We don’t have an abundance of details, but Latter-day Saints are blessed with reassuring knowledge about animals’ place in the gospel plan.
Pets were never really a part of my upbringing, aside from a few freshwater fish and the occasional “outside” cat that my mother tolerated only because she appreciated their mouse-hunting skills. For her, the idea of a rodent in the house was the only thing more unbearable than the idea of a shedding, slobbering dog or cat. Therefore my attitude toward pets has always been indifference bordering on distaste.
So I never thought I’d have an animal in my own house as an adult. But that changed a few months ago, when months of endless pleading by my three kids finally culminated in a new addition to our family: an absurdly cute and fluffy Havanese puppy named Po. And even I, the childhood-pet-free dad with a stony hearted attitude toward all things furry, have to admit that having a puppy in the house is actually pretty great.
Now that little Po has smitten our entire family, I’ve started to wonder about things that never crossed my mind before. I’m not talking just about questions like how such a little creature could cause such a hit to my wallet. These are questions with even more impact: What are pets’ place in the gospel plan? Do they have spirits? Will they be in heaven? Can animals receive priesthood blessings? (I mean, I swear I remember seeing an ox receive a blessing in the Legacy film, right?)
I realize these questions may strike some as odd or unimportant—and maybe they are, in the grand scheme. And when it comes down to it, we don’t actually have solid answers about the eternal destiny of our furry friends. There are a few scriptures and prophetic statements here and there from which we can infer certain ideas, but that’s the best we can do for now.
But still, this is a topic that’s interesting for many, so just for interest’s sake, I decided to dive in. Here’s what I discovered.
Do pets have spirits?
In Doctrine and Covenants 77, Joseph Smith asked several questions about the Book of Revelation, and God gives His answers. For example, in Revelation 4:6, John describes God’s throne: “And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.”
When Joseph Smith asked about the meaning of the four beasts mentioned, the response was that “they are figurative expressions, used by the Revelator, John, in describing heaven, the paradise of God, the happiness of man, and of beasts, and of creeping things, and of the fowls of the air; that which is spiritual being in the likeness of that which is temporal; and that which is temporal in the likeness of that which is spiritual; the spirit of man in the likeness of his person, as also the spirit of the beast, and every other creature which God has created” (Doctrine and Covenants 77:2; emphasis added).
To me, these verses imply that all animals, like human beings, likely have spirits that are eternal in nature.
Will our pets be in heaven?
On another occasion speaking about the Book of Revelation, Joseph Smith taught:
“John saw curious looking beasts in heaven; … actually there, giving glory to God. … (See Rev. 5:13.) …
“I suppose John saw beings there of a thousand forms, that had been saved from ten thousand times ten thousand earths like this,—strange beasts of which we have no conception: all might be seen in heaven. John learned that God glorified Himself by saving all that His hands had made, whether beasts, fowls, fishes or men; and He will glorify Himself with them” (in History of the Church, 5:343).
Going back to Doctrine and Covenants 77, we read about “the happiness of man, and of beasts, and of creeping things, and of the fowls of the air” in verse 2. Then, in verse 3, we read that the four beasts “represent the glory of the classes of beings in their destined border or sphere of creation, in the enjoyment of their eternal felicity.”
I interpret all of these teachings as evidence that pets and other animals will likely be in heaven and will enjoy eternal “felicity,” or happiness, just like human beings.
Will animals be judged, resurrected, or receive a degree of glory?
OK, now we might be getting into some really offbeat territory. But I know I’m not the only one who’s asked these questions, because the Ensign magazine published a whole article on the topic in 1979. Yes, that was before I was born, and we should always try to rely on current teachings; but this was the most complete discussion of the topic I’ve been able to find in an official Church publication.
The article was written by an institute director, not a Church authority, so none of it should be taken as authoritative. This is all speculative for the most part. But I thought his points were interesting. My “too long; didn’t read” summary is this:
- It appears that yes, animals will be resurrected, based on Doctrine and Covenants 77 and another sermon by Joseph Smith.
- The scriptures speak about animals being in the celestial kingdom, but we don’t know if they’ll be in the other degrees.
- Animals most likely won’t be judged since they have no conscience or sense of right and wrong. (Even though I swear my puppy sometimes wets on the carpet just to spite me.)
- Animals might be reunited with their owners in the afterlife, but we don’t know. Elder Orson F. Whitney once wrote that Joseph Smith expected to have his favorite horse in eternity. (Some of us are likely more fond of the idea of reuniting with certain well-behaved pets, but honestly I’m not too concerned about having all my childhood goldfish back.)
Can pets receive priesthood blessings?
OK, stay with me here. I pose the question because I can remember hearing a story as a child that when Mary Fielding Smith, widow of Hyrum Smith, was crossing the plains, one of her oxen got sick and refused to continue on the journey—that is, until it was anointed with oil and blessed.
(I also remember seeing a similar scene in the Church-produced film Legacy, though as an adult I’ve now learned that it was a dramatized scene that was probably inspired by Mary Fielding Smith’s real-life experience.)
Well, it turns out that my memory of the story from my Primary days wasn’t too far off. The story of Mary Fielding Smith’s ox is true, according to a now-retired Primary manual and an article in the Friend magazine in 1993. From the Friend:
“One day one of her best oxen became very sick, lay down, and was apparently near death. Had this happened, she could not have continued on the journey to the Valley. Mary got a bottle of consecrated oil and asked two brethren to administer to the sick ox. Although administration to the sick had only been used for humans, Mary believed that the Lord would heal the animal that she needed so desperately.
“After the blessing, the ox got up and was soon ready to pull the wagon again. Two more times other oxen became ill, and twice more Mary asked the brethren to bless them. Each time, they were healed instantly. Despite all difficulties, Mary and her family arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on September 23, 1848, a full day before the rest of the company.”
I suppose each reader can take what they want from that story, but let’s be clear: the Church has given no official statement that says animals should be given blessings. Apart from the Mary Fielding Smith story, the Church only ever describes priesthood blessings as being for the benefit of human beings:
“Usually, administering to the sick should be done at the request of the person receiving the blessing or at the request of others who are concerned so the blessing will be according to their faith” (General Handbook, 18.13).
Still, some members have said that they feel blessing an animal might be appropriate. For example, a commenter in one online forum expressed this opinion: “If your livelihood (or very life) depends on a single animal (as Mary [Fielding Smith’s] did), then it might be vital to have a priesthood blessing for that animal.”
We should respect animals and all of God’s creations
The Church has given very little information about the eternal status of animals, so much remains unclear. But as we’ve seen, Latter-day Saints are blessed with the knowledge that animals likely have spirits and will be with us in heaven.
Even more clear are Church teachings about the sacred responsibility we have to care for all of God’s creatures. Joseph F. Smith, David O. McKay, and Stephen L Richards once wrote that human beings “cannot worship the Creator and look with careless indifference upon his creations. The love of all life helps man to the enjoyment of a better life. It exalts the spiritual nature of those in need of divine favor” (Juvenile Instructor, Apr. 1918, 182).
And Brigham Young even said that our treatment of animals affects the measure of peace we will enjoy:
“Let the people be holy, and the earth under their feet will be holy. Let the people be holy, and filled with the Spirit of God, and every animal and creeping thing will be filled with peace; the soil of the earth will bring forth in its strength, and the fruits thereof will be meat for man. The more purity that exists, the less is the strife; the more kind we are to our animals, the more will peace increase, and the savage nature of the brute creation vanish away.”