Bioethicist and Orthodox priest Father John Breck talks about having to put a beloved dog to sleep.
After Father Breck and his wife rescued and lived with Poker for several years, the dog developed kidney failure with no real chance for improvement. They made the difficult decision to have the dog put down, and then as Father Breck cradled the dog’s head in his arms, one of the vets looked at the dog and said, “He’s gone.”
I’ve had a similar experience with a dog-friend, although I was fortunate not to have to give Strider the long last ride to the vet. But one second he was there, and the next he was gone. It’s the only word that fits. Gone.
Father Breck relates a conversation with Father Lev Gillet, who has authored many books on theology and the spiritual life under the pseudonym A Monk of the Eastern Church. Father Gillet expressed “the firm conviction that animals–particularly domestic animals who have lived with and been loved by people–experience some form of afterlife,” Father Breck writes. “His words were not pious wishful thinking; they emerged from a life of thoughtful reflection and prayer.”
Father Breck continues:
If, like Father Lev, we can answer that question in the affirmative, it can only be by adjusting altogether our way of looking at God and His creation. He is the Creator and Lord of all, and in some special way, of every living thing. The mystic perceives heaven in a blade of grass, the petal of a flower, or a child’s uplifted face. Heaven is not “out there.” It’s all around us, enveloping everything and everyone in light and beauty that once in a great while we can perceive as a gift of sheer grace. And perceiving it, we enter into it, even in the midst of our daily routine, despite our distractions, despite our sin.
Father Breck goes on to acknowledge that the idea is a speculation and maybe a vain hope. If so, I share it. Anyone who has looked at the love, devotion, playfulness, hope and loyalty in the eyes of a dog (that is, one who has not had those traits trained out by an evil human being) knows a little more about how human beings should relate to God.
St. Paul told the Romans that all of creation waits in hope to share in the redemption of humanity, and we see glimpses of that in the relationship of the great saints to the wild beasts that befriended them in the wilderness. I also see a glimpse of it in the eyes of my 85-pound Labrador retriever climbing into my lap, demanding to play, as I sit at the computer.