Roscoe died seven years ago. Our big, goofy Bernese mountain dog dwindled because of a brain tumor from 95 pounds to 70 in four months, dying at just 22 months old. My husband, far braver than I, held him while the vet put him to sleep. In seconds after the needle went in, Roscoe was gone.

Roscoe was our introduction to dog ownership, our hairiest rascal and delight. The night before the dreaded vet appointment, our family found this consolation from the teachings of Joseph Smith: "[A]nimals will be found in heaven, in myriad forms and myriad worlds, enjoying eternal felicity, and praising God in languages God understands" (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p. 42).

I love this image of Roscoe and other critters frolicking among the heavenly host in "eternal felicity." I love that God understands dog language. What a fabulous, robust, exuberant image of heaven. Better than any possibility dreamed up in a Hollywood creation.

Do I need to worry that Roscoe was not the world's best dog? That he stole food off the counters? That he chewed up any toy the kids left on the floor? Despite my diligent--possibly obsessive--attempts to teach him correct principles, the pooch never governed himself. As far as I could tell, he never repented.

Not to fear. Apparently, he's covered. Mormon Apostle Jeffrey Holland wrote a section on the Atonement in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Quoting President John Taylor, Holland says, "[Jesus] becomes the author of eternal life and exaltation. He is the Redeemer, the Resurrector, the Savior of man and the world." Then Elder Holland adds, "Furthermore, his atonement extends to all life--beasts, fish, fowl, and the earth itself."

This leads to further questions. What about mosquitoes in heaven? Roaches? Killer bees? Is this really a heavenly image? Do the creepiest of the crawlers get relegated to some lower kingdom? Who decides what's creepy and what's cool? The young bride in our ward with the six-foot python must be thrilled at the prospect that her pet will live on, but how will all my snake-loathing friends feel?

These are questions I have no answers for. Again, I take a tip from Joseph Smith. On the same day that he mused on animals in the hereafter (April 8, 1843), he advised his followers, "Declare the first principles, and let mysteries alone, lest ye be overthrown. Never meddle with the visions of beasts and subjects you do not understand...preach those things the Lord has told you to preach about--repentance and baptism for the remission of sins." Point taken.

But while I'm thinking about animals, how are we to treat the ones still in this mortal coil (yes, even the snakes)? Sandra Bradford Packard draws insight from the Doctrine and Covenants for her segment in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. She writes, "Animals, like 'other good things which come of the earth...are made for the benefit and the use of man' but are 'to be used with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion'" (D&C 59:16-20).

Years ago, when our family lived in Utah for a semester, we were surprised that school was not in session one day. Technically, it was a teacher-training day, but our neighbors told us the real reason was that it was the start of deer-hunting season. To us strangers from "back East," this seemed a very frontier and peculiar "holiday" to us. In his prayers that night, our 5-year-old prayed that there would still be some deer left when the next day was over.

Many Mormon leaders through the years have strongly criticized animal hunting for sport. Former Mormon prophet Lorenzo Snow called it a "murderous amusement." Presumably, folks out West eat a lot of venison. Doctrine and Covenants 49:21 doesn't mince words. It deals out woe to the man "that wasteth flesh and hath no need."

And while we're talking about humane treatment, euthanasia for poor Roscoe seemed like the right solution. I'll let more daring souls than I theorize about how far to take that concept.

Roscoe, in his canine way, fulfilled for our family the scriptural promise, "The fulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air...yea, all things which come of the earth...are made for the benefit...of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart...and to enliven the soul" (D&C 59:16,18-19). It still gladdens my heart today, these many years past, to imagine him happy, healthy, and whole--romping in heaven and praising God in language God understands.

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