Approximately 62% of Americans have companion animals. These creatures – ranging from dogs and cats to birds, lizards, bunnies, and pot belly pigs – become beloved members of our families. When they die, it can be devastating, and we have all wondered: what happens to animals when they die? Do they have souls that endure after death?
To answer that question, we have to first ask another: just what is a soul? The ancient Norse believed the soul had many different components, each reigning over something different such as luck, genetic memory, or destiny. Reincarnation, the idea that the soul returns to the physical plane after death, is an ancient belief that is still popular today. Animists say that everything – from animals and humans, plants, to non-living matter such as cars – has a soul or an awareness. The ancient Egyptians believed that the souls of evil people were utterly destroyed and then recycled into something else. Many people today seem to understand the soul as the undying essence of what makes an individual unique.
Catholics believe that humans, animals, and even plants have souls because the essence of life is the soul. But these three beings don’t have the same type of soul: humans have what is called a “rational” soul capable of abstract understanding, whereas animals have an “irrational” soul. Only rational souls exist after death.
But this answer is unsatisfactory to those of us who have formed close bonds with animals. In the book “The Souls of Animals,” Unitarian Universalist minister Gary Kowalski describes his opinion on the evidence for animal souls. For him, a soul is the force that endows an individual with the ability to be courageous and creative, to feel emotion, and many other traits.
In this fascinating book, he recounts the story of Koko the gorilla. The video below speaks for itself:
If we open our hearts and minds, it becomes obvious that their inspiring feats of bravery and selflessness are more than just the evolutionary reactions of automatons. For example, the story of Salty and Roselle never ceases to amaze me:
Guide dogs Salty and Roselle were awarded a joint Dickin Medal “For remaining loyally at the side of their blind owners, courageously leading them down more than 70 floors of the World Trade Center and to a place of safety following the terrorist attack on New York on 11 September 2001.”
So, do animals have souls? If you ask me, it is a silly question; we don’t even know if humans have souls, or what a soul is. A better one would be: Are animals that different from us? The answer to that is obvious to anyone who wants to know.
Salty and Roselle, the two guide dogs who led their caretakers down 70 floors in the World Trade Center before the towers collapsed on September 11.