My response is generally something like, "If there aren’t animals there, I don’t think it really could be heaven." It may sound trite, but I think it gets to the heart of what people are really asking – not, "Is there a heaven?" (I’m in no position to answer that) but, "Does this animal’s life have meaning that will persist after his or her death?"
Some of the best "people" I’ve met have been dogs, cats, horses, and other nonhuman animals. These have been caring souls that bring joy, comfort, and learning to those around them. After their deaths, the memory of their lives continues to do the same, having a positive influence that ripples out into the world. This is certainly one form of an afterlife.
As to whether animals and people are resurrected elsewhere, reincarnated here, or otherwise live on after death … we’ll all just have to wait and see. But if there is a heaven, no matter what form it takes, I’m sure I’ve got some good animal friends who are waiting for me to join them when my time comes.
Most of you have probably heard of the poem "Rainbow Bridge." For those of you who haven’t, it’s a beautiful representation of just this thought. I can’t find any definitive reference regarding who should be credited with writing it, so I’ll leave it at "author unknown."
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.
There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together...
Dr. Jennifer Coates