My good friend Amy Carlin recently suffered the loss of her beloved cat, Sealie. She made a few posts on Facebook about it, reaching out for needed support. Selfish fool that I am, every time I came across a post I quickly scrolled down, trying to ignore it where so many others stopped to comment their support and love. It wasn’t that I didn’t care—it was that I cared too much. I hate stories of pet cats passing away or getting lost and I’d generally prefer to avoid the subject entirely, even at the cost of supporting a friend in a desperate time—exactly the opposite of “mourning with those who mourn.”
But, like in fast and testimony meeting, the Spirit kept poking me. So this morning I started writing her a note and was almost immediately in tears. (I’m a sappy guy, especially when it comes to animals.)
Amy—I’m so sorry about your cat. I have been avoiding your threads because it hurts me too much to think about. I’m almost in tears just starting this little note. As you probably know, I’m a cat person. Nyssa is too. We’ve both experienced heartbreak over losing them in the past. Our first cat as a married couple, Tzeitel, never came home one night after we put her outside on our way to Leading Edge. That was a nightmarish time. As it happens, though, it led to us getting the four cats we have now, and I’m so glad I’ve had a chance to take care of them, especially Ringo, who would have been put to sleep if we had not arrived in the humane society the day we did, on the very off-chance Tzeitel was there. Though I don’t like to think about it, I have to face the fact that I will probably have taken care of several generations of cats before this mortal time is over. That means a lot of both joy and deep pain as we’ll have to end up saying goodbye. I hate writing about this because the pain is so much easier to feel than the joy. But I needed you to know that I’m hurting for you right now and I know what you’re going through. It’s so awful. But maybe you’ll be able to save another cat that needs a home and family and love. Maybe Heavenly Father wants that cat to have you. That’s how I feel about Ringo. God knows all the animals of the earth as well as all of us. And as you probably know, cats have souls every bit as real as we humans do, although they aren’t God’s direct children.
That’s an interesting notion, though, isn’t it. Do cats have souls?
Do animals have spirits and are they resurrected? Yes. The Prophet Joseph Smith received information concerning the eternal status of animals. Answers to questions he posed are in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 77. He also spoke about the resurrection of animals in a sermon but did not expand on the subject. (History of the Church, 5:343.)
We know quite a bit about God’s views on His creations, and how He wants us humans to view and treat those living, breathing, feeling creatures—including when it comes to hunting for sport.
A few excerpts from that link:
“Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. … And surely, blood shall not be shed, only for meat, to save your lives; and the blood of every beast will I require at your hands.” (JST, Gen. 9:9–11.)
That animals are to be treated with kindness is indicated in the law of Moses. The Lord enjoined the Israelites to show kindness to the ox by not muzzling it when it was treading the corn during the harvest threshing. (Deut. 25:4.) Undue strain on unequally yoked animals was forbidden as well. (Deut. 22:10.) The ancient Israelites were also to avoid destroying birds’ nests while working in their fields. (Deut. 22:6–7.)
During the Zion’s Camp expedition in the summer of 1834, an incident occurred that allowed a practical application of concern for animal life. As related by the Prophet Joseph Smith in his history:
“In pitching my tent we found three massasaugas or prairie rattlesnakes, which the brethren were about to kill, but I said, ‘Let them alone—don’t hurt them! How will the serpent ever lose his venom, while the servants of God possess the same disposition, and continue to make war upon it? Men must become harmless, before the brute creation; and when men lose their vicious dispositions and cease to destroy the animal race, the lion and the lamb can dwell together, and the sucking child can play with the serpent in safety.’ The brethren took the serpents carefully on sticks and carried them across the creek. I exhorted the brethren not to kill a serpent, bird, or an animal of any kind during our journey unless it became necessary in order to preserve ourselves from hunger.” (Documentary History of the Church, vol. 2, pp. 71–72.)
President Lorenzo Snow related in his journal the change of heart he had concerning hunting shortly after his baptism: “While moving slowly forward in pursuit of something to kill, my mind was arrested with the reflection on the nature of my pursuit—that of amusing myself by giving pain and death to harmless, innocent creatures that perhaps had as much right to life and enjoyment as myself. I realized that such indulgence was without any justification, and feeling condemned, I laid my gun on my shoulder, returned home, and from that time to this have felt no inclination for that murderous amusement.”
But even disregarding those scriptures and official quotes, if you have a personal relationship with an animal, you know. You know how unique they really are, even if they look identical to other members of their species. You know how they can love, and how they need love. You know how real their soul is in how it connects with your own.
My experience with cats tells me God cares for us through them and even cares for them through us.
Throughout my youth I suffered from a deep, largely un-medicated, clinical depression. Very near the beginning of this period, our family pet, a Yorkshire Terrier, the last of what was once five dogs in the home, passed away, and the house became very empty. Then one night after some family discussions my parents came home with an autumn-colored calico kitten. This cat, who I would eventually call my Keyta, became my ever-present companion. She was like a guardian angel, a messenger bearing Heavenly Father’s love to remain with me as long as I needed her. She was one of the only constants in my life through those terrible years. She would always sleep at the foot of my bed and at night she would come galloping up to meet me alongside my car as I got home from work so we could go inside together. Ours was an incredible bond.
But one night, just a few weeks before I moved away from home for the first time, she wasn’t waiting outside to greet me when I got home. The next morning, I went to open the door for her, sure she’d be lounging on the porch, but she wasn’t. I checked that porch many more times that day, but she didn’t come home, nor did she return that night, nor the morning after that. A horrible fear began to seep through me. My life became a living nightmare as she continued to not come home, and I finally realized what all this meant. I had her for eight years, my reassuring angel through depression and other dark episodes, and just like that, that light inside my soul was blown out. She was just…gone. I never found out what happened to her.
But by that point in my life I knew there was a purpose to everything that happened. And soon it was made manifest to me exactly what the particular purpose of this loss was. Shortly before she had gone missing, I had expressed to a friend how my only real remaining concern about moving from home was that my Keyta wouldn’t be able to accompany me, and she’d be lonely; her only friend and ally was moving away and couldn’t explain to her why, or where he was going, or when he’d come back, if ever.
Later, when I shared with my friend the story of her disappearance, he reminded me what I had told him before. And in my darkness I saw that light. I saw Heavenly Father take a burden from me—and also from her—in bringing her to Him, to a place where she wouldn’t ever have to be lonely or distressed, where she could again wait for me to return to my true, final home.
To use Alma’s words, my Keyta was “sent out” (Alma 41:15) of my life. Does this principle of restoration mean, then, that she will return to me again? I think it does. I think she will be among those who greet me as I leave this life. I think she will be running, galloping toward me. I think she will jump up onto my shoulder, and I will pet her again and I will cry the same kind of tears as when I see everybody else, when I will see my Savior and Heavenly Father again.
She was taken from me by Heavenly Father, as many things are throughout our life. But this is only temporary. All that God takes from us in this life can be returned in the next, and for all time, as it says in the Book of Mormon, “to go no more out” (Helaman 3:30).
(This is a short film I made starring her almost ten years ago:)