The Legend and the Controversy Surrounding the Rainbow Bridge Poem

by M-Gillies


a man and dog's foot prints in the sand

“You look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet so long gone from you… and you cross the Rainbow Bridge together”

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge. When a pet that has been especially close to a person here on earth dies that pet goes to the Rainbow Bridge. So begins the first verse of the poetic prose known as The Rainbow Bridge, a poem whose cult popularity has increasingly exceeded the wildest imaginations.

First written between 1980 and 1993, this internet phenomenon has been comforting and bringing solace to pet owners who have lost a beloved animal.  It’s a mythological story that tells of a green meadow located this side of Heaven with a bridge connecting the two plains of existence, sharing similarities to the Norse mythology of Bifrost – the burning rainbow bridge that reaches between Midgard (the world) and Asgard (the realm of gods).

But while pet burials have long been a ritual practiced by ancient cultures around the world, the act of burying a pet soon fell out of favor with the rise of Christianity, which saw pet rituals attributed to paganism. However, in modern society, pet burials and the grief from the loss of a pet has become more accepted today as many households have grown to see their beloved pet as part of the family. With that, comes the increasing popularity of The Rainbow Bridge poem amongst pet owners who have lost a pet.

As the poem explains, when a pet dies, it goes to a mythological, bucolic place known as the meadow, where the pet runs and plays all day with other animals. Any injuries or health afflictions the animal may have endured while alive are gone, leaving the animal restored to perfect health.

Though the sun always shines, and the animal always has fresh food and water, it is said that despite being at peace and happy it wants for nothing but the companionship of their pet owner. And so, one by one the animals wait for their human companion so they may cross the bridge together.

When the owner dies, they too find themselves at Rainbow Bridge, where they will be reunited with their pet before walking side by side across the Rainbow Bridge together as they enter Heaven, never to be separated again.

Despite the popularity of the poem, the mystery remains as to who the original author was, and for that matter the origins of the poem. While being widely circulated throughout the internet for many years, the first mention of Rainbow Bridge arose in a newsgroup post on rec.pets.dogs, dated January 7, 1993, which quoted the poem as originating from a 1992 issue of Mid-Atlantic Great Dane Rescue League Newsletter. From there, the story was said to have come from the Akita Rescue Society of America.

While other posts have cited the poem as having already been well established and circulated prior to 1993, the authorship has been left a mystery. Having been copied and attributed as author unknown for many years, leaving many to believe it was of public domain. However, the story of the Rainbow Bridge seems to be in contention amongst two writers who lay claim to being the original author, or have written something remarkably similar to The Rainbow Bridge, Paul C. Dahm, a grief counsellor in Oregon, United States who is said to have written the poem in 1981, copyrighted it in 1994 and published it in a 1998 book of the same name.

Meanwhile, William N. Britton, the cofounder of Companion Golden Retriever Rescue copyrighted and published the Legend of Rainbow Bridge in 1994. On his website he offers a permission to post Rainbow Bridge disclaimer. In this permission to post form, it states that the work of Mr. Britton has been used illegally and stolen repeatedly and that use of his work without his explicit permission is a legal issue of copyright infringement.

Despite the controversies surrounding the poem, for pet owners who have lost a pet companion over the years, the poem’s statement is one of sentimental solace. Because animals have grown to no longer just be pets, but members of the families, the loss of a pet can be an emotional roller coaster. For that, this poem is one that helps ease the loss with a touching remembrance.

Read The Legend of the Rainbow Bridge here.

Photo By: Bethan Hazell

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