CNN ponders the rainbow bridge, asking: Do pets go to heaven?

On CNN’s homepage Monday, along with the headlines about Obama’s tax deal and the future of WikiLeaks, was the link to this article: Where does Fido go when he dies? I clicked, curious for the findings from respected CNN journalists. (If CNN reports it, it’s got to be true, right?)

I got no firm answers, however. Just conjecture, possibilities, and Biblical references. The only thing they could say for sure: Humans seek comfort when a companion animal dies.

I’m not a particularly spiritual or religious person. My beliefs have me rooted in the here and now, not the hereafter. But since it’s the holiday season, and we’re (supposed to be, at least) focused on giving and all things godly, I figure it’s a good time for me to chime in.

After years of work in the shelter arena, not to mention having dogs of my own, you’d think I would have toughened a bit. But no. Each death takes a toll. And the passings are by far the most difficult to accept when the animal was not given the life he or she deserved – when the absence of life is a reprieve from suffering.

My advice to someone dealing with the loss of a beloved pet: Take comfort in the knowledge you’ve given your dog or cat a good life. Far too many animals are deprived that – if yours were loved and cared for, they are among the lucky ones. If like me, you find the idea of a rainbow bridge dubious at best, cherish your memories. They’re more alive than an unknown future. And more certain.

But here’s really where I’m going with this. Based on years of watching animals I’ve come to love face euthanasia, there’s only one way I’ve found to salve the pain of loss: Reach out to a dog or cat who has not yet known a loving and permanent home – and who may never find one.

Shelters are desperate for volunteers this time of year; if you’re not ready to adopt or foster, your companionship is still a gift. And even though providing comfort to an animal in need won’t bring your own pet back, it can, in a way, bring you back to your pet.

Of course, I don’t know what happens to our animals when they die – none of us do. For those who find comfort in the notion our dogs and cats (and ferrets and horses and birds) will be reunited with us one day, it’s not my goal to challenge that. I’m only challenging the idea there’s not something to be done now.

There is.