I have a mental image of the dogs I’ve lost, now in heaven, young and healthy: my dalmatian running in a field, my yellow lab resting comfortably in a cool breeze. Playing with other dogs. Happy. Do animals really go to heaven?

Ptolemy Tompkins set out to answer this question in his book, The Divine Life of Animals: One Man’s Quest to Discover Whether the Souls of Animals Live On. (Crown, 2010). Ptolemy is here with us today to celebrate his book’s release and to share his thoughts on some of our deepest musings about our pets.

Ptolemy Tompkins is author of This Tree Grows Out of Hell (2008), The Beaten Path (2001) and Paradise Fever (1998). He is contributing editor at Guideposts and Angels on Earth magazines and writes a monthly column for Beliefnet.com. He’s currently working on a book about the afterlife of humans. You can buy The Divine Life of Animals at your favorite bookstore, bn.com or Amazon.

Q- Thank you for joining us, Ptolemy. You were in search of the answer to the question: Do animals have souls? Did you find the answer?

Ptolemy- I already thought they did, of course. But I was curious why it was that people are often so embarrassed about taking this question seriously. If you tell people you’re writing a book about whether animals have souls or not, they’re likely to respond with laughter, or by saying: “Well, of course they do.” People feel strongly about the question, but it’s an awkward one for them to know how to talk about. Of course, one reason for this is because we’re not all that good at talking about the HUMAN soul anymore either. The word has become kind of soft-edged for us in the modern world, and we aren’t all that comfortable, I feel, talking about the specifics of what the soul might really be.

Q- Did a personal experience with one of your pets inspire you to write this book?

My dog Mercury, who kept me company through writing most of it, died at the very end of my work on the book. It was interesting that at just that point, after spending so much time thinking about these questions, I would undergo the kind of experience that inspired me to write the book to begin with. People in the modern world, I felt, simply don’t know what to DO when they lose a pet. That is, how do they fit their sadness, the emotions they feel, into their picture of the universe? So his death reminded me very strongly just how important it is to find answers to some of these questions.

Q- Is it possible to have hard scientific evidence for this issue, or is it simply a matter of faith?

Ptolemy- No, science has a lot to say to us today, if we’re interested in asking if the soul really exists from a scientific point of view. The chief thing it has to tell us is that after a century of trying to do so, scientists aren’t anywhere near proving that the brain produces thought. In fact, the brain is like a radio receiver, picking up and processing our identities. If you have a radio and you drop it and the song that was playing on it stops, that doesn’t mean the song is gone. It just means the transmitter that was making you able to hear it broke. In a very small nutshell, that’s what a lot of recent brain research is demonstrating.

Q- What comfort does this book offer for grieving pet owners?

Ptolemy- Your dog or cat or Guinea pig or ferret didn’t die when its body did. Nothing does.

Q- So you think that our pets go to heaven?

Ptolemy- Yeah they do, to my thinking. But we need to rethink what heaven is, because our conceptions of it are too simplistic. We need to conceive of a heaven big enough to accommodate the world in all its dimensions. Not just a little room with some harps and halos and a “no pets” sign at the door!

Thank you Ptolemy!

What do you think? What have you experienced with your pets? Share with us here…as Ptolemy says, it’s good to talk about it!