Gordon Monson: Here’s a doggone good LDS doctrine — dogs will go to heaven and wag their tails forever

Kiu was “always in the middle of everything. The kids grew up alongside the dog. And the dog grew up alongside the kids. He was just part of the family.”

(Gordon Monson) Gordon Monson's daughter Taylor with the family's beloved dog, Kiu.

There were two ways to go on the night before the vet went about his merciful-but-awful-and-oh-so-sad work on my family’s dog, my dog, Kiu, and I hated both of them.

One was to cry and shy away from what would happen the next morning, as though that could somehow lessen the sorrow and the pain; the other was to lie down next to the beautiful 12-year-old black German shepherd, to keep my arm and hand and eyes on him, to feel him take in his last breaths, to allow the warmth of so many good memories to come and go with every labored inhale, every exhausted exhale, punctuation marks to so many happy adventures.

I chose the latter because, as much as I loathe goodbyes, there was, in reality, no other choice to make. There’s only one way to embrace loyalty, and that’s to feel it, side by side, straight to the end.

The religious question attendant with those deep feelings, those last gulps of terrestrial life, was a familiar one, familiar to any and all pet owners: Do dogs go to heaven? Or more specifically in my case: Will our dog, my dog, go to wherever we are, I am, in the great beyond? We could get deep into the concept of what heaven is, where it is, but we can save that for a different time.

The point here is: Wouldn’t it be too cruel for a loving God to allow such real dog-human connections to be made here in this earthly existence and then to be extinguished once and for all, like the flip of a switch, one and done?

There are those who will scoff at such notions, citing either a disbelief and disregard for eternal aspirations of any kind after this life or, with so much human fragility in the world, people being taken away to wherever they go in death, all of that meaningful separation relegates concerns about what happens to animals to a distant, superfluous junk heap.

A whole lot of believing pet owners, though, can and do wonder about and hope for dogs — or cats or parrots or beasts of all kinds — in heaven, running through fields of gold together, snuggling up on a cool spot in the grass, hand in paw. It has been said that humans don’t deserve dogs, that dogs are too loving and loyal, come what may, that they are absolutely heaven-sent here on earth. (And heartbreaking it is that so many of them are caged up, waiting for some human who cares to adopt them and take care of them. Please do, if you can.)

If dogs are heaven-sent, who’s to say that they won’t also be heaven-bound?

Varying religions and their followers seem to have varying ideas about the possibility. Some Christians dismiss the idea, believing that only humans have souls, not animals. Pope John Paul II countered that some 30 years ago, saying that animals are “as near to God as men are.”

Others quote a Bible passage from Isaiah that reads: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.”

What Joseph Smith said

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) A statue depicts Joseph and Hyrum Smith riding horses away from Nauvoo, Ill., before the two brothers were gunned down at Cathage.

Dog owners who are followers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints might know that their faith’s founder, Joseph Smith, said not only that animals have spirits but also that they are likely, some of them anyway, to be found in celestial realms. A Smith quote from the church’s website reads:

“John [in the Book of Revelation] saw curious looking beasts in heaven … actually there, giving glory to God … I suppose John saw beings there of a thousand forms … 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.”

One long-ago church apostle, Orson F. Whitney, said Smith taught that animals have eternal souls, substantiating it by saying, “[He] so believed, or he would not have said … concerning his favorite horse, when it died, that he expected to have it in eternity.”

Shout it out, brothers and sisters, Trigger lives on!

Other church presidents have made similar, if somewhat cryptic, pronouncements.

It all makes sense to me. And from what I’ve read, many of the faithful and less-than-faithful want to believe. Yeah, they’ve made movies about this kind of stuff, this kind of connection and hope.

I remember the first time I saw Kiu. My adult daughters were just kids back then, excited to gain a new four-legged member of the family. As mentioned, he was jet-black, a German shepherd pup with big ears, big paws and big enthusiasm for discovering everything around him.

Even as a little clumsy one, he was striking in appearance and eager to fit in with his new clan. He wrestled with the girls, chased them around the house, chewed up some furniture, caught a baby tooth on my youngest daughter’s ear when he jumped up and on her to greet her at the door, requiring 20 stitches to sew shut a tear in her earlobe. It wasn’t a bite, I informed the doctor, it was a snag.

One thing Kiu would never do was hurt any of the girls intentionally. He put himself personally in charge of tending and taking care of them.

Kiu led our family hikes. He protected Lisa from numerous angry dog attacks on her daily run through the neighborhood. He played with the kids in the backyard, finding joy in simply being included in the pack, and with the neighbors’ dogs, including a little-but-feisty Westie that weighed about a fifth of what Kiu weighed (the shepherd tipped the scales at 130 pounds), but he often let the diminutive terrier reign as commander in chief, at least for a few moments. He sat with us as we watched movies in the den. He stood guard over anyone who jumped on the trampoline. He went on a thousand family adventures, always in the middle of everything.

The kids grew up alongside the dog. And the dog grew up alongside the kids. He was just part of the family.

Looking forward to no more goodbyes

(Gordon Monson) Gordon Monson's daughter Lauren with the family's beloved dog, Kiu.

And then, one day, after most of the girls had grown into adulthood, Kiu stopped moving so well. When he walked, it hurt — hurt him and hurt us to watch him. Those years had flown by, life had seemed to speed up, and there was no slowing it down.

There was no keeping Kiu young. Father Time, they cruelly and correctly say, is undefeated. The pal our kids had hung out with, had wrestled with, had run around the yard with, had jumped on the tramp with, had watched movies with, had grown up with, had grown old.

So, I sat out on the deck with him that last night, my arm around him, looking up at the moon and the stars, absorbing the wonder of it all, hearing his labored breathing and feeling a kind of lifelong loyalty from a dog that some humans might never be fortunate to know.

Do dogs go to heaven? Call me a fool, if you will. But I believe they do. I believe they should. I believe they will. Whoever said it was right, we don’t deserve them. God knew, though, that they would bless our lives. And the Almighty has made space for them in a place where the only thing that will end will be the need to say goodbye.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gordon Monson.

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