(for Kelly, who recently lost her dog Hailey)
I was seven years old when I first understood, and promptly questioned, the concept of heaven. Mémère was reading me a bedtime story about people who died and went to heaven. The story made heaven sound, well, heavenly. I needed to know all about it and quickly posed a barrage of questions.
“Will Mommy go to heaven if she dies?”
“Will you go there if you die?”
“I hope so”
“Will I go there if I die?”
“Certainly. But that will not be for a long time.”
“Will Skippy go there when he dies?”
“Because Skippy is a dog. Dogs cannot go to heaven.”
This didn’t sound right. No. This didn’t sound right at all. How could such a wonderful place exist without dogs? Heaven sounded like a nice place to go, but who would want to go there if there were no dogs? I cried. I worried about Skippy. Where would he go? Was there a dog heaven? Would he know anyone there? He didn’t have any dog friends that I knew of.
The sadness dissipated and was replaced with anger. I was mad. It was unfair that Skippy couldn’t go to heaven. He was just as good as any person I had ever met. It was unfair that I had to go a place for eternity where there were no dogs. I thought heaven was supposed to be perfect, but the no dogs policy was clearly a huge flaw!
Skippy has been gone a long time now. So has Shadow. And Kiowa. The dogs I have loved and lost. It makes my stomach cramp to think of it, but I know some day I will lose my beloved Gosh as well. I can’t claim to know anymore now than I did when I was seven regarding where they have gone after death. Did they crumble to dust? Certainly. But did part of them live on? Certainly. Maybe they haven’t gone on to heaven or an afterlife, but they will always be present in my thoughts, memories and actions. My dogs have helped shape my life. They are my family members and my friends.
I wish I could believe in heaven. That is, a heaven that includes dogs. There would be sunny nooks for lounging, an abundance of tennis balls, and plushy, squeaky toys would grow on bushes. All of my dogs would meet up there and form one pack that would eventually welcome me with wagging tails, happy barks and slobbering tongues. I would get to be happy with them once again. But I am far too cynical to believe in such a post-life Utopian existence. I will simply have to be content with the simple truth: I get to share my life with dogs. That, on its own, is extraordinary.
I believed it when I was seven and I believe it now. Life is not complete without dogs. And my dogs have made my life, well, heavenly.