A stroll down an aisle at any pet superstore will confirm what you've probably already come to suspect—it's a dog's world, so watch your step. A multitude of shampoos and conditioners, kitschy apparel, and even breath mints line the shelves of these colossal stores, and it's all designed to help pet owners indulge their furry companions with luxuries that Lassie and Fido could only dream about.

The amount of money consumers spent on pet accessories more than doubled since 2001, from $97 to $215, while the percentage of consumers that bought such items stayed the same, according to Unity Marketing, a research firm that specializes in consumer spending habits.

So in this pro–pet climate, it's only natural that animal owners have questions in regards to their faithful friends. Even greater than the question of what is my pet trying to say to me (answered with a new product that helps translate barks, meows, tail wags, and purrs into human speak), is the question Will my pet go to heaven?

It took the untimely death of his own car–chasing, seven–pound toy rat terrier, Jax, for author and broadcast personality Steve Wohlberg to search the Scriptures for the answer to the question that anyone who has ever lost a pet has pondered.

In October 2001, Wohlberg, his new bride Kristen, and their "little boy" Jax had just returned to their Fort Worth, Texas, home from a weekend getaway when Jax ran into the street and bit the wheel of a moving SUV. Three days later, Jax died, leaving the Wohlbergs with a large hole in their hearts.

The following day Wohlberg sent an e–mail with the subject line "Jax is dead," to end the prayer support that family and friends had mounted on his behalf.

But several of the reply e–mails he received offered Wohlberg hope that Jax's end may only be temporary. "The first e–mail I dismissed and the second made more sense, giving me reasons why maybe I'd see Jax in the kingdom—because Jax was important to us, and we're important to God," he recalls.

As an author of previously published books on the weighty matters of prophecy and the end–times, Wohlberg set aside his reservations about not being taken seriously to seek out a publisher interested in his unusual subject matter.

One acquisitions editor told him, "I don't think any publisher would touch this subject, but on the other hand it's the unspoken thought of everyone."

WinePress Publishing, however, saw it as an untapped market and in late 2002 released Will My Pet Go to Heaven? with an initial print run of 10,000 copies. Nearly all of those copies sold in just over a year, making it a solid hit for the small Christian publishing house. The book is now in its second printing

"It's an out–of–the–box way to communicate God's love to the world's millions of pet lovers," Wohlberg says of the book. "A lot of people buy it for neighbors or family members who don't read the Bible but love their cat or dog."

A balanced view

According to recent statistics, half of all homes in the U.S. have pets. While Wohlberg would love to reach each of those households, he's hoping his book also will appeal to the other half of Americans—non–pet lovers who would appreciate the book for its "missionary" or evangelistic value.

"The book is sensible in its theology," he says. "I don't cross the line and say for sure that all animals go to heaven at death, but I build a case for the hope that a loving God might choose to recreate our favorite pets in the new earth, where 'the wolf dwells with the lamb'" (Isaiah 11:6).

Wohlberg uses biblical stories about Adam, Balaam, Jonah, and others to build a case for the fact that God has an interest in animals too. Over the last year, he jokes that he has become the Ann Landers of the pet world, receiving e–mails and letters from all over the country from readers with stories of how the book has affected them.

One woman who had lost her job in corporate America didn't have the money to pay for an expensive surgery that her 9–year–old daughter's dog needed to stay alive.

On her way home to tell the daughter that she had the beloved pet put to sleep, she stopped at a convenience store to get a drink. A copy of Will My Pet Go To Heaven? was sitting on the counter, but she didn't have the money to buy it. The store's clerk gave her the book, adding that someone had left the lone copy there earlier in the day. The mom took the book home and read it with the daughter, who suggested that it must have been an angel who left the book for them.

Wohlberg's book has also piqued the attention of the media across the country. He's done radio interviews with Focus on the Family, Billy Graham's Decision Today network, Pet Talk America, and USA Radio.

Adding to its appeal as a witness tool, the American Tract Society (ATS) made the book into a 1,000–word tract to share Jesus with pet lovers. "A Christian veterinarian found out about the book and told the American Tract Society that if they could take a book like this and make it into a tract he could share with people who love animals, then he would fund it," Wohlberg says.

And while much of Wohlberg's book is focused on pets, man's relationship with man is also put into the proper perspective in the eternal scheme of things.

"If God chooses to bring back one of our favorite animals in heaven, He is well able to do it," Wohlberg says. "If He doesn't, we will be happy with Jesus and the animals he does make and, of course, with other people who will be there. The most important thing is that we're there."

Wohlberg uses a chapter titled "Pets, People and Priorities" to give readers a balanced look at what's really important—people first, then pets. "The unexpected tragedy of losing our dog has given me an even greater hope in God and a deeper appreciation and understanding of His eternal care for all His creation, pets and people alike," he says.

Last year, Steve and Kristen Wohlberg moved to Paso Robles, California, where Steve is the director of the Endtime Insights radio and TV ministry, and where the couple finally got another dog. Rerun, also a toy rat terrier, looks just like Jax. But he doesn't chase cars.

Editor's Note: For more information on Steve Wohlberg's ministry or Will My Pet Go To Heaven?, visit www.petheaven.info.

Rhonda Sholar is a freelance writer and editor living in Orange City, Florida.Discussion StartersHave you ever lost a pet? How did that experience affect you?

Do you think our pets will be in heaven? Why?

Read Isaiah 11:6-9. What does it tell us about God's kingdom?
Copyright © 2004 by the author or Christianity Today International/Today's Christian magazine.
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