The Surprising History of the Rainbow Bridge Poem

On August 28th, it will be Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day. The point is to set aside a day to remember the animal companions we’ve lost. While few of us need anything like that to conjure up images of our pets or remember just how much we miss them, it’s still a great time to appreciate the sentiment behind the now-famous poem commemorating the passing of our beloved pets.

If you love animals, you’re likely familiar with the Rainbow Bridge. In fact, many shelters and rescues hand out copies or approximations of it to adopters. Passages from it have even been glimpsed on headstones and markers in pet cemeteries. It’s had a significant impact on members of the public for decades now, but almost no one knew who wrote the heartfelt dedication.

Rainbow Bridge author
Photo: Edna Clyne-Rekhy

For the Love of a Dog

Or at least they didn’t until just recently. Back in 1959, a young woman named Edna Clyne — a Scottish artist and animal lover — wrote a poem to commemorate her beloved dog Major’s passing. Heartbroken at the time, she “had no idea that the poem had brought comfort to so many others” after penning it more than six decades earlier.

If not for the dogged determination of author, art historian, cat owner, and foster caregiver Dr. Paul Koudounaris, the world might still be in the dark as to its true authorship, and the woman behind it would have gone to her grave never realizing the reach and impact the ode attained since writing it all those years ago.

“I’m absolutely stunned,” she stated when finding out. “I’m still in a state of shock.”

Koudounaris was reportedly working on a book chronicling pet bereavement and cemeteries when he repeatedly ran across references to the Rainbow Bridge. Spurred to uncover its origins, he discovered that in 1994 advice columnist Dear Abby was sent a copy of it from a reader who’d received it from their local humane society and decided to share its moving message.

Rainbow Bridge author
Photo: Edna Clyne-Rekhy

Search for the Truth

Abby printed it and asked if anyone could identify the author. While no one ever stepped forward to claim ownership back then, the poignant ode took off among the general public like a rocket. An intriguing bit of trivia, yes, it still didn’t answer Koudounaris’s question as to who’d written it.

Further investigation led him to a list of names claiming to have a connection to the words, but none of them passed the smell test. Eventually, he was able to zero in on one person: Edna Clyne-Rekhy.

In 1959, Edna was a 19-year-old living in Inverness, Scotland, when Major, her much-loved Labrador retriever, passed away. Her first pet, “He was a very special dog,” she explained to Koudounaris. “Sometimes, I would just sit and talk to him, and I felt that he could understand every word I said.”

The day after Major died, and at her mother’s behest, a heartbroken Edna sat down and let the words flow from her heart until she’d filled both sides of the page. In recalling that moment, she reminisced that it was as if Major himself was guiding her. When she was done, she entitled it “Rainbow Bridge.”

“He died in my arms, actually. I dearly loved him,” she acknowledged.

Rainbow Bridge poem
Photo: Edna Clyne-Rekhy

Surprise Celebrity

Afterward, Edna shared the touching message with a couple of friends who’d admired its sentiment before tucking it away for safe keeping. She noted that after marrying, her husband suggested she might consider publishing it, but she felt it was too personal.

What she would do, however, is eventually make a handful of typewritten copies for close friends who would go on to share it with others. None of them, Edna included, ever imagined the impact and range it would ultimately have. Now, as Edna excitedly put it, “Every vet in Britain has it!”

If you’d like to learn more details about Edna and her unwitting contribution to animal remembrance, you can read Paul’s fascinating story in full right here.

Rainbow Bridge

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge. When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, your 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 friends are warm and comfortable. All the animals who have been ill and old are restored to health and strength. Those who were hurt are made better and strong again, like we remember them before they go to heaven.

They 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 shining, his body shakes. Suddenly, he begins to run from the herd rushing over the grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cuddle in a happy hug never to be apart again. You and your pet are in tears. Your hands again cuddle his head and you look again into his trusting eyes so long gone from life but never absent from your heart, and then you cross the Rainbow Bridge together.

People, Pets & Planet

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