Our cat, Lula Mae, is dying. Always small, she is down to a mere four pounds. Cancer is ravaging her from the inside out. You’d never know it from her attitude, though, which is just as sassy and upbeat as always. She will not let her recent exploratory surgery keep her from her usual leaping, bounding and urgent forays into every room in the house.

The prospect of losing her feels like a knife to the gut. You might as well take the sunshine away, because gray days loom ahead. And while many folks talk about “the rainbow bridge” (a heavenly waiting place for pets), many others (particularly in the Catholic Church) do not believe animals have souls or that they will be anything, post-mortem, but fodder for worms. This cannot be.

A heaven without animals would not be paradise. A heaven without animals would lack an ineffable hominess — it would be less cuddly. It would be less warm. It would be a lesser place than Earth, and that is antithetical to the entire notion of heaven as a place of ultimate happiness.

Some would say that animals are not necessary in heaven. After all, we will be consumed by the vision of God. To this I say: God made animals for a reason. God obviously saw some need for them, some goodness in them. Heck, if you believe the book of Genesis, God made them before God made us. That says something. Even if we don’t need animals in heaven, God does. Sure, we humans would like to think we’re God’s favorites. But who are we to say? It takes an awful lot of love to make something as ugly as a warthog or as weird as a platypus. But God did both.

Moreover, God made people to love animals. Sure, not all of us are dog people or cat people or even panda bear people. But most of us love some type of animal, often to distraction. There is nothing extraneous about love. Love is always intimately concerned with, and a part of, God. And so are the animals we love.

I won’t be able to make it through the following weeks without keeping foremost in mind that I will see Lula Mae again — and Elsa, Bianca, Kali, Princess, Frances, Dusty, Mandy, Frosty, Snoony, Boots, Ashley, Micky and every other animal I’ve had the privilege to know and love. After all, Earth will be empty enough without her. God would never allow heaven to suffer the same fate.