Is There an Afterlife for Animals?
By Scott S. Smith 


In 1991, books about near-death experiences were very popular and I read many of them. As a former editor at Vegetarian Times, animals were central to my spiritual beliefs and I had to wonder about a glaring omission in these tales: why did no one mention seeing animals on the Other Side? Was this a reflection of the fact that most who were interviewed adhered to western religions, which tend to believe only humans have souls? Or did it mean that animals did not, in fact, have spirits?

After some research, I discovered the interviewers had simply not asked about this and a few of those who had returned from death, when the issue was raised, confirmed that animals had been encountered. I decided to see whether there were other kinds of evidence — not scientific, but in a lawyerly sense: experiences or arguments that would persuade unbiased people that animals were likely to have souls.

I decided to start by having letters published in metaphysical and animal magazines, inviting readers to describe anything which had convinced them on this point. Frankly, I expected I would receive “ghost stories,” intriguing, but not really proving anything except that the world is full of mysteries.

Instead, hundreds of letters reported an amazing variety of strange experiences, many of which had some element that made it hard to explain them away as mere hallucinations. I selected 125 of these stories for what was to become “The Soul of Your Pet: Evidence for the Survival of Animals After Death,” which has turned out to be an online best-seller.

An example of what people told me came from a professor of veterinary medicine at Purdue University. She said when she was in private practice, she had been asked to make a house call to attend a sick horse. After examining it, she advised the owners that since the problem was infectious, it would be wise to separate the sick creature from the white horse in the same corral.

The owners were bewildered: “what white horse?” they asked. The vet pointed to one standing nearby, but the owners saw nothing there. She described its markings and then it dawned on them: it was a horse they previously owned, which had died a few months earlier. The two horses had been close — perhaps, they theorized, its spirit had returned to be with its companion at this moment of crisis.

But the point is, the vet’s experience cannot be explained as wishful thinking on the part of a grieving pet owner, which is the argument skeptics would like to be able to use.

Another type of story that refutes this simplistic “explanation” was sent in by a woman in Burbank who was sitting in her living room with her two cats watching TV one night. Suddenly, a ghostly version of one of her deceased cats came walking into the room. The two living cats arched their backs and hissed as it walked over to the closed bedroom door — and went right through it. The two jumped down and ran over to the door, stared at it for a moment, and then ran away and wouldn’t go in the bedroom for months.

Looking at the evidence for the inner lives of animals, I found science has fiercely resisted granting animals intelligence for its own exploitative reasons. And not only has it been proven that animals are intelligent, but that they have a full range of emotions. That leads us to this question: if they are similar in every inner way, why should the only thing distinguishing us be a “soul”?  

Western religions are assumed to be at best skeptical about the idea of animal afterlife, but I uncovered a lot of surprising things. For example, the original Hebrew and Greek of the Bible show that the writers believed animals would survive death. And I also learned that Martin Luther and John Wesley (the founder of Methodism) believed in animal souls.

And that the Catholic church started rethinking its acceptance of animal afterlife in the Middle Ages because it was worried about the appeal of a heaven filled with insects. It turned out that the Mormons and Christian Scientists have the strongest formal animal afterlife doctrines.

As for Eastern religions, they don’t necessarily provide the confirmation one might expect: contrary to what most Westerners understand, Buddhism and Vedanta (the form of Hinduism commonly known in the west, but a minority in India) do not teach the existence of even a human soul (the Buddha taught that only a karmic principle reincarnated, while in Vedanta, all individuality is an illusion).

My argument to skeptics of all kinds is that human experience, as is often the case, is ahead of theology. I see the work I’ve done as taking us to a place where near-death experience research was when Raymond Moody’s Life After Life was published. We’re just coming out of the Animal Afterlife Dark Ages. A lot more needs to be learned, and to that end I welcome anyone who will send me their experiences to be considered for inclusion in a sequel.

The reaction to the book has been paradoxical. On the one hand, I have found a lot of people have no strong feelings for animals, even pet owners. They have a hard time understanding why someone would feel enormous loss when a pet dies. But I see a similarity with the extreme grief parents experience when a young child dies: both animals and babies have an unconditional love and innocence that bonds them strongly to those who have open hearts.

And if the animal has been a companion for many years, the attachment grows stronger and its death can be emotionally devastating. I was pleased to receive many letters from readers who wrote they found the stories and the information enormously comforting, giving them faith that they will be reunited with their animal friends again.

A personally-autographed copy of “Is There an Afterlife for Animals?” is available to Awareness readers for $16.95 + $1.00 post-age. Send to: Scott S. Smith, 964 N. Larrabee St. #107,
West Hollywood CA 90069

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