Six Sundays ago, my little family took a drive to enjoy the autumn leaves on the Alpine Loop here in northern Utah. It wasn’t a perfect afternoon. A lot of others had had the same idea as us. The traffic was bad, but the leaves were lovely. I looked back to check on my two little sons patiently munching on any snack we could find and saw our border collie mix peeking over the seat, nuzzling her face on the little crook of the headrest. I wish so much I’d taken a picture. I thought in the moment I should, but thought I’d have many more chances to see that image.
We stopped at Bridal Veil Falls and walked around. Again, it was crowded and chaotic. Sometimes my 16-month-old took off walking one direction as the dog walked off the other, pulling on her leash and I felt a little scattered. But as we walked all together back to the car, over yellow leaves still too newly fallen to crunch, I thought to myself how grateful I am for this little clan. I loved the dynamic we were creating. I loved being outdoors and bringing the pup along. I loved the aliveness and presentness of it.
We drove back down the canyon discussing the possibility of getting a second dog, as our friends have several pups left in a litter that need homes, but decided Scout should be our one and only. We talked about what a one in a million dog she had turned out to be, how smart and gentle and perfectly suited to us she was, though we were just taking a total leap of faith when we picked her up as an 8-week-old puppy from a stranger’s “oops litter” almost exactly two years ago. She’d turned out to be the perfect companion and we were so grateful.
When we arrived home, we sent her inside and then unloaded the boys to get them in a bath. As the tub filled, the doorbell rang and a moment later, Bryan, my husband, leaned into the bathroom and said, “Mariah, Scout’s been hit by a car”
Shock and disbelief filled my whole system.
But he said he was going to take her to the vet. She was still alive. Maybe it was going to be ok. He turned to leave and I called him back so we could say a prayer. I prayed that the vet would know what to do and that we would figure this out. I hastily added a prayer for peace with whatever outcome, just to cover our bases, but I truly did not believe there was a scenario in which she wouldn’t be ok.
But it turned out her back was broken. She was paralyzed. She most likely also had internal bleeding. I called to talk to the bishop of my youth, who was a veterinary surgeon, and sent him the X-rays to see if he could offer some other hope, but he agreed with the urgent care vet that nothing could really be done. Our neighbors stayed with our kids so that Bryan and I could be together to say goodbye to the pup we had just said was such a keeper. We told her what a good girl she’d been and how much she meant to us. And when the vet gave us a moment to be alone, we turned to each other and just sobbed.
The first night, hours passed and I lay in bed, unable to sleep. I was reeling from the shock and couldn’t help but hear echoes of the conversations we’d had about Scout just hours before she would be gone; everyday conversations we didn’t realize were about to become poignant. The bubble of my invincibility had burst. The assumption that my loved ones would be protected just because I loved them had proved faulty. The world suddenly seemed unbearably dangerous. I finally went to my three-year-old’s bed thinking that being next to him and seeing that he was ok would comfort me enough to allow some rest. It didn’t work.
The next day, I felt so much anger at the arbitrary nature of the loss. I felt no anger whatsoever at the neighbors or driver that were involved in what happened. They all made choices that would be innocuous 99% of the time. Things played out just wrong enough to be detrimental.
But I felt angry at the cruelty of mortality and how it can turn on a dime. I felt confused as to why, if God was capable of protecting her (and I know He is), why didn’t He? I was heartbroken at the loss of the future I had seen with her in it. So few things on our timeline are certain. I thought she was one of them. I thought my son, who was 18 months old when we got her, would have her as a boon companion for his entire childhood. Now, he may not even remember her.
We got Scout as a puppy the same week I found out I was pregnant with my second child. I was uncomfortable and moody for reasons that had nothing to do with her, and she was bitey and unruly for reasons that had nothing to do with me. I was stressed and she often got reactions from me that were disproportionate to the age-appropriate behavior she was exhibiting. She once bit a tiny hole in a dress I liked by accident when she was jumping up to greet me, and I yelled at her and then went into my room and cried. It’s hard to find even one thing that you feel or look good in when you’re pregnant and now my one thing had a hole.
I realize, as I write this, that I’m wearing that dress now. I ended up just mending the little hole and the dress was just fine. But everything felt like too much then. I would often crouch down into her kennel at the end of a day like that and apologize. I would tell her I was just so tired and uncomfortable and stressed and it wasn’t really about her. I knew she wouldn’t understand every nuance of my language, but it was as important for me to say as for her to hear.
It was a long journey to go from seeing her as a bitter frustration to seeing her as a friend. I tried to be tolerant and calm, but then I realized one day when she was a year and a half or so, that tolerance wasn’t enough. It clicked for me that she didn’t have some other kinder crowd to go home to after spending the day with me. She didn’t have another mom or a pack. We were it. And if we were all she had for love and affection, then I needed to give her more of it. I have never worked so hard to soften my heart to someone in all my life.
And it worked.
And it’s because it worked that this hurts so badly. In the weeks prior to her passing, I went out of my way to stop and scratch her ears rather than push by. I invited her to come up on the couch and snuggle with me while I watched TV or worked. When my sister made some comment about how it was to have her, I said, “Oh, I love Scout” and I knew as I said it, that I meant it.
I’ve lost people before. My oldest sister passed away the weekend of my first wedding anniversary and a lot of our celebrating looked like my husband just silently holding me while I cried. My grandmother passed away three years ago and I still think about her nearly every day.
But inherent in the grief of those losses is the bright, real hope I have of the ongoing relationship I will have with them. I was loading the dishwasher with my grandmother once and she said, “I can’t wait for you to get to know my mother better, you’ll love her”. That is how matter-of-factly I have been raised to see the eternal nature of our family relationships.
But what of this relationship that I worked so hard to cultivate over the last two years with the furry member of our household? What was it all for? I worked so hard for something that was just taken away in an instant. Will I ever get it back? Is there any hope for a reunion with her?
The first thing that seems to come up in nearly any search on this subject is John’s visit to heaven in the book of Revelation. Among the many things he described seeing, he mentions four beasts round about the throne of God (Revelation 4:6). The beasts “give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,” says John. But the beasts are strange in description. And many Christians likely would interpret this sight as heavily symbolic, rather than literal.
But Joseph Smith, who also had visions of heaven, added additional commentary on this specific aspect of John’s vision. He says,
John saw curious looking beasts in heaven; he saw every creature that was in heaven, –all the beasts, fowls and fish in heaven,– actually there, giving glory to God. How do you prove it? (See Rev. 5:13) ‘And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever more.’
I suppose John saw beings there of a thousand forms, that had been saved from ten thousand times ten thousand earths like this,-strange beasts of which we have no conception: all might be seen in heaven. The grand secret was to show John what there was in heaven. John learned that God glorified Himself by saving all that His hands had made, whether beasts, fowls, fishes or men; and He will glorify Himself with them.
Says one, ‘I cannot believe in the salvation of beasts.’ Any man who would tell you that this could not be, would tell you that the [Book of Revelation is] not true. John heard the words of the beasts giving glory to God, and understood them. God who made the beasts could understand every language spoken by them. The four beasts were four of the most noble animals that had filled the measure of their creation, and had been saved from other worlds, because they were perfect: they were like angels in their sphere. We are not told where they came from, and I do not know; but they were seen and heard by John praising and glorifying God (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith p. 291-292).
In a 2017 article on Meridian Magazine, author Mark A. Mathews concluded from this passage:
Not only did John see animals in heaven but, as the Prophet Joseph Smith explained, John heard them and understood them. This indicates that animals in heaven can communicate with other saved beings in heaven and that they enjoy a level of intelligence and happiness. As astonishing as that doctrine may sound to some, it is confirmed by latter-day revelation.
The latter-day revelation he refers to is the 77th section of the Doctrine and Covenants which is uniquely structured as a question-and-answer session, trying to understand how to interpret the things found in the book of Revelation. In response to a question about these beasts and what we are to understand about them, the answer comes:
They are figurative expressions, used by the Revelator, John, in describing heaven [and] … the happiness of man, and of beasts, and of creeping things, and of the fowls of the air; that which is spiritual [or immortal] being in the likeness of that which is temporal [or mortal] … the spirit of man in the likeness of his person, as also the spirit of the beast, and every other creature which God has created …
They are limited to four individual beasts, which were shown to John, to represent the glory of the classes of beings in their destined order or sphere of creation, in the enjoyment of their eternal felicity …
Their eyes are a representation of light and knowledge, that is, they are full of knowledge; and their wings are a representation of power, to move, to act, etc.” (D&C 77:2-4).
So, that seems to imply that, just like people, animals are created in spirit before they take their temporal form and afterward—as further elucidated by Mark A. Mathews:
Not only will animals be resurrected in heaven, but this reveals that animals will be intelligent enough to enjoy it. We are told that they are full of “light and knowledge,” and experience a level of celestial happiness or “eternal felicity” (D&C 77:3-4). To be clear, this does not mean that animals in heaven are as intelligent and exalted as men and women in heaven, for we alone are created in the image of God and destined to be exalted like our Father in Heaven. But animals certainly have sufficient intelligence to recognize where they are and feel inspired to worship the Creator and Savior they know made it possible.
So, they will be resurrected to a state of joy, it seems, but will they be with us? As I studied further on this subject, I remembered something about Joseph Smith specifically saying that he believed he would have his favorite horse in heaven and went looking for that reference.
Instead of the horse though, I found something that may change our perceptions of Joseph’s time in Liberty jail. In an essay by BYU professor and chair of the Department of Church History and Doctrine, Alexander L. Baugh, he talks about Joseph Smith’s bond with his dog, “Old Major”.
Old Major was given to Joseph during the Zion’s Camp march by a nearly 80-year-old member of the company. In addition to the dog having bonded with Joseph (which implies that Joseph was probably showing him special attention and affection), Samuel Baker (the dog’s previous owner) was concerned about those outside of the camp that sought the prophet’s life. He hoped Old Major would serve as a protector, and indeed, it seems he did.
In addition to staying close and defending him through Zion’s Camp, Baugh says:
Joseph Smith may have been allowed to have Major with him during part of the time he was incarcerated in Missouri, and if so, this was perhaps the most significant role this pet played in Joseph’s life. Evidence for this comes from a statement by Aaron W. Harlan (fig. 5), a longtime resident of Lee County, Iowa, who visited Joseph Smith in Nauvoo on several occasions in the early 1840s. In a February 17, 1888, letter to the editor of the Keokuk, Iowa, Post, Harlan wrote, “I visited Joseph Smith at Nauvoo several different times, say about once each six months. I have ate with him at his table, and played with his dog, and on noticing that the dog was getting old, I said to Mr. Smith: ‘Your dog is unusually fat.’ Yes, said Mr. Smith, he lives as I do, and shall as long as we both live, and then added that when he was a prisoner in Missouri, that dog could not be separated from him, and for months when he slept, that dog always remained awake by his side.” Then, alluding to Joseph Smith’s character, Harlan good-naturedly added, “The man that will reciprocate the fidelity of a dog, cannot be altogether bad.”10
Baugh goes on to explore the sources that tell us exactly what part of that incarceration Old Major would’ve been present for and also mentions that,
Smith family lore holds that at the time Joseph and Hyrum and their party left for Carthage, Illinois, Old Major sensed danger. “Those nearest and dearest to Joseph and Hyrum felt impending calamity,” wrote Inez Davis. “Even Joseph’s great mastiff, Major, for the first time in his faithful life, refused to obey orders to ‘go back home,’ and insisted on staying close to his master, and when imprisoned in an upper room, jumped from a second-story window to follow.” The faithful dog was probably not able to follow the company any great distance and so returned home. Davis wrote that when his master never returned, “old Major transferred his loyalty to the eldest son Joseph [III], never leaving him night or day, and refusing to permit strangers to approach him.”
Clearly this creature felt incredible loyalty and protectiveness toward the prophet. So, are they together again now? And why do we have the chance to develop these bonds with our animals if the bond might be but a fleeting thing?
The loyalty of dogs to their masters has become the stuff of legend. There is the story of Greyfriars Bobby, a little terrier in Edinburgh, Scotland who, when his owner passed away in 1858, continued to guard his grave for 14 years. Dogs were not allowed in the cemetery, but softening to his story, the city adopted Bobby so that he would be allowed to stay with his master whenever he wanted. There is a statue of the little pup in Edinburgh to this day.
Hachiko was an Akita Inu whose master was a professor at Tokyo University in the 1920s. Hachiko waited at the train station at the same time each day for his master’s arrival after work. One day, however, his master suffered a fatal hemorrhage and didn’t return. Hachiko continued to wait at the same time at the station each evening for nine more years.
“All things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him”, reads 2 Nephi 11:4. So, how do these dogs typify Him? These two teach us what loyalty to the Master looks like, though obviously we are imperfect masters ourselves. They quietly protect and watch out for us like Old Major, alert at Joseph’s side in Liberty Jail; not unlike the quiet companionship of the Holy Spirit.
“Nature helps us to see and understand God. To all His creations we owe an allegiance of service and a profound admiration,” read an editorial published in the 1918 Juvenile Instructor (the Church’s official publication from 1901 to 1929). The editorial was penned by President Joseph F. Smith, President of the Church, and Elders David O. McKay and Stephen L. Richards, members of the Council of the Twelve. The piece was considered important enough that it was published again in 1928.
In it, they also stated that, “love of nature is akin to the love of God” and that, “Men cannot worship the Creator and look with careless indifference upon his creations. The love of all life helps man to the enjoyment of a better life. It exalts the spiritual nature of those in need of divine favor.”
So, when I cried out to myself on that sleepless night after our loyal friend was suddenly gone, “What was the point?” “Why did I work so hard to learn to love her if she was just going to be taken away?” Perhaps the answer was that I needed to learn to love better, even when it’s hard. To learn to love the Lord’s creations is to learn to love Him. He wants a purer people and I did work so hard to purify my heart for the love of her.
But will I see her again?
It seems very clear that animals will be resurrected, but I could find no official doctrinal statement that they would live with us in the way they did here. There is so much that we don’t know about the eternities, but I can’t help believing that a God who knows even when a sparrow falls, knew when my border collie fell and has seen every tear that I’ve shed about it since.
Again, returning to Mark A Mathews’ article for Meridian, he says, “God saves all that he creates! Christ is the Savior of all living things! They don’t create anything just to fall out of existence into nothing. All living things have their own place in heaven and their own eternal purpose. Just as they were created to beautify the earth, they are saved to beautify heaven. God loves them and God saves them. No wonder they were found by John surrounding the throne and worshipping God!”
I do believe I will see Scout again. Her life, though achingly short, continued when she left here. And next time I see her, she’ll be able to understand a little better when I lean down close and tell her how I tried.
As Bishop Gérald Caussé shared in his recent address in the October 2022 General Conference, “At the end of this mortal existence, the Master will ask us to give an account for our sacred stewardship, including how we have cared for His creations. I pray that we will then hear His loving words whispered to our hearts: ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”