I just finished Jeffrey Long's Evidence of the Afterlife, a new book that looks at a large database of NDEs compiled by the Web site NDERF, which Long founded. It's an interesting read and has proved extremely popular, becoming a New York Times bestseller. I enjoyed it and learned a few things, though Long's treatment of the subject does not contain much information that will be new to long-time NDE aficionados.
He does break some new ground in his analysis of non-Western NDEs, saying that earlier studies used too small a database, and that with the benefit of NDERF's somewhat larger collection of non-Western accounts, the worldwide similarities of NDEs become more apparent. But the number of accounts remains fairly small. Long relies on 26 accounts written in English by people from non-English-speaking countries, and another 79 accounts written in other languages and translated into English by NDERF's translators. This compares with 583 Western accounts. Given the disparity in the sizes of the databases, I would say it remains an open question whether the non-Western, non-English accounts dovetail closely with Western NDEs. More research is needed.
Anyway, that's not really what I want to talk about.
Instead, what interests me is a curious omission from nearly all NDEs with which I'm familiar, including the many accounts excerpted in Long's book. Namely: pets.
I'm not saying there are no NDEs in which people encounter deceased pets. I know of at least one, where a person was reunited with "all the dogs of [his] life," who came running to greet him. This NDE has stuck in my mind for two reasons: first, because it is rare, and second, because it's the way I personally would like to be greeted!
While NDEs involving pets are not unknown, they do seem to be extremely uncommon. And when you think about it, this is rather interesting. Many people are very attached to their pets and grieve for them when the pets pass on. There are pet cemeteries, and there are people who keep the ashes of their pets. It's not going too far to say that some people are more fond of their pets than they are of their relatives!
So if the NDE is mere wish fulfillment, a fantasy generated by a dying (or traumatized) brain, where are all the dogs, cats, and horses? One would think reunions with pets would be nearly as common as reunions with deceased (human) loved ones, and far more common than encounters with distant relatives that the person hardly knew in life.
Yet this is not the case. It is much more likely that the NDEr will report meeting his Great Aunt Agatha, whom he hadn't seen since he was a kid and barely remembers, than that he will report a joyous reunion with Sparky, his beloved cocker spaniel who died last year.
From a spiritualist perspective, this anomaly is not hard to explain. The NDEr meets human beings (and other advanced beings) because they can assist him in making the decision to return to the physical body - or, if he is not coming back, they can assist him in making the transition. They act as guides, imparting information and advice. A pet can't play this role.
That doesn't mean there aren't pets in the afterlife. It does mean that they are normally not the first beings one will encounter there.
So if we assume that something like spiritualism is true, the relative absence of pets from NDEs isn't problematic. But if we assume that something like physicalism is true, and NDEs are pure fantasy, then the absence of pets is rather odd.
Like the dog that didn't bark in the night, these missing pets may be a clue to the solution of a mystery - in this case, the mystery of the actual nature of the near-death experience.