Ghostly Beings

Animal spirits

Just as a large percentage of the population of all cultures believe that the ghosts of the dearly departed members of their human families

Native American dressed like an animal spirit. (CORBIS CORPORATION)
Native American dressed like an animal spirit. (
might appear to them, so also do many individuals maintain that they have witnessed the spirit of a beloved pet return to a person or a place after physical death.

One of the most beloved authors of dog stories, Albert Payson Terhune (1872–1942), was a great animal lover who kept dozens of pets in Sunnybank, his estate near Pompton Lakes, New Jersey. Although Terhune's favorite dogs were collies, he did have one crossbreed named Rex, who was completely devoted to the writer.

Rex was a large dog with a vicious-looking scar across his forehead which made him appear much more ferocious than he really was. And though he felt it his duty to bark at every guest who walked across the threshold, Rex would contentedly curl up at Terhune's feet as he sat at the typewriter creating another canine adventure for his legions of devoted readers.

Due to a series of unfortunate events, Rex was killed in March 1916, and the saddened Terhune wrote the story Lad: A Dog as a tribute to the memory of his dear pet.

Many months after Rex's death, Terhune was paid a visit by Henry A. Healy, a financier, who knew how much his host had loved his big dog—but who apparently had not been told of Rex's passing. Just before leaving that evening, Healy sighed wistfully and said, "Bert, I wish there was someone or something on earth that adored me as much as Rex worships you. I watched him all evening. He lay there at your feet the whole time, looking up at you as a devotee might look up to his god."

Terhune was shocked by his guest's comments. "Good lord, man!" he exclaimed. "Rex has been dead now for more than a year and a half."

Healy turned pale, but stood by the testimony of his own senses: "I can swear that he was lying at your feet all evening—just as I've seen him do since he was a puppy."

Some weeks later, a longtime friend of Terhune's, Rev. Appleton Grannis, paid a visit to Sunnybank, and after a stroll around the estate and a pleasant afternoon meal, remarked that he thought Bert fancied collies. Terhune replied that was true. In fact all the dogs that he presently owned were collies.

Rev. Grannis firmly disagreed. "Then what dog was it that stood all afternoon on the porch looking in through the French window at you? He's a big dog with a nasty, peculiar scar on his forehead."

While the author knew at once that it was his old friend Rex returning for another visit from the spirit world, Terhune thought better than to attempt to explain the situation to a conventional man of the cloth.

Terhune said that even the other dogs were able to sense the presence of old Rex. One of the collies that had always been careful to keep his distance from the big scar-faced crossbreed continued to skirt very carefully around the rug where Rex had always sat waiting for his master to sit down to write.

Tulsa, Oklahoma, attorney M. Jean Holmes is not an animal activist, but her extensive study of the Bible for her book Do Dogs Go to Heaven? (1999) convinced her that the distinction between humans and animals alleged to be found in Scripture is the result of an old translator's "philosophical construction." In her opinion, an examination of the original Hebrew texts for such concepts as "soul" and "spirit" clearly tells that the authors of the various books of the Bible believed that animals have souls and spirits, just as humans do. Stating that she has been enriched by her exploration of various religious practices, from Catholicism to Pentecostalism, Holmes offers a suggestion for those individuals who are troubled about orthodox teachings that deny spirituality to animals. She urges them to allow the Holy Spirit to be their teacher.

Attorney Holmes says that she is not ashamed to be compared to animals, "for most are of the highest character and are very good company. We have much to learn about and from animals."

Holmes was inspired to write her book by her late mother, Irene Hume Holmes, who would often question members of the clergy of various faiths: Did animals have spirits? And if they did, would they go to heaven when they died? Although her mother usually received the standard response that animals did not possess souls and that humans had dominion over their four-legged companions, Holmes's extensive research enabled her to answer at last her mother's oft-posed query, "Do dogs go to heaven?" in the affirmative.

Janice Gray Kolb, author of Compassion for All Creatures, says that she had been taught since childhood that her beloved pets did not have souls. Today, however, she states that she has a firm conviction that there will be animals in heaven. "Once I had this inner conviction from the Holy Spirit that animals and all God's creatures do inhabit Heaven with us, then I could never believe otherwise," she writes. "It was irrevocable! No matter what anyone else may argue, I cannot be shaken on this."

As a student of the Bible, Kolb states that God created humans out of the ground, and He created animals out of the ground. The New American Catholic Bible uses for man "clay of the ground" (Genesis 2:7) and the Living Bible says "dust of the ground." In regard to the animals, the New American Catholic Bible states that they were "formed out of the ground" and the Living Bible states "formed from the soil." Kolb argues that since humans and animals came from the same substance, many Bible scholars, including herself, believe that animals must therefore have a soul. The holy breath that God breathed into man was the same breath that He breathed into the animals, birds, and other creatures. It is Kolb's further contention that God's act of blessing the animals is further proof that all creatures have a soul. "'Blessed,'" she points out, "means 'to make holy,' 'sanctify,' to invoke divine favor upon, 'to honor as Holy.'" God blessed his creation of man and woman, and thereby granted them a soul. Why else would God have blessed the animals if it were not to bestow a soul upon them?

In July 2001, ABC News and Beliefnet released the result of their poll of Americans regarding the question of whether pets would one day meet their owners in heaven. Forty-seven percent of pet owners declared their belief that they would be reunited with their beloved animals in heaven; 35 percent of pet owners said heaven was reserved for humans; 48 percent of those respondents who did not own pets believed heaven was off-limits for animals; and about 17 percent said that they would reserve judgment until they themselves walked through the pearly gates.

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:

Ghostly Beings forum