"If dogs are not there, it is not heaven." - Elizabeth Marshall Thomas As someone who has been interested in, and written about, nonhuman animals (animals) for decades, I was keenly interested in Pope Francis's recent comments about animals and the afterlife. They were interpreted in many different ways, but he did indeed leave the pearly gates open, as discussed in an essay in the New York Times (11 December 2014) by Rick Gladstone titled "Dogs in Heaven? Pope Francis Leaves Pearly Gates Open." Mr. Gladstone wrote, "During a weekly general audience at the Vatican last month, the pope, speaking of the afterlife, appeared to suggest that animals could go to heaven, asserting, 'Holy Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this wonderful design also affects everything around us.'"
My own research on animal cognition - animal smarts - and animal emotions is grounded in Charles Darwin's ideas about evolutionary continuity, a tenet that is well accepted among evolutionary biologists. Basically, evolutionary continuity means that differences among various species in anatomy, physiology, behavior, and emotions and sentience, are differences in degree rather than kind. What this boils down to is that differences among species are shades of gray, rather than black and white. The bumper sticker for evolutionary continuity is, "If we have something, other animals can have it as well." So, for example, if we have rich and deep emotional lives, so too do other animals. Much research has shown this to be true, including the fact that animals such as rats, mice, and chickens display empathy, many animals love to play with family members and friends, and some suffer from severe depression and PTSD when they are traumatized. I write about much of this research in Rewilding Our Hearts and other books and essays. And, we must remember that human beings are animals -- big-brained mammals -- and that what applies to us also applies to "them," other animals.