In popular culture, the movie “All dogs go to heaven” (1989) focuses on “Charlie B Barkin” a German shepherd dog who is killed by “Carface Caruthers” a violent, sadistic mixed American Pit Bull Terrier/Bulldog gangster.
This film was followed by a sequel in 1996.
Assessing the movies Hillary Busis (2014) describes it as, a horrifying phantasmagoria of murder, demons, drinking, gambling, hellfire, and blue eyeshadow.
Animals (and then dogs in particular) go to heaven as is suggested by the title of the film.
However, Christian scholars are quick to remark that the only ticket to heaven and salvation is having a soul and putting that soul into serving some or other higher being.
But as Wesley Smith (2012) put it in Christian Today: We have come a long way since Descartes claimed that animals are mere automatons without the capacity for pleasure or pain. We now know the contrary is true: They experience. They suffer. They grieve. They love.
Anderson situates herself as the narrator in “Heart of a Dog” right from the start and intersperses the tale of Lolabelle with stories about her own childhood and more current events such as the 9/11 terror attacks.
The autobiographical nature of her text is foregrounded throughout in an attempt by the artist to deal with Lolabelle’s sickness, pain and death.
Anderson echoes several Buddhist teachings on mourning: crying is forbidden because crying is confusing to the dead. One wants to summon the dead back by weeping, even though it is impossible to do so. One should also feel sad without being sad.
So to return to my initial question: do dogs go to heaven?
My contention is that it primarily depends on your belief system but most religions agree that the sentient animals around us also belong in an after death Shangri La or utopia.
It suspends our search for certainties and meaning; and in the metaphor of the film, it is our attempt to confuse the dead within the bardo.
We want to call them back.
We wish they could be like “Charlie B Barkin” who could fly back and forth between heaven and earth.
Or, we want them to be dog angels like Triomf’s “Toby” and “Gerty” who will once again be our companion animals in the otherworld.
The tale of Laurie and Lolabelle is a guideline to grief, a way to deal with death.
It is Anderson’s own book of the dead.
It dissolves the binary between human and animal but it also acts – albeit indirectly perhaps – as a device to repress grief.
By Marius Crous. This article first appeared in The Conversation