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“‘All dogs go to heaven’ is not scripture but the title of a 1980s animated film”

One day in 2009 Bart Centre, a 62-year-old retired businessman from New Hampshire, had a brainwave. “I thought there must be some way to financially capitalise on Christians believing in the Rapture, as well as the many 2012 predictions,” he says. After some careful planning, Centre teamed up with a silent partner in Minnesota to launch Eternal Earth-Bound Pets, USA. The company is operated by atheists who sign contracts stating they will find and rescue animals belonging to Christian pet owners after they have ascended, and care for them until they can place them into a loving home.

The business has grown rapidly, with agents covering 26 states and more than 260 clients. The largest number of sales has taken place in Southern states like Mississippi (in the lead with 25 clients), Alabama and Arkansas. Centre hopes to keep expanding into more states and other countries as well. He is eagerly looking at the paperwork to move into Texas, which he calls “the big gold star of the Bible belt”. The contracts are $135 and cover a ten-year period. Additional animals in the same house are charged at $20 each.

“The rep must be a confirmed atheist and be happy to blaspheme in writing in accordance with Mark 3:29”*

Centre holds degrees in psychology and religious studies, and was the vice president of a retail-store corporation. After retirement, he wrote two books, ‘The Atheist Camel Chronicles’ and ‘The Atheist Camel Rants Again’, collections of often humorous essays on atheism and religion written from the perspective of Centre’s camel alter ego, Dromedary Hump. He views the pet-rescue business as more of a hobby than a job.

Although Eternal Earth-Bound Pets seems like it could be a joke along the lines of the atheist camel essays, Centre is very serious about making sure he can actually provide the services he claims. In case the Rapture does indeed occur at any point, he has a line-up of vetted representatives ready to roll out to collect pets.

“We conduct a criminal background and credit check,” he says.  “The rep must be a confirmed atheist and be happy to blaspheme in writing in accordance with Mark 3:29*. They must also have had or currently have pets and be willing to keep them in their own home as family members.”

In addition to dogs, cats, birds and small caged mammals, agents in four states are even prepared to deal with larger animals such as donkeys, llamas, horses and, of course, camels.

In the first quarter of 2011 the company saw a 27 per cent increase in business, coinciding with a Rapture prediction by radio evangelist Harold Camping of California. Camping, a 90-year-old former civil engineer with deep jowls and a cowboy hat, had previously predicted Raptures in 1988 and 1994. He says he used a series of maths equations based on numbers from the Bible to come to these conclusions, and after crunching the numbers again, came up with a new Rapture date – 21st May 2011, with the end of the Earth to follow on 21st October.

Camping’s enterprise, the California-based Family Radio, solicited donations which were used in a startling ad campaign of doomsday prophecy. The foreboding date screamed out of billboards, and zoomed by on the sides of vans and lorries. Volunteers around the world wore T-shirts broadcasting the date, held signs and passed out pamphlets on busy street corners.

Meanwhile, business was solid at Eternal Earth-Bound Pets – although Centre feels there is still plenty of work to do.

“I think it’s strange we don’t have more clients,” he says. “One common thing I hear is that ‘all dogs go to heaven’. I remind people that this is not scripture but the title of a 1980s animated film. I’ve heard that we are godless atheists, so we will eat the pets when they are gone, and even had one person say that we will probably have sex with them.”

Centre feels the saddest response is apathy to the pets’ future.  “Some say they simply don’t care because they will be in heaven and their minds will be on greater things,” he says. “That is a sad commentary on so-called ‘Christian love’.”  Centre himself has a pet pit bull and an English setter. “I love my pets and if I’m going somewhere, I want them to be taken care of.”

After 21st May came and went, and clients found themselves remaining distinctly Earth-bound, six policy-holders contacted Centre wanting a refund. Centre told them to review the terms and conditions of their agreement. “I view it as being similar to home owners’ insurance,” he says. “You don’t get your money back if your home doesn’t burn down.”

With a steady rotation of Rapture and doomsday predictions approaching for 2012, Centre is looking forward to a solid fiscal year for the company.

*“But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.” – Mark 3:29, King James Bible

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