by Diane Blankenburg
Last month, the Reno Gazette-Journal featured a question in the Faith section of its Sunday edition: Do animals have heavenly souls? I found the question very intriguing and the range of answers even more intriguing—answers that came from local representatives of major religious groups, as well as from a UNR professor of philosophy and religion.
Some believed that animals did not have souls, others that they did and would be right beside their fellow humans in the afterlife, and the Buddhist’s belief was that life itself is soul—life that includes all living beings. This dialogue really made me ponder my own beliefs and understanding of a more basic question: What is a soul? One theory says it is “the principle of life, feeling, thought, and action in humans, regarded as a distinct entity separate from the body. . . the spiritual part of humans as distinct from the physical part.”
I have fondly referred to Lady, my dear black lab who passed away three years ago, as my soul mate—the literal definition of soul mate being a person with whom one has a strong affinity. But for me, the term represents a connection with another being (animal or human) that goes far deeper than the superficial, physical connection that comes from spending time and sharing activities together. It is a bond that transcends time and space—a feeling like it has always existed, always will exist, and its very existence makes me complete.
Animals certainly experience “life, feelings, thoughts, and actions.” So if one believes in human souls, it doesn’t seem like a huge leap to the conclusion that animals have souls. Our community’s religious leaders did not necessarily agree on the specific answer to the question posed but there was a common theme among them—one that made it clear that animals hold a special place amidst humanity. One leader stated that they are sacred and should be respected while another said that “humans will be accountable for their treatment of animals in the world.”
Soul or no soul, I do believe we are stewards of the animals on earth and am dedicated to a career of helping our society live up to that responsibility. And whether souls are real or not, I know that the deep connection I have with my pets is very soulful. The bond is fulfilling, rewarding, and ever so real—no matter what it is called.