Mormons and Death: Childhood Pets

Posted by on July 27, 2011 in Gospel | 9 comments

First Pet

Four-Year-Old Me and My First Pet

My sister and her family recently moved across the country, just a few days after their pet cat gave birth to four kittens.  When my sister’s family arrived in their new state of residence, they stayed with a friend of a friend while they looked for a new home.  These hospitable strangers owned a dog.

A couple days into their stay as house guests, my sister and her husband heard their three-year-old daughter screaming.  They ran to her aid but they were too late.  The dog had killed all four kittens and my tiny little niece had witnessed the tragedy.

My niece was naturally traumatized. Her reactions varied from anger, manifested by attacking her baby brother; denial, such as requesting to play with the deceased kittens; to spiritual questioning about what happened to the kittens after the dog bit them and made them stop crying.  Her parents used the classic Mormon glove example to explain to her about death.  Her dad offered her a priesthood blessing. “Heavenly Father wants you to know that He is holding your kitties right now,” he told my niece as he blessed her. He also counseled her to share all the love that she wanted to give to the kittens with her baby brother.

My first memory of death was also the death of a pet.  My first pet died when I was twelve.  She was a cat that had resided with my family since I was four.  My entire family grieved.  We held a special family home evening style memorial service in honor of our deceased pet.  We all talked about our favorite memories of the deceased cat.  The death of this furry loved one must have been an unusually teachable moment for me, because I still remember details of that lesson.  My parents shared a quote from former LDS church president Joseph Fielding Smith about how animals have souls and will be resurrected.  They talked about how they believed our cat had fulfilled her mission in life very well—she had made our family happy, which is the primary purpose of a pet.

With a quick search, I found what may have been that very quote at the church website,  “So we see that the Lord intends to save, not only the earth and the heavens, not only man who dwells upon the earth, but all things which he has created. The animals, the fishes of the sea, the fowls of the air, as well as man, are to be recreated, or renewed, through the resurrection, for they too are living souls.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Conference Report, October 1928)

I have heard it said that a pet is a story with an unhappy ending.  Children and grown-ups  grow close to these creatures, but the relatively short lifespan of most pets almost guarantees that their human caretakers will watch them die. Perhaps this sad truth is actually another benefit of pet ownership.  These animal/human bonds help us appreciate the sanctity of life and learn how to process our grief.  They also give us opportunities to comfort each other. Such lessons will be invaluable as we suffer much greater losses in the future.  My little niece is going through her first primer in human mortality—even though her teachers were not human.

However, even as I reflect so philosophically on the benefits of loving and losing pets, I wish my niece’s kittens were still alive.  I am so sorry, sweetie.

Previous Posts in the Mormons and Death Series

Poll: Laid to Rest (5/29)
introduction (5/30)
Mormon funerals (5/31)
unconventional funerals (6/1)
miscarriage/ stillbirth (6/2)
the death of a child (6/8)
suicide (6/15)
the right to die (6/22)
organ donation (6/29)
giving comfort (7/6)
the after-life (7/13)
cemeteries (7/20)

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9 Comments

  1. Does anyone else believe that they will get to have their pets with them in the next life? I sure do. But my dog and I are pretty much inseparable. I think I’ll have a really, really hard time when she dies. When we found out that she had Addison’s disease earlier this year, we happily accepted the cost of getting her back up to full strength and the cost of her ridiculously expensive pills. People acted as if we were crazy for prolonging the life of a dog. But she’s only 2. She has a long and (with her pills) healthy life ahead of her. I can’t imagine spending vet bill money on anything that could make me as happy as having my dog for another 10 years.

  2. About two years ago, I was talking with my psychologist about the benefit of having a pet. He thought my having a dog would help me with my anxiety and panic , and depressive episodes. He wrote me a prescription for canine therapy and my landlord consented.

    It was quite possible the best decision that I have literally ever made(no exaggeration) I found Beau at the ASPCA. He was sandwiched in between a pit bull and some other large dogs. Two men were looking at him and Beau refused to look at them. I came by his cage and he looked at me and came right to me. I’m not kidding. I knew at that point he was mine. I talked to the girl at the counter and she gave me his history. He had been abused and neglected.(just like his pet momma) At that point, I knew this dog was meant to be mine.

    When I brought him home the first night Beau was scared, okay lets face it, Beau was terrified. he was scared of everything, His tail was not just down, His tail was down and under, and the saddest thing of all was the fact that my baby WOULD NOT BARK. This made me extremely upset, someone really did a number on this sweet thing.

    Fast forward a year and half later I have a happy dog, a dog who will go up to anyone on the street and give them his paw. a dog who in the morning, instead of running for the door to go out, will run to my bed for a cuddle. a dog will turn over and give you his belly for the asking. Best of all I have a dog who has finally found his voice, he barks when someone walks past my door to let me know they are there.

    I love this dog, and I know he loves me, he keeps me going. I go out walking with him 3x a day for an hour each. I have not had a cold, bronchitis anything since I’ve had him with me. I don’t know what I would do if and when he dies. I know he will be in heaven with me because of the passage in The Pearl of Great Price.

    • I love this story, Diane. Makes me teary.

      • We have this game we play. I’m at the computer and if he thinks I’ve been on it for to long he comes over and pokes me in the butt, I ignore him, he then goes into the closet,*his safe place, he waits a few minutes comes backs out and throws himself down on the floor like human child, I still ignore him, so he goes back in the closet, waits a little more comes back out throws himself on the floor rolls over does his full out doggie stretch, almost as if he’s saying, ‘ resist the belly momma resist the belly,” of course he’s one at this point because well who can resist a doggie belly.

        sorry a little of track, but, when it comes to my baby, err my dog, I simply can’t resist

  3. I also believe pets can be with us in the next life. I think it has a lot to do with how we treat them in this life and what they choose they want to do, but I believe it’s possible. I am glad we don’t have a super concrete doctrine about it, though. I can just hear it now, “Only if you obey all of God’s commandments and instructions (through his earthly leaders, of course) and receive the highest exaltation can you be with your pets again….Muwahahaha!” I believe some pets would be happy to follow you into the lowest kingdoms.

    Pets are often a story with an unhappy ending. Their lives are so short and it’s so much harder when their lives are shorter than we even expected. But when my childhood pet lived until I was 27, I missed him, but all I could feel was gratitude for his beautiful, graciously long life. I hope my family can apply that appreciation and peace to the losses the loom in the future.

  4. Great article and comments thus far. I’m not a dog lover, I’ve owned them for sake of the kids and husband; I like them at a distance. I’m too much of a clean freak to want them anymore in my house. We did have a lovely Calico cat named Maxi. Our neighbor was looking after while we were on vacation and when she heard us come home she ran across the street to greet us and got hit by a car. That was the saddest day for our family. No other cat has ever been as good as her. I truly believe that our pets are with us in the next life though, and I can’t imagine that there would be a separate place for humans and animals – just doesn’t compute. If there was a way that my son-in-law could have his pets sealed to him, he would!

  5. One of the things I like most about Mormon thought is the idea that all living things will be resurrected. All living things matter to God. I think it adds a certain depth to the idea of stewardship and makes me want to be a better person towards the creatures of the earth.

    I’ll never forget losing my first pet as an adult, my little pug Penelope. We had to put her down, and I just bawled and bawled in the vet’s office as we did it. My husband was being stoic, but then when he went to pay the bill and the receptionist said how sorry she was, he broke down too. We just sobbed together as we drove home. I’ve never loved him so much.

  6. In my adult life, our family has had 4 cats, 2 guinea pigs, and some other critters. Cats do like attention, even if they don’t want to make it obvious. The guinea pigs were funny by squeaking at the oddest moments, or having a tug of war over a carrot.

    A video of a similar guinea pig tug of war (not our pigs or video) reminds me of children so, so much:

    http://youtu.be/q85Tq3C6Bcc

    The first 2 cats and the guinea pigs have passed on. Thankfully, they lived long lives for their species. We had to put down one of the cats for cancer, but she was 13+. Our other cat that died was ill & feeble, and died the morning she was to be put down.

  7. We held a special family home evening style memorial service in honor of our deceased pet.

    We had a FHE, and explained what was going to happen to our cat before she was put down. We told our children that our cat would not have cancer after resurrection.

    It’s also interesting that a great many human emotions are also seen in pets. Yes, you can’t tell them a joke that they will laugh at, but I’ve seen the negative emotions, like fear, anger, and revenge in pets, but also the positive emotions, like love, sadness, inquisitiveness, friendship, playfulness, and contentment.

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