Joyce Patti / Morgan Gaynin Inc.
Last night was probably a busy one for Bart Centre of New Hampshire. He is the founder of Eternal Earthbound Pets, a service that places pets who are not lifted into the sky during today’s rapture into the loving homes of non-believers. Should things go the way that some of his clients think they will, later today forty-four of Centre’s associates around the country will visit the newly vacated homes of 259 clients to collect the soulless dogs, cats, birds, fish and gerbils that will be left behind when their owners ascend to heaven, which apparently has a No Pets policy. (Like Centre, all the potential caretakers are atheists.)
I emailed Centre to see if I could ask him a few questions on the eve of the rapture. I didn’t think I’d get a response. The latest update to his site stated that his email had overloaded. I figured that this was due to an influx of last minute types taking care of niggling end of the world matters, like finding someone to feed the fish. But he called me back right away.
He said his email was indeed overloaded, but mostly with emails from journalists and people lambasting him for being an atheist who they perceive is ridiculing what could be the holiest day, like, ever. “The emails basically fall into three categories: There are those who say ‘Who cares what happens to the animals, I’ll be with Jesus,’ and those who are like ‘If you’re an atheist, then you probably just want our dogs so you can eat them.’ And then there are people who write to tell me that my service is unnecessary because ‘all dogs go to heaven.’ I tell them they shouldn’t be getting their religious doctrine from a 1989 animated film.”
Bart Centre, with his dog Maddie (Caleb Kenna, LA Times)
Centre also has gotten some 8,000 emails from atheists interested in signing up to be caregivers. But he’s quite selective about who he takes. Each of his registered animal rehomers underwent a background check and had to “blaspheme the Holy Spirit.” I asked what this meant. “You don’t want to know,” he said. Oh, but I do! Did they fart on a picture of Jesus? “No, they have to blaspheme the Holy Spirit, not Jesus,” he said. “You’re not religious, are you.”
Each of Centre’s clients has paid $135, which covers pet rescuing should the Rapture occur within ten years of the receipt of their payment. This amount of money would hardly get you a week of dog boarding, let alone a lifetime of pet care, but Centre – a retired New York retail executive – says he’s kept the price low because he’s pretty sure he’ll never have to fulfill his end of the deal.
“I started this because I’m a capitalist. If there is an opportunity, I’m here to satisfy your needs,” he said. “But, in the event that we are wrong and they are right, we want to honor our contract. We don’t believe it will happen, but atheists aren’t absolutists.” Personally, he will be responsible for taking in two dogs and one cat. Some rescuers — those living in the Bible Belt — will be taking in as many seven pets. “Our clients call us ‘Godsends,’” he said.
I asked if someone might take advantage of this deal and claim that they ascended to heaven just to guarantee an excellent price for a lifetime of pet care. Again, Centre pointed out that, in addition to being both Jewish and agnostic, I’m also ignorant. “It is going to be the souls of people both living and dead going into the sky, not just one person,” he explained. “It’s going to be hard to miss.”
I argued: sure, but maybe there is only one super holy person that will be taken? Isn’t it possible? I thought about this for a while after we hung up. Yes, I decided. Totally possible. But if he’s that holy, he probably has some Mary Magdelene equivalent who’ll come change the litter.
Centre, who donates some of the money from his site to charity each month, says he has no plans to shut down the operation after May 21. He’s expecting that 2012 will be a good year. But there will probably be something of a lull in business when the sun rises again on Sunday.
“I think there are going to be a lot of disappointed people tomorrow,” he said. “Disappointed both because they’re still here, and because we don’t give refunds.”