Quest for The Rainbow Bridge

The Mystery of the Origin of The Rainbow Bridge

Man at Rainbow Bridge
Man at Rainbow Bridge. Photo Credit: © iStockPhoto/Borut Trdina

Perhaps more than any other written piece in history, The Rainbow Bridge has brought comfort and solace to pet owners trying to cope with the grief of loss of a beloved cat, dog, or other pet. It is almost impossible to read this poem without tears flowing, even after having read it dozens of times, because we all have one or more "Rainbow Kitties and Doggies" we envision there.

The story describes a bucolic place "just this side of heaven," where dogs and cats, bunnies and birds, all live peacefully among the gentle meadows and hills, running and cavorting together in the lush green grass.

They are all young again, in perfect health, and want for nothing - except the humans they loved. One by one, they wait for us at the Bridge, and when our time comes their eyes light up in indescribable joy as we join them, to cross the Rainbow Bridge together. Who among us would not find peace and solace from the belief that such a place exists? I surely do, and there is nothing on earth that will convince me otherwise.

Legends and Real Rainbow Bridges

The inspiration for the poem is generally acknowledged to come from an ancient Norse legend. Bifrost, the rainbow bridge was a bridge the gods used to travel to and from earth, and where worthy Norse warriors crossed to Valhalla.

A naturally formed Rainbrow Bridge exists in the United State, in southern Utah. It is not surprising that this glorious bridge is held sacred by Native American cultures.

Another Rainbow Bridge legend is told by the Chumash people, who originated on Santa Cruz Island.

It is a rather sad story with an uplifting ending involving dolphins.

Lehigh University has received a $300,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation for an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural project designed to enhance the university’s Asian Studies program while strengthening Lehigh’s historical ties with China.

The study will include a Chinese Rainbow Bridge Project.

The Rainbow Bridge for Animals

There's no denying that the most famous Rainbow Bridge of all is the one we think of when a beloved pet passes over. The Rainbow Bridge allows us to keep our kitties alive in our hearts for as long as we live, and we do not really dread death because we know we'll be united with them. For almost as long as there has been a World Wide Web, The Rainbow Bridge poem has appeared on dozens, perhaps hundreds of web sites with "author unknown," or "anonymous," as the credit. In fact, if you "Google" "Rainbow Bridge," you'll be rewarded with some 800,000 hits. Some of the more prominent ones are:

  • Pet Loss Grief Support
    Provides tribute pages for pets loved and lost, a Monday Night Candle Ceremony, and a chat room. Also sells personalized copies of the Rainbow Bridge poem.
  • Rainbows Bridge
    This not totally altruistic site offers online memorial services for $125, and a "Rainbow Residency" for $25/year. Also has links to stories and poems. Perhaps the nicest feature of this site is the free E-Sympathy Card section.
  • The New Rainbow Bridge
    Copyrighted in 1998 Steve and Diane Bodofsky, this poem appears to be an expanded version of the Rainbow Bridge poem known worldwide. This site also sells fine art prints of the poem, with (unknown portion of) proceeds going to "help support the Last Chance Ferret Rescue."
  • Yet Another Version
    This version is loosely tied to the original, and appears on a web page by Gabrielle David. Gabrielle has acknowledged that she wrote this version, based on her own impressions of the Rainbow Bridge, and to include the feral animals that should have had homes and love.
  • Flash Version
    This is probably the most visually beautiful version of all - the "original" poem illustrated with Flash photos of happy dogs and cats, cavorting at The Bridge.
  • A Rainbow Bridge Story
    My favorite version, written to honor rescuers. Although it has also been published widely as "anonymous," it is believed to have been written by Benny Archuleta, a Dachsund rescuer.

Next > Who is the Real Author of The Rainbow Bridge?

This question is clouded in mystery, since the poem has been copied so many times on the Internet as "author unknown," that it seems to have moved into the area of public domain. I have the poem reprinted on this site too, originally as "author unknown," until a friend emailed me with the identity of the person he believed to be the true author.

Apparently, however, it appears that at least two other writers lay claim to being the original author, or to having written something remarkably similar to The Rainbow Bridge, as we know it.

The known contenders presently are:

  • Paul C. Dahm
    Last known to live in Lincoln City, OR Dahm is a grief counselor. He is said to have written the poem in 1981, copyrighted it in 1994, and published it a book titled "The Rainbow Bridge" in 1998.
  • William N. Britton
    Mr. Britton's book, Legend of Rainbow Bridge, copyright and published in 1994 , has lovely illustrations by Ron Dawson. Mr. Britton and his late wife were co-founders of Companion Golden Retriever Rescue in West Jordan, Utah.
  • Dr. Wallace Sife
    Also a professional grief counselor, Dr. Sife heads the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement, and his version of the poem, titled, "All Pets Go to Heaven," appears on that organization's site. Dr.Fife's poem also is featured in his book, The Loss of a Pet.

I've never forgotten something I learned years ago, when I majored in music in college. Our much-respected teacher, Mr. Froelich, taught us that music IS.

That is, music is out there in the air somewhere, and it only takes a talented composer to snatch it out of the stratosphere and put it on paper, to be transformed by instruments and voice to the glorious musical pieces that sing in our hearts. So, in effect, the writing of music is not creation, but is discovery.

Mozart did not create his haunting Requiem; he discovered it.

I have a belief that the Rainbow Bridge is very similar to music in that respect. It has always been there; it just took an enlightened soul (or three) to discover it.

Our quest for the real author of The Rainbow Bridge may never be undeniably resolved, but one true thing rings clear: This sweet story will continue to bring peace and comfort to thousands of animal lovers through the ages to come. And one-by-one we will some day be reunited with our loved cats and dogs that have gone before.