straight from the unpolluted mind of a child. Good dogs go to dog heaven, where they chase bad cats. When they get tired of that, the dogs go visit their friends in human heaven.