May 21, 2011: Profiting on Doomsday?

Have $135? An atheist will rescue your pet when you go to heaven.

May 16, 2011, 9:54 AM

May 17, 2011 — -- Wondering about the fate of your pets after Judgment Day? Well, for $135, a loving atheist will care for your animal if you're not around anymore.

Eternal Earthbound Pets offers a service to rescue and take care of pets once their owners have been taken away to the heavenly realms. Though doomsayers say this Saturday will be the latest day of reckoning that's not expected to leave animals behind either.

Bart Centre of New Hampshire, co-owner of the pet business, launched it in June 2009. He has zero belief in Judgment Day, but began to see an increase in sales inquiries in December, which, he believes, is related to Family Radio's heavy marketing campaign around the May 21 date.

The retired retail executive said he has sold 258 contracts so far.

"That's out of 40 million targeted 'rapture' believers, so it's not like we're making a billion dollars," he said.

Still, Centre is among the opportunistic entrepreneurs who have made the most of doomsayers' predictions and people's eagerness to believe them, although some of them have seen no bump in business and Family Radio can't imagine anyone operating a business amid the ruins of a post-apocalyptic world anyway.

Family Radio, a non-profit, listener-supported religious organization based in Oakland, Calif., has declared that May 21 will mark the end of the world when Jesus Christ arrives for his second coming and the "rapture" of his believers. The organization encourages people to visit its website.

Eternal Earthbound Pets' sales increased during the first quarter of this year by 27 percent compared to the first quarter of last year, which Centre attributes to the May 21 campaign.

"My business partner [in Minnesota] and I launched in a handful of states initially. Now, it's much larger," he said, adding that he has designated rescuers in 26 states.

Centre increased his rates in January. It now costs $135 to rescue one pet and $20 for an additional pet at the same address, which he collects up front. That's up from $110 for the first pet and $10 for an additional pet.

And Centre takes his business seriously. He said he performed a credit history and criminal background on his 44 rescuers: those who are assigned to rescue any pets left behind. The contract fees are split among them.

Other profiteers are practicing a quote by newly inaugurated Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel: "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste."

Emanuel was referring to energy policy in 2008, but Joshua Witter, a software engineer, shared that mentality when he started Post-Rapture Post, a message delivery service to those left behind after the apocalypse.

Leaving Messages for the Left Behind

Witter, based in Orlando, Fl., started the website in 2004 after a casual conversation with his friends about what believers might want after they leave their non-believing loved ones behind. And he said he hasn't changed the website since it first launched.

Witter, an atheist, charges $4.99 to $799.99 to deliver a pre-written letter to those loved ones. Ritter said he suspects the postal service and email services will not be available anyways.

Witter, the postmaster general of the Post-Rapture Post, said he has only sold his simplest letter product at $1.99, although he does offer more elaborate options. For $800, a calligrapher, a friend of his, will hand write your letter on "medieval parchment style paper."

Witter, who has another day job, said there has not been renewed interest because of the May 21 campaign.

He said there were about 200 letters when the website first launched, but now it "trickles in." In general, Witter said he receives more business from his merchandise, including mugs and t-shirts, with a ratio of 10 to one, than his letter products.

"I'm lucky if I get one every couple of months," said Witter about letter sales, who has sold about 400 letters in total. "This new event really hasn't added much."

He said 95 percent of the messages are from Judgment Day believers who want to encourage their loved ones that it's not "too late" to believe. The other 5 percent are jokes.

Kevin Thompson, co-owner of Northwest Shelter Systems, based in Idaho, said concerns about a nuclear disaster -- not Judgment Day -- have driven recent sales of his hidden rooms and bomb shelters.

"We're not a doom-and-gloom company by any means," he said. "People are still purchasing shelters from us for a number of other reasons."

Sales have increased 60 to 70 percent since the start of this year, he said. He attributes the growth mostly to the tsunami and earthquake in Japan in March, and especially the resulting concerns about radiation emitting from the Fukushima plant, north of Tokyo, Japan.

Thompson estimated that his company has built more than 300 shelters in 21 years of operation.

Thompson said his company is also a certified contractor for the government. Northwest Shelter systems have cost from $50,000 to $20 million, although, Thompson said, the average is about $1.4 million.

Barbie Grossman, who is media director for the Vivos Group, which is a company based in Southern California that builds underground shelter networks, she said there has been a diverse range of sales inquiries but the company has not yet built a network for a group expecting Judgment Day.

Vivos builds the underground networks for groups of 112 to 1,000 people that in some ways are luxurious hide-out accommodations that include food, water and power. Members from one large group in central Europe paid $25,000 per person for continuous ownership.

"It's yours forever to pass onto your children or grandchildren," she said. "If nothing happens, it keeps on going."

Jerry Jenkins, the writer behind the "Left Behind" series of books about the apocalypse, said he has a growing number of media requests regarding the May 21 campaign, although he is not aware of a respective increase in sales.

Jenkins worked with the pastor, Tim LaHaye, for the series' 16 books, which have sold more than 63 million copies, the first published in 1995. Jenkins said the books have been re-released this year with new covers and updated words related to technology in the series. He said the re-release was planned last year and related to the series' 15th anniversary, not the May 21 campaign.

Jenkins said it is "folly" to try to predict the second coming. "I think we're supposed to be ready, wait and watch. But I do think God is merciful and wants more to believe and not be left behind," Jenkins said.

Gunther von Harringa, spokesman for Family Radio and president of Bible Ministries International, said it is "ludicrous" to think that businesses will be able to function after Judgment Day.

"There's going to be a worldwide earthquake when many millions are going to die, and all the cities around the world are going to come crashing down," he said. "The idea that someone is going to profit from this is absurd."

He also said animals are going to die just as humans will.

"It's going to be a struggle just to survive for humans," he said. "The world as we know it is going to be radically altered and everyone will be in the same boat."