A Matter of Dispute

A Matter of Dispute

If the Bible doesn't state that animals go to heaven, does that mean that they don't?

A Palomino horse

With a hollow feeling in the it of my stomach, I dialed the vet. Over the years we've had horses and ponies come and go at our four-acre place in Westchester County. But Kelly was special. What could I ever say to comfort my daughter, Sanna, who owned her and was up in her room crying?

"Lord, help me," I prayed.

Eight years earlier I thought I had known what to say. I recalled that summer day when I was standing in the kitchen, and through the open window I could see my kids and Penni, the teenage girl who took care of our barn, gathered around her horse, BoJangles. They were saying goodbye.

BoJangles was old and sick, and soon the vet would be coming to put him to sleep. I watched Sanna, age 5, reach up to pat his neck.

"Don't worry about Bo," Penni said in a voice as loud as a preacher's. "He'll soon be galloping through heaven. The moment he leaves his body, that's where he'll be."

Penni knew a lot about horses, and she also had a strong faith in God. But sad as I was about BoJangles, I was not happy about what I had just heard her say. Wiping my wet hands on a towel, I strode firmly outside, down the steps and across the small strip of yard to the fence.

The kids were crying and I felt like a rat, but I couldn't let them believe what was not in the Bible. I took my duty in this regard very seriously.

"Penni," I said gently, "animals do not go to heaven. They don't go anywhere. They just stop living when they die. Only people go to heaven."

Sanna was looking up at me earnestly. I was glad I'd come out.

"Yes, Mrs. Smyth," Penni said, but there was steel in her eyes.

Penni went off to college, but she left a legacy that I was yet to discover. One day five years later, when Sanna was 10, a golden-colored pony named Kelly came into our lives. She was like sunshine trotting out of darkness, for she gave back to Sanna a love of riding.

My daughter had been terrorized by a speed-demon pony with a fondness for bucking. He'd been given to us. My older daughter could ride him fine, but she already had a horse. So we gave him back and prayed for a pony who was sensitive, gentle and well trained–and in our low price range.

A far-fetched wish. "But God can do anything," I told the kids.

"It says that in the Bible, doesn't it?" Sanna said, knowing I wouldn't say it if it didn't.

"Yes," I answered. "It says, 'With God all things are possible.'"

Sanna looked in the Pennysaver. "Here's a pony that sounds perfect," she said excitedly, her small finger resting on the print.

"Honey, it's very rare to find something in our price range that's any good, except by word of mouth," I said in my Mother-knows-all voice. I didn't want her to be disappointed. Especially after the last disaster.

"Can't God use the Pennysaver?" she asked. We went to look.

It was a professional stable with long barns and neat white fencing crisscrossed over acres of rich green pasture. The manager, a lively woman with auburn hair, took us to a well-groomed palomino standing on the crossties in a spotless, lonely aisle.

There was a dull, orphanlike sadness about her. In the stalls kids were brushing and talking to their ponies. Kelly stood alone.

Sanna ran to give her a carrot.

"Kelly's not happy here," the woman admitted. "I bought her as a lesson pony. She's well trained, but she's pining for one person to own and love her like she was used to.

"She's dropping weight, and the vet said she's not going to live if she stays here. I want her to have a good home. That's why the price is low."

I looked at Kelly. She had a white blaze on her face. Her ears were perked forward at Sanna, who was patting and talking to her. Her sad eyes showed a promise of kindness.

A week later Kelly came to our barn, joining three other horses and a Shetland pony. If the clutter of our Ma and Pa place was a comedown for her, she never let on. She stepped gracefully into our world and became one of the gang. In fact, she thrived.

"You've really made her happy," I said to Sanna a few weeks later. "She's picking up weight and she's got a spark in her eye."

"She's made me happy," Sanna said. "I love riding again."

As I watched the two of them trot out together, I thought about how my ideas get set in cement. I would never have opened the Pennysaver.

Three happy years went by. Child and pony rode everywhere together, even to the store, where Kelly always got M&Ms, her favorite candy.

One night Sanna didn't come in from the barn on time. Another hour passed and it was time for dinner. I called and she didn't answer. Worried, I rushed out. There was Kelly standing still as a statue. Sanna had fallen asleep on her back, and Kelly wouldn't move lest Sanna fall off.

I tiptoed into the stall and hugged this adorable pony's neck. "You deserve to live forever," I whispered.

Perhaps it was a premonition.

A few months later Kelly developed a painful bone disease for which there is no cure. We were devastated. We put her on an equine pain pill that had no side effects and hoped for the best, but one day the vet said sadly, "There is no more we can do."

We had a decision to make. "I'll call you after I talk to Sanna," I said.

I told Sanna that night. Tears poured down her cheeks. But her maturity astounded me. "We have to let her die," she said. "It will only get worse for her."