Dogs play such an important part in our lives, that it’s no surprise that they show up in various religious traditions as well.
Dogs show up quite a bit in ancient religious folklore. Dogs are often seen as protectors in religious traditions. Many ancient cultures would sacrifice the dogs of humans that have died so their faithful companions could protect them in the afterlife. King Tutankhamen was buried with his dog Abuwitiyuw.
The ancient Egyptians worshiped the god Anubis, the judge and lord of the afterlife. The ancient Greeks revered dogs as messengers of gods or even demigods. In Greco Roman mythology, Cerebrus was a three headed dog who guarded the gates of Hades. He was so terrifying, that the gods themselves feared him.
The Dahomey tribe in Africa, believe that a dog solved a conflict between three gods. To return the favor, the gods granted dogs the guardian of women, guides of men and leaders of all the spirits.
The Ifugao people of the Philippines believe that the world was created when the god of the skyworld, Kabigat, came to earth to hunt with his dogs. The earth at the time was so flat and featureless that Kabigat could not hear the dogs barking. He created topography; the mountains, hills and valleys, so he could follow his dogs on the trail.
Dogs are associated with the Hindu god Shiva, who is often represented with four dogs. These dogs represent the Vedas, the ancient Hindu Scriptures. The dog is the messenger of Yama, the Angel of Death, and they guard the doors of heaven. They are also the protectors of our homes and lives. In Vedic literature, many deities have dog companions.
In Hinduism, we are told the story of King Dharmaraja, his brothers and their families, who trekked up the Himalayas. The journey was long and arduous and Dharmaraja’s brothers and their families all eventually fell, one by one until only Dharmaraja and his dog were left. They were greeted at the mountain top by the god Indra, who praised his efforts and offered him a home in heaven.
As Dharmaraja boarded the heavenly chariot, he called his dog to join him, at his rightful place by the king’s side. But Indra forbade it, saying that dogs were not allowed in his heaven. When the good king Dharmaraja heard this, he proclaimed that he could not leave his faithful companion who depended on him. He refused heaven, saying that he would rather stay on earth with his dog, than be in heaven without him. Touched, Indra allowed it and both were taken up with him. When they arrived in heaven the dog was transformed into the Dharma, the god of proper living.
Dogs appear in Buddhism to illustrate our need to be ever compassionate.
According to tradition, Buddha trained a lion like a dog. In India, lions are respected animals. However, when Buddhism traveled to Asia, the Chinese had no clear idea of what lions looked like so they tweaked it to look like the animal they were familiar with– the dog. Emperor Ming Ti wanted a lion of his own, so he claimed the Pekingese was a Lion (or Fo) Dog. These dogs came to represent Buddhism.
In Tibet and Japan, Lhasa Apsos, Tibetan Spaniels and Shih-Tzus became Fo Dogs. Over time, these dogs were considered royalty and were treated better than the vast majority of humans on the planet. The penalty for stealing a Fo Dog was death.
These dogs stayed in the Palace in China and the Forbidden City until the British Invaded in the 1800s.
Though dogs are largely considered unclean in Judaism, brought on by the diseases that ancient feral dogs carried, they are represented as faithful protectors. Jewish tradition recognizes and respects the bond that people have with their pets. As with all animals, dogs must be fed before you eat and they are entitled to a Sabbath rest. Neutering a male dog is against Jewish law, but spaying is allowed. Jews are also forbidden to crop the ears or dock the tails of their dogs, although they are permitted to get a dog who has already been altered.
Judaism emphasizes proper treatment of animals. Jewish law forbids Tza’ar ba’alei alei chayim, or the suffering of living creature. Jewish scripture (Gen. 30, Ex. 31, I Sam. 17) gives examples of the Heroes being chosen by YHWH because of their care for animals. Scripture recognizes that those who show compassion for animals often will show mercy for humans as well. The Talmud tells the story of Judah Ha-Nasi who was punished with physical ailments after not showing compassion to a calf being led to slaughter. His punishment ended when he showed mercy to animals.
In Grenada, Christians believe that the shepherds had three dogs with them: Cibila, Malampo and Lubina. In Catholicism, many saints are represented with their dogs. It is believed that Saint Patrick, Saint Margaret and Saint Giovanni Melchoir were all led to God by dogs. Dogs sometimes serve as messengers of God. There are 40 references in the Bible of dogs sometimes as messengers or protectors, most in derogatory remarks. The Bible does distinguish between dogs and wolves and between different functions of dogs; hunters, herders, messengers and protectors.
A 2001 poll found that 43% of pet owners believe that their pets go to Heaven with them, compared to the 40% who believe they don’t. There is also a trend among some denominations where parishioners get their dogs baptized or blessed by priests and ministers.
Dogs are considered unclean in Islam, but Mohammad does recognize a dogs place as beneficial workers. In one scripture; A Muslim man gives water to a thirsty dog. A member of his tribe complains to Mohammad that the man is unclean because he touched a dog. Mohammad chastises the second man, saying the first man was right because he showed compassion to animals. In Islam one good deed is equal to ten bad deeds. There is the story of a sinner who fed a thirsty dog water from the well of his shoe. That act of mercy tilted the scales in his favour and he entered Paradise upon his death.
No matter what you believe, the same theme occurs; Acts of compassion are valued above all else. Compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind. ~Albert Schweitzer