Growing up, my family had a pretty spotty record with pets. Literally–my first pet, a goldfish I won at a county fair by deftly tossing rings around milk bottles, was named Spotté. Why he was French remains a mystery, but he died not long after we got him because I insisted on bringing him on a family road trip in Santa Cruz from our home near Los Angeles. Turns out, fishes don’t do so well in cars, and he is buried somewhere at the Mount Herman Retreat Center.
Later in life, my family got a Yorkshire Terrier puppy. My siblings wanted to name him Elvis, which is a terrible name, and which was mostly because my sister once did an impression of Elvis Presley singing the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song, but instead we named him Winston, after both Churchill and a street in our neighborhood. Winston was a terrible dog–he would not sleep in your bed without moving violently every five minutes; he ran away every time the door was open too long; he did not get along with other dogs. But we loved him, as you do the dog of your youth, and even as he grew old and defective (bad teeth, torn ACL) our family lavished affection on him.
When Winston was five or six, the question of his eternal life laid heavy on my heart. Where do dogs go when they die? Is the film All Dogs Go to Heaven making a theological claim? How would I survive in my large heavenly mansion without that dumb little guy barking at every angel that walked by? So, I decided to do what any rational Christian person would do: I baptized my dog.
Before you get angry and say that I forced him, guess what? I did no such thing! I respected Winston’s conscience and decision-making ability, so I set before him a napkin with an image on it that will be familiar to any long-time evangelical Christian: The Jesus Bridge. It looks like this, except I had drawn “Dog” on one side, and “God” on the other. Nice symmetry, hmm?
Next, I asked Winston to place his paw on the cross in the middle–symbolizing Jesus’ sacrificial love bridging the gap between Dog and God–if he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal lord and savior. Lo and behold, his paw moved to the center of the napkin and he looked up at me with large, penitent brown eyes! He was ready.
The final step was the baptism itself, which could be performed by no means other than complete immersion. Luckily, our pool was just the right size for a small dog to be reborn in. I held Winston above the water and he began to doggy paddle with his legs. I said, “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I baptize you!” and dropped him in the water. He swam to the pool steps and jumped out, washed in the blood of the lamb.
Winston died six years later, on the operating table, after a bad reaction to the anesthesia that was being used to repair his second torn ACL. It was one of the saddest days of my life. Who knows whether God really lets animals into heaven, but wouldn’t it be just like Him to give us the things in heaven that gave us such joy on earth? Hug your dog today.