|An LDS Perspective|
Recently I received an email from a pyschologist who was working on an article for those dealing with the death of their dog. I was asked to provide information regarding Latter-day Saint teachings about pet loss. Here are the questions I was asked along with the responses I offered.
What is your tradition's beliefs or practices regarding...
- Animals (specifically dogs) having souls?
- The existence of an afterlife for humans and animals (dogs)?
- The reunification of owners and pets after death?
- Burial or cremation of animals?
- Appropriateness of funerals or memorial services for animals?
- What counsel or spiritual guidance would your tradition give owners who have lost a beloved pet (dog)?
- Any other thoughts or comments regarding the area?
As far as I know we do not have any doctrines relating specifically to dogs but we do believe that all animals were created by our Father in Heaven and that they posses souls. Further we believe that animals existed as spirits, as did humans, before they came to earth. We call this period of time the pre-existence or premortal life.
In Moses 3:5 it states:
For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth.And in the book 'Sacred Truths of the Doctrine and Covenants' we read:
The spirits of animals are in the likeness of their bodies. The spirit is eternal and does not change. The spirit of an elephant looks like an elephant; the spirit of man looks like a man. This is true of all creatures under Heaven. Therefore, the body of the creature cannot change and evolve into something different and still look like its spirit. This principle is simply stated by the Lord that there might not be misunderstandings.Sacred Truths of the Doctrine and Covenants Vol. II, p. 38
2. The existence of an afterlife for humans and animals (dogs)?
We do believe in an afterlife for all mankind as well as animals. Animals will be resurrected and receive salvation automatically through the atonement of Christ. Here are a few bits of doctrine on this matter.
They [animals] will be resurrected and placed in their appropriate places in Heaven. As the fall of Adam affected animals, (see Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 2:22) so also through the atonement will the animals be heirs of salvation in their respective spheres.Sacred Truths of the Doctrine and Covenants Vol. II, p.38
We also learn from this revelation and the word of the Lord in other revelations that in the eternities the animals and all living creatures shall be given knowledge, and enjoy happiness, each in its own sphere, in "their eternal felicity." These creatures will not then be the dumb creatures that we suppose them to be while in this mortal life.The Prophet Joseph Smith stated the following in regards to those people who do not believe in the salvation of animals. In this quote he is referring to Revelations 5:13-14.Sacred Truths of the Doctrine and Covenants Vol. II, p. 69
Says one, "I cannot believe in the salvation of beasts." Any man who would tell you that this could not be, would tell you that the revelations are not true. John heard the words of the beasts giving glory to God, and understood them. God who made the beasts could understand every language spoken by them. The four beasts were four of the most noble animals that had filled the measure of their creation, and had been saved from other worlds, because they were perfect: they were like angels in their sphere. We are not told where they came from, and I do not know; but they were seen and heard by John praising and glorifying God.Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 291
3. The reunification of owners and pets after death?
I do not recall any church doctrine regarding the reunion of pets and owners in the hereafter but it is my personal opinion that there will be a reunion and that the relationship between owner and pet will be made more perfect due to pure communication between man and animal. I base this opinion upon the following doctrine pertaining to the salvation of man.
A Saint, who is one in deed and in truth, does not look for an immaterial heaven but he expects a heaven with lands, houses, cities, vegetation, rivers, and animals; with thrones, temples, palaces, kings, princes, priests, and angels; with food, raiment, musical instruments, etc.; all of which are material. Indeed the Saints' heaven is a redeemed, glorified, celestial material creation, inhabited by glorified material beings, male and female, organized into families, embracing all the relationships of husbands and wives, parents and children, where sorrow, crying, pain, and death will be known no more. Or to speak still more definitely, this earth, when glorified, is the Saints' eternal heaven. On it they expect to live, with body parts, and holy passions: on it they expect to move and have their being; to eat, drink, converse, worship, sing, play on musical instruments, engage in joyful, innocent, social amusements, visit neighboring towns and neighboring worlds: indeed, matter and its qualities and properties are the only being or things with which they expect to associate. If they embrace the Father, they expect to embrace a glorified, immortal, spiritual, material Personage; if they embrace the Son of God, they expect to embrace a spiritual Being of material flesh and bones, whose image is in the likeness of the Father; if they enjoy the society of the Holy Ghost, they expect to behold a glorious spiritual Personage, a material body of spirit; if they associate with the spirits of men or angels, they expect to find them material.So, in my opinion, if we enjoyed the companionship of a pet while upon earth then we will do so in the hereafter. I also believe that it will be on a higher level than we know upon this earth and will bring to us greater joy. Again, this is my personal opinion and not necessarily Church doctrine.Millennial Star, Vol. 28, p. 722, November 17, 1866
4. Burial or cremation of animals?
While there is not an official policy regarding the burial or cremation of animals the Church does discourage its members from being cremated. Latter-day Saints believe in a literal resurrection of body and spirit and, generally speaking, prefer to be buried. I would have to say this holds true with their pets as well. Here is a little more insight into the topic of cremation versus ground burials.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has never taken a definite stand on this question [cremation]. Presumably no edict in relation to it will ever be taken. The matter of burial of the dead, as far as the Church is concerned, is an individual or a family matter. If any member of the Church should state in his will, or make any general statement, that he wished to be cremated, the Church authorities would not step in and interfere but would consider it something with which they had no official concern.ANSWERS TO GOSPEL QUESTIONS - VOL 2, p. 99
It is true that the mortal body in due time returns to the earth as the Lord predicted that it should. Much of the cremated body is carried off into the air and only a small portion of ash remains. However it is impossible to destroy a body. It makes no difference whether a body is consumed by fire, buried in the depths of the sea, or placed in the tomb, the time will come when every essential particle will be called back again to its own place, and the individual whose body was laid away, or scattered to the winds, will be reassembled with every essential part restored. It was to bring to pass this restoration that Jesus died upon the cross, and it is by his command that the individual elements will be called back to their own place.ANSWERS TO GOSPEL QUESTIONS - VOL 2, p. 100
5. Appropriateness of funerals or memorial services for animals?
There is no doctrine regarding this matter. It is a personal matter that is left to each individual to decide upon. See question #6 for more details.
6. What counsel or spiritual guidance would your tradition give owners who have lost a beloved pet (dog)?
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not counsel its members in regards to their pets. If a member loses a pet to death they will likely find solace amongst family members, friends, or even God but the Church as an organization offers no counsel nor spiritual guidance in this matter.
However, it is my personal opinion, that Latter-day Saints have less anguish of soul over the loss of a beloved pet than those who are without religious convictions. Perhaps the following quote best reveals the attitude of Latter-day Saints regarding death and might also serve as counsel for those who are dealing with the loss of a pet.
To Latter-day Saints, as to all people, death can be tragic, unexpected, or even a blessed release from suffering. The loss of loved ones is an occasion for mourning. However, in LDS doctrine, death is also an occasion for hope, a birth into the next life, a step in the Plan of Salvation that began in the premortal existence and leads, if one is righteous, to eternal life with God in the Celestial Kingdom. The grieving of the faithful is appropriately marked by sorrow and hope, not despair and depression. Yet the loss of a loved one is to be taken neither lightly nor coldly. Grief and love are compatibleif not essentialemotions of the faithful. And Latter-day Saints who face death themselves, while experiencing uncertainty and concern for those left behind, can find hope in the Plan of Salvation and the Lord's promise that "those that die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them" (D&C 42:46).Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, Death and Dying
7. Any other thoughts or comments regarding the area?
Further study of LDS doctrine will also reveal that while animals are to be treated with respect and kindness they are not to be held in same regard as man. Animals are the creations of God and are to be treated accordingly but Man is the literal offspring of God. Therefore we must not allow ourselves to place more value upon the life of an animal than upon the life of Man. The following quote explains this idea further.
Think of what it took to create the universe and of the purpose of that creation; think of our own place in that creation to have dominion over all things, to inherit the earth and subdue it; consider that we as individuals are the sons and daughters of God, not merely another part of his creation, for he did not create us as he did the animals, but we are "begotten of him." And what does that mean? It means that there is something of him in us. It means that we may become like that from which we came. Palm trees do not come from acorns. Only oaks come from acorns because somehow oaks are involved in acorns. That which evolves must have been involved. In this sense God is involved in us. We will evolve into something like him as we gain education, as we increase in intelligence, as we come to understand his purpose with respect to us.However, this is not to say that we cannot have deep feelings of affection for animals or pets. God placed animals upon the earth to provide us with happiness and joy. This is their purpose and we should return love and kindness to all of God's creations. Following are several quotes that speak of extending kindness and respect towards animals.Continuing The Quest, p. 179
We should by every means in our power impress upon the rising generation the value of life and how dreadful a sin it is to take life. The lives of animals even should be held far more sacred than they are. Young people should be taught to be very merciful to the brute creation and not to take life wantonly or for sport. The practice of hunting and killing game merely for sport should be frowned upon and not encouraged among us. God has created the fowls and the beasts for man's convenience and comfort and for his consumption at proper times and under proper circumstances; but he does not justify men in wantonly killing those creatures which He has made and with which He has supplied the earth.GOSPEL TRUTH, p. 24
Every child that is brought into contact with animals should be taught, by parents and by all who attempt to instruct the young, that it is a very great sin in the sight of the Almighty for the dumb creation to be treated with cruelty or even with neglect. A merciful man is merciful to his beast. A good master will see that his animals are fed and cared for, if they have been performing labor, before he himself sits down to food or to take rest. A merciful man who loves the animals which he owns and uses would not be contented to sit down to eat if he knew his horses or his cows were hungry and uncared for. He would see that they had food and water and were protected from the inclemency of the weather as much as they possibly could be before he could enjoy his own food and drink and comfort. This same feeling should be impressed upon the minds of all children so that no animal that is in their care may be neglected. (Feb. 15, 1899, JI 34:113-14)GOSPEL TRUTH, p. 457
Don't destroy animal life. Our religion teaches us that human life is most sacred and should not be wantonly taken. The Lord also has spoken with great plainness concerning the animal creation. The beasts, fowls and fishes are all the creation of His power and their lives are precious in His sight. No properly constituted person will lightly take the life of any creature; and every girl should be taught that it is wrong to adorn herself with feathers obtained from the slaughter of birds. Animals, fowls and fish are created for the use of man; but their lives should not be wasted. They are to supply the wants of man, not to be slaughtered for mere amusement or for the gratification of vanity.GOSPEL TRUTH, p. 456