Where Does the Term “Rainbow Bridge” Come From and Why is It Synonymous with the Loss of a Pet?
Over the course of several years, the term Rainbow Bridge has become synonymous with animal lovers who have lost a pet.
You may hear a grief-stricken owner say their deceased pet has “crossed the Rainbow Bridge” or say “I’ll meet you at the Rainbow Bridge” in reference to the pet.
However, have you wondered what exactly the “Rainbow Bridge” is, where it came from, and how it became so widely used?
Although there is still some speculation as to how the term came about, pet lovers do have a number of answers which we’ll cover in this article.
What is the Rainbow Bridge?
The “Rainbow Bridge” refers to an other-worldly place consisting of a sunny, green meadow and multi-colored, prismatic bridge the pet eventually crosses that leads it to heaven.
The term is believed to have originated in several works of poetry from the 1980s and 1990s that were meant to help relieve deceased pet owners of the pain of their loss.
According to poems, upon death, the pet finds itself in a lush, green meadow filled with sunshine. The pet’s health is fully restored and it can run and play as it did in its prime with unlimited food and water.
There, the pet waits until its human companion dies and is reunited with them in the meadow. Together, they cross the Rainbow Bridge to heaven.
Where Did the Rainbow Bridge Idea Come From?
The concept for the pet Rainbow Bridge may have been based on the Bifröst bridge of Norse Mythology.
The Bifrost bridge was said to be a burning rainbow bridge that reaches between Midgard (Earth) and Asgard, the realm of the gods.
The first reference to a meadow in which pets await their owners can be found in the book Beautiful Joe’s Paradise by Margaret Marshall Saunders.
Beautiful Joe’s Paradise is a sequel to the book Beautiful Joe, which was one of the first that helped raise awareness toward animal cruelty and told the story Beautiful Joe, a dog from the town of Meaford, Ontario
In Beautiful Joe’s Paradise, pets await their owners in a grassland and help one another heal from cruelty they endured during their lives. However, the book makes no mention of a Rainbow Bridge and the pets eventually ascend into heaven by balloon.
Who Wrote the Original Rainbow Bridge Poem?
The first appearance of the Rainbow Bridge in relation to animals is believed to come from a poem by Paul C. Dahm, a grief counselor in Oregon. He wrote the first Rainbow Bridge poem in prose style as seen below:
“Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together….”
The popular rhyming version by Steve and Diane Bodofsky came later and was inspired by this original version.
How Did the Term “Rainbow Bridge” Become So Popular?
Steve Bodofsky believed the original poem by Paul C. Dahm was great, but needed “a bit of coaxing to bring out the meter and rhyme”.
Together with his wife they created their own rhyming version of the Rainbow Bridge poem which they shared with friends shown below:
Another popular Rainbow Bridge poem that helped popularize the concept worldwide came later from Steve and Diane Bodofsky, a couple that operated a ferret rescue.
“By the edge of a woods, at the foot of a hill,
Is a lush, green meadow where time stands still.
Where the friends of man and woman do run,
When their time on earth is over and done.
For here, between this world and the next,
Is a place where each beloved creature finds rest.
On this golden land, they wait and they play,
Till the Rainbow Bridge they cross over one day.
No more do they suffer, in pain or in sadness,
For here they are whole, their lives filled with gladness.
Their limbs are restored, their health renewed,
Their bodies have healed, with strength imbued.
They romp through the grass, without even a care,
Until one day they start, and sniff at the air.
All ears prick forward, eyes dart front and back,
Then all of a sudden, one breaks from the pack.
For just at that instant, their eyes have met;
Together again, both person and pet.
So they run to each other, these friends from long past,
The time of their parting is over at last.
The sadness they felt while they were apart,
Has turned into joy once more in each heart.
They embrace with a love that will last forever,
And then, side-by-side, they cross over… together.
© 1998 Steve and Diane Bodofsky. All Rights Reserved.
Upon getting positive feedback, they collaborated with a graphic design artist to produce Rainbow Bridge Fine Art Print and Rainbow Bridge Sympathy Cards and thus began increasing popularity of the term.
It’s debated when exactly the term Rainbow Bridge was first mentioned online, but the term began circulating in articles and websites as early as 1993 and possibly before that.
The rise of pet forums and pet groups, especially public Facebook pet owner groups, helped Rainbow Bridge reach the mainstream term that it is today.
Rainbow Bridge and Memorials
The reason the term because so popular is because most pet owners view their pet as more than just “a cat” or “a dog”.
The thought of reuniting with that specific animal companion is a heartwarming feeling in a very painful, emotional time.
In addition to printed versions of the poem in sympathy cards, there are now several “Rainbow Bridge” memorials one can buy to honor their pet or to give to someone who is grief-stricken.
In fact, Humane Goods is proud to have made our own memorial, the Rainbow Bridge Memorial Chimes.
These chimes are multi-colored and made of high-quality material for a beautiful sound. Each chime has a special remembrance seal at the bottom which catches the wind for the chime.
You can get more information about them here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07G2Q1R94
Today, it’s widely accepted that all types of animals not just cats and dogs, are eligible to cross the Rainbow Bridge and make it to heaven.
For animals that did not have an owner, it’s assumed they go straight to heaven and that the Rainbow Bridge is meant for pets who wish to cross together with their still-alive human companion.
As losing an animal is a devastating event, it’s easy to see why this term gained so much popularity in just a few decades and will most likely continue to be widely used.
What do you think about the Rainbow Bridge story? Do you have any pets that have “crossed the Rainbow Bridge”? Let us know below.