Many people in the U.S.—perhaps 20 million to 40 million—believe there will be a Second Coming in their lifetimes, followed by the Rapture . In this event, they say, the righteous will be spirited away to a better place while the godless remain on Earth. But what will become of all the pets?
Bart Centre, 61, a retired retail executive in New Hampshire, says many people are troubled by this question, and he wants to help. He started a service called Eternal Earth-Bound Pets that promises to rescue and care for animals left behind by the saved.
Promoted on the Web as "the next best thing to pet salvation in a Post Rapture World," the service has attracted more than 100 clients, who pay $110 for a 10-year contract ($15 for each additional pet.) If the Rapture happens in that time, the pets left behind will have homes—with atheists. Centre has set up a national network of godless humans to carry out the mission. "If you love your pets, I can't understand how you could not consider this," he says.
Centre came up with the idea while working on his book, The Atheist Camel Chronicles, written under the pseudonym Dromedary Hump. In it, he says many unkind things about the devout and confesses that "I'm trying to figure out how to cash in on this hysteria to supplement my income."
Whatever motivates Centre, he has tapped into a source of genuine unease. Todd Strandberg, who founded a biblical prophecy Web site called raptureready.com that draws 250,000 unique visitors a month, agrees that Fido and Mittens are doomed. "Pets don't have souls, so they'll remain on Earth. I don't see how they can be taken with you," he says. "A lot of persons are concerned about their pets, but I don't know if they should necessarily trust atheists to take care of them."
This paradox poses a challenge for Centre. He must reassure the Rapture crowd that his pet rescuers are wicked enough to be left behind but good enough to take proper care of the abandoned pets. Rescuers must sign an affidavit to affirm their disbelief in God—and they must also clear a criminal background check. "We want people who have pets and are animal lovers," Centre says. They also must have the means to rescue and transport the animals in their charge. His network consists of 26 rescuers covering 22 states. "They take this very seriously," Centre says.
One of Centre's atheist recruits is Laura, a woman in her 30s who lives near the buckle of the Bible Belt in Oklahoma, and who prefers not to give her last name. She has two dogs of her own and has made a commitment to rescue four dogs and two cats when—if—the time comes. "If it happens, my first thought will be, 'I've got work to do,'" Laura says. "The first thing I'll do is find out where I need to go exactly."
The rescuers won't know the precise location of the animals until the Rapture arrives, at which time they will contact Centre for instructions. "I've got to get to [the pets] within a maximum of 18 to 24 hours. We really don't want them to wait more than a day." A day she believes will never come.
Centre doesn't think he will ever have to follow through on the service he offers. But he believes in virtuous acts. His Web site directs about $200 a month in proceeds from Google ads to food banks in Minnesota and New Hampshire. And to pet owners, he has already delivered something of great value: peace of mind, for just 92 cents a month. "If we thought the Rapture was really going to happen," Centre says, "obviously our rate structure would be much higher."