God and Man’s Best Friend

I don’t think it is wrong to mourn for a beloved pet, as long as our affection for them helps us to live more simply and grow in love for God and neighbor.

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Almost five years ago, I visited an old friend and his family one weekend. As a bachelor, I have often found inspiration from my friends with large Catholic families. This time, I found more than I bargained for. While lying in bed to go to sleep the first night I was there, I felt something jump into bed and plop down between my legs. It turns out it was the family dog, a Yorkshire terrier they had named Augustine Melchizedek (really) but whom everyone called Gus. 

I was being set up. My friend wanted me to take Gus off his hands, as the family was about to grow from four to five in number (it is now six), and the little dog had already run away a couple of times. They wanted someone they trusted to take care of him. I resisted, but I eventually took Gus home with me. 

I resisted because I worried that having a dog would somehow ruin my precious work routines. I had lived alone for many years by that point, and it did take some adjustment on my part. It took me a while to tell the difference between when Gus was hungry and when he needed to go out. I actually called my friend and asked him to take Gus back the first week. But once I began to understand what he wanted, he became my inseparable companion. 

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily

Email subscribe inline (#4)

Gus loved people and was an especial favorite of my Catholic friends’ children. When I was still able to take him on an airplane, virtually everyone in the airport wanted to pet him. It struck me how much joy he seemed to take in meeting people—and how much joy his presence brought them. I tried to take him with me as much as possible when I had to go somewhere, just for that reason. 

In the past, because I spend much of my time reading and writing, I hardly left my apartment some days. But Gus dragged me outside constantly to walk. Moreover, he got me out of my shell. I noticed, as time went on, that his presence made me more willing to socialize with other people, something I’ve struggled with in my life.

Last summer, my vet diagnosed Gus with chronic kidney disease, an ailment for which there is no cure, as in human beings. He told me it was only in the early stages of the disease and that Gus might have a few months or years depending on how fast it progressed. 

In January, at another trip to the vet, they told me the disease had worsened. I tried to get him to eat the special food designed for dogs with kidney disease but to little avail. I had spoiled Gus rather thoroughly, and he didn’t want to eat this new food. 

Within a week, he stopped eating. Not long after, I had to take him back to the vet to receive fluids. But it did not help; he kept deteriorating. Two days later, I made the agonizing decision to put him to sleep.

Is it wrong for a Christian to mourn an animal? I admit that I cried a great deal when I had to put Gus down, both before and after the fact. I took Gus home in 2019, a year before the lockdowns, and I sometimes believe if I had suffered through that period alone, I might have lost my mind. 

Gus was the sweetest-tempered animal I have ever encountered. He grew ecstatic whenever someone came to visit me, licking them and demanding to be petted. For a time, I had a cat, which I gave to my father. When I took Gus with me to see my dad, Gus would greet that cat by licking it in the face. That was pretty much how he greeted everyone.

But there is a reason I ask the question. Some people do seem to lavish more affection and spend more time and money on their animals than they do on people. We are all well aware these days of the growing problem of childlessness in our society. And for many, such indulgence of their pets seems like a sign of social decay if not outright moral depravity. I myself am a childless, middle-aged bachelor, so I suppose I bear some responsibility for this trend.

There is something to this. St. Augustine once wrote of the ordo amoris, the order of love that is due to each being or object, according to its worth in the scale of being. We ought not to love creatures more than the Creator, nor those creatures who are not made in the image and likeness of God more than those who are—our fellow human beings.  We ought not to love creatures more than the Creator, nor those creatures who are not made in the image and likeness of God more than those who are—our fellow human beings. Tweet This

Christ took on human nature, not that of other creatures. There are beings who are more worthy of our love than others, and it is wrong to give greater love to those less worthy. We owe love first of all to God, and to our fellow man; and as my pastor recently remarked, all of our prayers and good works have only one purpose: to make us love God and our fellow man more.

Like many, I have always struggled to love my fellow man, and I would be dishonest if I did not admit the same problem with loving God. From a certain point of view, weeping over a dog does sound unreasonable. Why put so much affection into creatures who are not our equals, who do not share our capacity for reason, our freedom of will? Or Almighty God, whose love for us is infinite? 

The reason is precisely because our pets are not our equals. Human relationships are fraught with much higher stakes precisely because we possess reason and freedom of will that animals do not. 

Mark Twain once wrote that “if you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.” Human beings betray, reject, lie to, and falsely judge their fellow men constantly because they are superior beings to animals. As they are capable of greater good, so they are capable of greater evil. Human love is greater than that of animals but so are the emotional risks that come with it. 

By contrast, if you ill-treat a dog, he will become ill tempered, perhaps dangerous. But if you treat him well, he will shower you with affection every time. Some would say this is because the dog just wants food or treats from their human owners and not because they truly have affection for them. This is to suppose animals are mere brutes or machines of some kind. But they obviously possess a nature, one which we share in part with them. 

That they only repay good for good is not proof of their complete soullessness but of their simplicity. That is their virtue as inferior creatures, that they can only act according to their nature, a virtue which human beings—precisely because we can reject our superior nature—often fail to practice. But contempt for inferiors is no sign of virtue, nor is expressing contempt for those who love their animals too much and their fellow men too little. 

Of course, there is one more way in which human beings are generally thought superior to animals. That is the question of whether or not animals can “go to Heaven.” Many years ago, Paul VI told a young boy disconsolate at the death of his dog that “one day we will see our pets in the eternity of Christ.” Traditionally, the Church has tended to see things differently. 

A decade ago, the Thomist philosopher Edward Feser engaged in an argument with the Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart on this subject. He argued against animals being present in the afterlife on metaphysical grounds, but he also pointed out that biblical passages that suggest animals might “go to Heaven” are mostly poetical or metaphorical. 

Though I am no metaphysician, I tend to think Feser and the Thomists are probably right. The promises of eternal life were made to mankind because he is made in the image and likeness of God. “The dwelling place of God is with men,” says the Book of Revelation. It would go beyond what Christ promised us in Revelation to say that our pets will definitely go to Heaven or that God owes us this somehow. 

Still, Scripture does not definitively rule it out. And I think a pious, private hope that we may be reunited with our beloved animals is not heresy. It is a hope that I harbor myself.

But if God destines our pets to pass away entirely, this does not make Him cruel or unjust. God loves all His creatures infinitely more than we ever could, even if He does not grant all of them eternal life. Our time with our loved ones on this earth, human or otherwise, is limited, and whether we will reunite in Heaven with any of them is ultimately in His hands. If they do not “go to Heaven,” our animals will at least no longer suffer and will be at rest.

As for myself, I cannot believe the God who has blessed me with loving family and friends—and yes, even a faithful animal such as a dog—could ever truly be cruel. To answer my own question, I don’t think it is wrong to mourn for a beloved pet, as long as our affection for them helps us to live more simply and grow in love for God and neighbor. And that is why, in spite of my heartbreak at his passing, I will always be grateful to God for bringing little Gus into my life. 

[Photo: Augustine Melchizedek, aka “Gus,” 2012-2024]


  • Darrick Taylor

    Darrick Taylor earned his PhD in History from the University of Kansas. He lives in Central Florida and teaches at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, FL. He also produces a podcast, Controversies in Church History, dealing with controversial episodes in the history of the Catholic Church.

tagged as: Catholic Living pets

Join the Conversation

in our Telegram Chat

Or find us on

Editor's picks

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Signup to receive new Crisis articles daily

Email subscribe stack
Share to...