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Do Dogs Have Souls? Comforting Truths In Times Of Sadness

Do Dogs Have Souls? Comforting Truths In Times Of Sadness

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On the face of it, there’s no easy answer to this question. Some people emphatically believe dogs do indeed have souls, while others dismiss the notion out of hand. Logical, pragmatic thinkers deny the existence of anything beyond the physical realm, so the very idea is ridiculous to them. Even some religious people will reject the suggestion of dogs having souls, believing it to be somehow blasphemous or heretical.

Either way, it opens up the way to even more fundamental questions and leads us down the rabbit hole of finding the answer to life, the universe, and everything!

It’s fair to say that anyone asking the question Do dogs have souls? has a spiritual side. You may not necessarily follow an organized religion, but you possibly have a sense that there’s definitely more to life than what we can physically see, taste, touch, hear, and feel. And many people who do adhere to organized religious teachings believe that all living things have souls and see nothing wrong with this assertion.

Assuming that you’re open to the idea of dogs having souls, we’re going to explore the teachings and beliefs of various religious and spiritual people through the ages to try to find a definitive answer to the question, Do dogs have souls?

Why Are People Asking This Question?

owner playing with dog in sunset

Human beings are complex creatures. We are all pretty much the same in many ways but profoundly different in others. There are so many unanswered questions, and despite our vast and ever-increasing wealth of knowledge, we know virtually nothing. The more we learn, the more questions we have.

But let’s narrow the subject down a bit. A pet owner generally loves their dog like a family member. And we usually outlive our pets by a long way. They eventually leave us and break our hearts, crossing the ‘rainbow bridge’ to wherever good pets go.

We get some comfort from this thought, at the prospect of seeing our beloved pooch again one day. That’s why we ask, Do dogs have souls? We need to have that hope that they’ll be there waiting for us, tails wagging joyously as they welcome us into paradise.

Are we foolish to believe such things? Is it somehow wrong or contrary to religious teaching?

We’ve looked into this to find out what various religions and spiritual leaders have to say on the matter in the hope that we can offer comfort and guidance to those who need answers in a time of sadness, or even just to bring some clarity to anyone who is curious.

Do Dogs Have Souls According To The Bible?

dog standing outside with sun shining on him

There are an estimated 2.6 billion Christians in the world, spread between about 45,000 different denominations. Although all of them follow the teachings of Jesus Christ to a greater or lesser degree, each of them has its own interpretation of the scriptures. This means that there are disagreements, which is why there are so many denominations!

Basically, Christians are split into two groups, Catholic and Protestant. Catholics are guided by their spiritual leader on Earth, the Pope, while Protestants have their own structure and don’t recognize the Pope as head of the church worldwide.

Even within these different groups and sects, there are disputes over certain issues, including the question of whether dogs have souls or not.

Traditionally, the Roman Catholic church has taught that dogs cannot go to heaven as animals do not possess souls. This teaching is based on the assertion that humans were created separately from animals and are God’s special project, created in his image*. Many non-Catholic denominations agree with this.

*”So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26–27).

Do Animals Have Souls?

The general idea is that humans possess a divine spark, a soul, given by God. This soul continues on after the death of the physical body, hopefully to eternal rest, depending on how we have lived (and whichever particular dogma you follow). Most Christian teaching tells us that we have fallen short of God’s plan and that we are redeemed by Christ’s death and resurrection, which assures our souls a place in heaven if we ask for forgiveness and redemption.

On the whole, Christians believe that animals don’t have souls. Animals are not aware of good or evil, so they are not in need of redemption. They don’t have free will, a gift given specifically to humans.

There’s a lot of confusion about what a soul is, and the words soul and spirit are often used interchangeably. Essentially, a soul is regarded as something that is living and breathing. The Hebrew and Greek words in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible agree on this: soul means life, both physical and eternal.

Therefore, isn’t it plausible to suggest that animals also qualify? After all, the word animal comes from the Latin anima, meaning soul! It refers to any creature that visibly breathes, so why should animals be excluded from this?

Body, Soul, And Spirit

dog standing outside looking into sunset

Basic Christian theology generally states that we have a spirit as well as a soul. The spirit is a non-physical part of us, taking the same form as our physical bodies. Not everyone agrees on this point, but it’s generally believed that the soul is the seat of our feelings, emotions, desires, and will. It is eternal and has a physical aspect, although it does not resemble our physical form. The spirit, though it resembles our bodily form, is essentially invisible and non-physical. According to the Bible, the spirit can die. However, we need to take care that we don’t get too bogged down in theology here!

Christian scriptures are notoriously difficult to interpret, especially considering that there are so many different versions of the Bible these days. Even some fundamental Christian teachings sometimes seem to be contradictory. On the whole, the Bible is silent on the matter of whether dogs have souls or not apart from some vague mentions here and there.

Here are a couple of scriptures to illustrate the point:

“After all, the same fate awaits human beings and animals alike. One dies just like the other. They are the same kind of creature. A human being is no better off than an animal because life has no meaning for either. They are both going to the same place – the dust. They both came from it; they will both go back to it. How can anyone be sure that the human spirit goes upward while an animal’s spirit goes down into the ground?”

Ecclesiastes 3:19–21

Now, this comes across (as does most of the book of Ecclesiastes!) as being pretty miserable and depressing. It seems to imply that we’re all going to die anyway, and who knows what happens after that? Some commentators pick up on the fact that the writer (believed to be King Solomon) makes a distinction between the human spirit and the animal spirit, suggesting that one goes upward while the other goes down into the ground. Some take this to mean that animals’ spirits become nothing. Death of the body is the death of the spirit, and there is no eternal soul.

Even so, we find these words elsewhere:

“And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for food: and it was so.”

Genesis 1:30

The word ‘life’ is highlighted here as it comes from the Hebrew nephesh hayyah, which is the same term we find in Genesis 2:7 – “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

So it seems that the Bible suggests that animals do indeed have a soul.

To back this up, Pope Francis was quoted as saying:

“One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”

This was welcome news to millions of Christians and pet owners worldwide, even though some critics suggested that the pontiff was merely trying to comfort a young boy who had recently lost his little dog.

Pope Francis is seen as a controversial figure, having a much more liberal approach than many previous incumbents. He took his papal name from St. Francis of Assisi, a figure who was famous for his consuming passion for animal welfare, including their spiritual welfare.

So, it’s no surprise that Pope Francis spoke out as he did. In fact, he wasn’t the first pope to break with tradition: in 1990, Pope John Paul II said, “…animals possess a soul and men must love and feel solidarity with smaller brethren.”

You can’t get much clearer than that!

However, this is in direct opposition to earlier teachings, especially that of Pope Pius IX in the late 1800s, who vehemently opposed the suggestion that animals were even conscious, let alone having a soul. He was so passionate about this belief that he actively fought the formation of the Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Italy!

Do Dogs Have Souls And Go To Heaven?

owner and dog sitting on grass

This is basically the heart of the matter, and once again, we need to keep digging to find a definitive answer, although we have found some clues for anyone who follows a Christian path.

There’s a general belief, especially in the Western world, that our souls go to heaven when we die unless we’ve led a bad life, in which case, we might find ourselves in hot water (or brimstone).

We might have different ideas of what heaven is exactly, but it’s generally thought to be a happy place, without sadness, sickness, or anything remotely evil.

So, what about our furry friends? It follows that they would need to have a soul to make it to heaven. Millions of us find comfort in the thought that we’ll be reunited one day, and it seems cruel to deny people this hope by quoting verses at them that may well have been taken out of context or misinterpreted.

As we’ve seen, Pope Francis is happy to accept that we’ll see our pet dogs in heaven, so what gives anyone else the right to deny us this comfort?

Where In The Bible Does It Say That Dogs Don’t Have Souls?

dog and owner outside

Some Christians really have a ‘bee in their bonnet’ about dogs going to heaven.

They’ll tell you what the Bible says, conveniently excluding anything that contradicts their belief.

For example, they’ll quote Revelation 22:15, “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”

This overlooks the fact that the book of Revelation is a mind-blowing vision that includes fantastical and mystical accounts that are still being interpreted and debated today. The word ‘dogs’ may even be used here as an insult, referring to unholy people, not necessarily canine species.

The fact is, there is no single verse in the Bible that tells us that dogs don’t have souls.

However, plenty of verses tell us how much God loves and cares for all of His creation, including every species of animal.

The thing is, if we accept this and the notion that dogs have souls, then it surely prompts us to examine our treatment of every living creature. Why should dogs, or cats, for that matter, be singled out for special treatment? All right-thinking people are outraged and disgusted when they witness cruelty to dogs, but they don’t necessarily extend the same strength of feeling when it comes to the billions of animals reared and slaughtered for food or hunted for sport.

Hundreds of years of social conditioning have led us to accept this as the norm, but does that make it right? The fact is, we can’t conveniently separate dogs from any other species. If one has a soul and will meet us in heaven, then so will the cow, the pig, or the chicken.

Do Dogs Have Souls In Islam?

dog running in sunset

The religion of Islam is very much misunderstood, and countless Muslims have faced hostility, prejudice, and opposition, particularly in the last twenty years or so.
Even so, around 1.8 billion Muslims live out their lives peacefully on this planet. As with Christianity, there are two main branches of Islam (Sunni and Shi’a) and about 72 different sects within these.

Overall, the teachings about animals are clearer. The central tenet of Islam is this: everything is permissible unless explicitly forbidden.

Muslims believe that animals are different from humans. Animals are driven by instinct, while humans use reason and intelligence to guide them. We can ‘use’ animals as we see fit, using our judgment and compassion, as long as we respect them as creations of Allah. This is part of the principle of Khilafah.

This has led to declarations such as this one, in 1986:

“We are Allah’s stewards and agents on Earth. We are not masters of this Earth; it does not belong to us to do what we wish. It belongs to Allah, and He has entrusted us with its safekeeping.”

Islam does not specifically state whether or not animals have souls, but the majority of Muslims accept that only Allah knows the truth about this and are happy to live in the hope that they will be reunited one day if this is the will of Allah.

Some Imams and sects are against their flocks keeping pets, which is why many Muslim families around the world don’t have dogs. However, many are less conservative in their thinking these days and are okay with people keeping pets in the home.

Do Dogs Have Souls?: Judaism

dog holding ball looking away

As with Islam, Judaism has strict laws that forbid violence and cruelty toward animals. Even so, dogs have consistently been connected with violence and uncleanliness in sacred Hebrew texts, the Torah and the Talmud. One verse even suggests that people who keep dogs are cursed!

Because of this, many Orthodox Jews do not keep pets (there are probably other factors involved, too, possibly even linked to the Holocaust*). However, thousands of Jewish families, especially across America, have pet dogs in the home.

The main concern seems to be that if you do keep a dog, it should not be ‘evil’ and that it does not interfere with the observance of the Shabbat and other rituals. Overall, if the dog doesn’t present a danger to people or property, then all is well.

But what about our question, Do dogs have souls?

We mentioned nephesh hayyah earlier, a Hebrew term that means breath of life. Rabbi Moses Cordovero, a 16th-century mystic, uses the term nefesh heyuni instead, referring to spiritual energy. Rather than being a soul, it is a form of energy that is released when the animal dies, like a light being switched off.

Other Hebrew scholars believe in the idea of gilgul neshamot, the transmigration of the soul. Effectively, this is reincarnation, with the human soul being contained within an animal’s body and returning many times, possibly until some lesson is learned or task fulfilled.

However, the overall mainstream view in Judaism is that dogs are not rewarded with an afterlife as humans are because they do not possess an immortal soul. This is based on the fact that there are no explicit texts in the Talmud to support the notion that dogs have a soul.

In Genesis, in the story of the Garden of Eden, God creates Adam and then breathes his spirit into him to bring him to life. He became Nephesh (or Nefesh) Chayah, a living being. Nephesh equates to the word ‘soul’ in the sense of animal instincts, while Neshamah, another term for the soul, refers to our higher consciousness, the part of us that connects with the divine.

Don’t be too discouraged and downhearted, though. Isaac ben Solomon Luria Ashkenazi, known as Arizal, was a highly respected rabbi and Jewish mystic who lived in the 1500s. He is credited with the creation of the Kabbalah as it is known today, and he taught that animals do have a soul, and they do go to heaven!

*There is a suggestion that some European Jewish families were disturbed by the Nazi’s love of dogs, as well as how they used them.

Do Dogs Have Souls?: Science

portrait of dog standing outside in sunset

What does science say about the question, Do dogs have souls?

On the whole, scientists will avoid the question entirely. The default position of science, in general, is to avoid anything that you can’t explain.

Several hundred years ago, science and spirituality were inseparable. Over time, the scientific establishment split from religion, philosophy, and anything spiritual.

The Age of Reason or the Enlightenment in the late 1700s began a time where logic and reason were hailed as the way forward. These days, the vast majority of scientists reject any idea that doesn’t conform to scientific dogma.

In a sense, we’ve come full circle. Science is lauded as something fundamentally true and unshakeable. To question science is now regarded as something akin to blasphemy. We have such bodies as the Foundation for Reason and Science, promoting anti-creationist teaching, secularism, and atheism. Spirituality, faith, and religious belief are scorned, a medieval relic that should be discarded.

This attitude is steeped in hubris and arrogance, robbing us of a fuller understanding of life.

Because of this, the scientific community generally dismisses the idea of the human soul, let alone animals possessing one.

Albert Einstein, one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, said this:

“Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.

There are signs that the scientific world is slowly accepting this notion. Braver members of the scientific community have increasingly explored and researched spiritual matters in recent times, and this is to their credit.

However, at present, the world of science has no part in this argument. Science deals only with what can be measured, tested, proved, or disproved through experimentation. At the very best, all science can say is that it cannot prove either way whether dogs have souls or not. As there is no empirical data on the subject for them to study, they can’t make any claims either way.

What Do Other Religions Say?

owner and dog sitting looking into distance

We’ve talked about Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, but what about other religions? What do they have to say about the question, Do dogs have souls?

There are far too many different religions to mention them all!

However, we’ll list a few to give a general idea.

Hinduism

The world’s 1 billion Hindus mostly believe that being kind to dogs is a good way to get to heaven. Also, in the Mahabharata, we learn that the hero Yudhisthira refused to enter heaven unless he could bring his scruffy little dog!

Buddhism

This religion differs from others in that it promotes the belief that all souls are connected, whether human or animal. Humans are reborn as animals and vice versa, in a cycle of life and death (Samsara) that continues until the being achieves enlightenment.

Sikhism

In some senses, Sikhs have a similar theology to Buddhists in that they believe in a cycle of life and death that has to be endured until the soul is released into enlightenment. Animals are believed to have souls, although the animal itself doesn’t enter heaven. Because they have souls, they must be treated with respect.

Native Americans

Many Native Americans believe that all animals have souls and that we are all connected to a great universal force. To this end, all creatures must be treated with respect. When a life is taken, it must be done as swiftly and painlessly as possible. The entire animal is used so there is no waste.

Neo-Paganism

Modern Pagans often infer that they are part of an ancient, Goddess-worshipping organized religion that encompassed the world before Christianity came along and ruined everything. Aside from the fact that there is not one piece of evidence in support of this, most Neo-Pagan and Wiccan ideas were formed in the early 20th century by people like Gerald Gardner and Aleister Crowley.

Whatever its origins, modern Paganism advocates a great respect for nature or even the worship of nature and the spirits within it. Some Pagans adhere to the old, pre-Christian religions and worship a variety of gods. It’s difficult to pinpoint any specific belief about the afterlife, as there is not really any formal written text or even a central doctrine.

The one thing they do agree on is that they don’t believe in heaven, hell, God, or the Devil.

What we can say is that many of those who follow a Pagan path (especially Wiccan) are extremely open-minded about spirituality and seem to have a great love for animals, often being involved in animal rights action. They certainly adore their pets and, presumably, will cling to the belief that their pets have a soul that will live on in some form.

So, What’s The Answer?

dog standing in field looking into camera

Photo from:@regis_chesapeake_retriever

When you check out websites and forums that tackle the question, Do dogs have souls? you’ll find that some people have very strong feelings on the subject. Many are pretty emphatic, declaring that they alone speak the truth when, in fact, these are simply personal opinions.

The reality is that nobody really knows! Whatever your belief or religion, and however many scriptures you quote, nobody can possibly know the answer. Theologians will continue to argue, and scientists will debate and generally dismiss the notion.

But perhaps this is a good thing.

If we knew the answers to everything, then there would be no mystery to life. There would be no desire to discover, no sense of wonder, no joy of sudden realization and understanding.

However, we can take comfort in hope and in our faith when our beloved pets eventually leave us. If you follow any of the faiths mentioned here, then take heart: none of them absolutely rule out the idea of dogs having a soul! In fact, most have some teachings that suggest that a dog’s soul is similar to ours in that it is eternal and that we’ll be reunited one day.

In the end, each of us has our own personal beliefs, and we should never be too quick to reject or alter them based on the opinions and teachings of others, however strongly these views are voiced. We all have our own idea of what heaven might be, and there is every reason to believe that, one day, we’ll join our loved ones, including our furry friends that have crossed the rainbow bridge.