Dogs in Heaven

A couple of days ago, a very sad Pomeranian owner disclosed that her dog and Instagram sensation, “Boo,” had passed away. Irene Ahn revealed to Boo’s followers on Facebook that Boo had suffered from heart problems ever since his best pal, Buddy, died last year, but she suggested that twelve year old Boo, who died in his sleep, had more likely died of a broken heart. We are of the opinion that dogs can form relationships that, when split apart by death, can be devastating to the dog left behind. It’s a difficult thing for bereaved owners, and our sympathies go to Boo’s family.

With 17.5 million fans on Facebook, and another 117,000 on Instagram, Boo was arguably American’s most famous social media dog. He was the subject of four books, and was named the Official Pet Liaison of Virgin America airlines in 2012. 

We mean no disrespect to Boo’s memory, but we segue to another famous Pomeranian, “Belferlein,” who was the “Internet” sensation of his time – the 16th century. There was Belferlein,Pomeranian,Martin Luther,Pope Pius IX,Tölpel, Boono Internet at that time, of course, but Belferlein was often mentioned in the writings of his famous owner, Augustinian priest, and seminal figure of the Protestant reformation,  Martin Luther. “Belferlein” was the family farm dog, and when he died, Luther’s children surrounded their father, tears in their eyes, and asked what happened to their beloved friend.  Martin Luther said: “Even for the brave Belferlein there will once be a place in heaven.”

This came as news to Luther’s religious contemporaries. Most theologians of the time maintained that humans were exceptional because they had ‘reason,’ and in essence suggested a connection between ‘reason’ and ‘soul.’ Bottom line: Because animals had no soul, there was no place for them in heaven.

By contrast, Luther said, “I believe that the Belfelein and Hündelein go to heaven and that every creature has an immortal soul!”

Luther, who often played with his dog, said, “The dog is the most faithful of animals and would be much esteemed were it not so common. Our Lord God has made His greatest gifts the commonest.”

When asked if there would be dogs in heaven, Luther answered, “Certainly there will be, for Peter calls that day the time of the restitution of all things. Then, as is clearly said elsewhere, he will create a new heaven and a new earth. He will also create new Clownies with skin of gold and hair of pearls. There and then God will be all in all. No animal will eat any other. Snakes and toads and other beasts which are poisonous on account of original sin will then be not only innocuous but even pleasing and nice to play with. Why is it that we cannot believe that all things will happen as the Bible says, even in this article of the resurrection? Original sin is at fault.” – Preserved Smith, The Life and Letters of Martin Luther, (London: John Murray, 1911) p. 362.]

In his Easter 1544 sermon, Luther quoted 2 Peter 3:13 and then described what he thought the time after the resurrection would be like: “God will create a new heaven and a new earth, wherein righteousness shall dwell. It will be no arid waste, but a beautiful new earth, where all the just will dwell together.…There will be little dogs, with golden hair, shining like precious stones.”

In as much as we write in jest that other members of the clergy failed to get Luther’s memo, the fact is that Pope Pius IX, who died in 1878, was among the first popes to fully address the issue of animals going to heaven, and it wasn’t favorably. He said that heaven is a place reserved for those with souls and a conscience, which animals don’t have.

There will probably always be robust debate about the topic, and we suppose at the end of the day, the notion of whether dogs have souls and can go to heaven (indeed, if there is a heaven) rests with each individual. We know know what we think.

A couple of notes: We should mention that while researching Martin Luther’s dog, we came across some accounts which indicated that the dog’s name was Tölpel (meaning “clumsy” “clownish” or “tipsy” in German).  Also, anyone interested in the topic of whether dogs go to heaven may be interested in reading, Do Animals Go to Heaven? Medieval Philosophers Contemplate Heavenly Human Exceptionalism written by Joyce E. Salisbury.

And finally, we are cognizant that today is Martin Luther King, Jr. day, and we can think of no better way for National Purebred Dog Day to remember the man than to share this telling photograph. More about the story behind the picture can be found here.


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