As all dog lovers know, human beings and dogs are particularly well suited to living together. This is because we have many of the same needs for a healthy and happy life: similar foods, clean water, daily play, fresh air and sunshine, safety and a warm bed, love, companionship, approval, work to challenge our bodies and minds, and rewards - a word of praise, a back rub, a cookie - for a job well done. It may be a cliché, but I really am learning a lot about life from my dog.
It's also a cliché - and I have no idea if this is true - that for some traditions espousing reincarnation, the highest animal form a soul can occupy is human. I may have been a newt in my last life, but the only way I'll be a newt again is if I really fuck up this time around. (Again, this may be a strawman conception of reincarnation, but it's a conception that has currency in the popular imagination of the U.S., at least). I don't see any good evidence, however, that humans are further along the journey to enlightenment than other animals. That looks like blatant androcentrism. In fact, in the case of my dog, whereas I may be more intelligent than he, I suspect he is the more enlightened one.
The official Christian line is at best agnostic about whether or not dogs have souls, whether they can be saved, and hence whether they go to heaven. From a purely androcentric point of view, a lot of us believe that if there ain't dogs in heaven, then it ain't heaven. But disavowal of the androcentric point of view is one of the reasons I left Christianity for Wicca. My dog is far more deserving of heaven than I am. (And yes, I know that Christianity isn't supposed to be about who deserves to get into heaven.)
My dog, Lugh, is my dharma teacher. It's a cute idea, but I mean it seriously. For example, this past weekend we were walking in Prospect Park. Lugh ardently pulled on the leash in his excitement to get to the place where we run off-leash with the other dogs. The pulling looked like it hurt him, as his neck strained forward in his collar and he gasped for air. I said to my partner, "Lugh doesn't realize that life would be so much easier and less painful if he just gave up the struggle. We would arrive at the same place at roughly the same time. It's the struggle that's hurting him."
I've been thinking about that ever since.