Somewhere Over the Rainbow Bridge

I was sitting in church this morning, listening to a guest speaker talk on the subject of suffering. It’s not an upbeat discussion; however, it made me think on how we work through suffering when losing a pet. My question became how do we see our pets when their suffering is no more; when they cross the Rainbow Bridge.

The most common theme when listening to pet families talk about the loss of their loved one is that their pet has crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. This brings such a vivid, beautiful picture to mind.  I was curious how we came up with this phrase, what it means, and why we use it.

The History of the Phrase “Rainbow Bridge”

In an article that Washington Post published in 2018, the origin of the phrase is fuzzy, but it came to light somewhere in the 1980s. Rainbow Bridge was known as a poem written to help people through losing a pet.  Three people claim to have coined the term and written the poem, but it is difficult to tell who deserves the recognition.

Paul C. Dehm, a grief counselor in Oregon is said to have written the poem in 1981, and published it in 1998, but William N. Britton published a book in 1994, titled “Legend of Rainbow Bridge”. Wallace Sife, the head of The Association  for Pet Loss and Bereavement also lays claim to have coined the phrase and written “All Pets Go to Heaven” and his book, “The Loss of a Pet”. Yet another story states a couple who took care of gravely ill ferrets, wrote a poem for their friends, and the local veterinarian asked if they could use it in their sympathy cards.

Although we are unable to pinpoint the history of the phrase, we are able to see that since the 1980s, our pets have become more than just a pet. The poem helps us understand that losing a pet can bring such grief and sorrow. It also helps society accept a loss of a pet can be just as difficult as a loss of family member or friend.  Since the 1980s/1990s we have seen an uptick in pet bereavement gifts and cards as a result.

What Does Rainbow Bridge Mean?

The Rainbow Bridge is an overpass into a meadow between Heaven and Earth. The poem paints a beautiful meadow where our pet’s health is restored. They have no more pain, no more illness. They can run free to play with the other pets who have also crossed the Rainbow Bridge.  Our pets are warm, well fed, and have plenty of water to sustain them. It is a place of great joy!

The poem goes on to say that when a pet’s owner passes away, they are alerted to this new journey, and look for their owner with intent. The pet runs to the bridge to greet their beloved owner where they are reunited, never to be separated again. There are kisses and hugs, and the knowledge the pet never left the owner’s heart.  As the poem ends, both owner and beloved pet walk together over the Rainbow Bridge into Heaven.

This is such a beautiful image as we know the loss of our pet brings so much sorrow, but the belief that we will be met in the meadow by our loved ones brings so much joy and comfort. It means even though we let them go physically, we never forgot them, and they’re always with us in our hearts.

Why We Use the Term “Rainbow Bridge”

As our society has seen a continuous change in how we care for our pets, the term Rainbow Bridge has become an acceptable way to help people through the grieving process. The story resonates with people today. It helps them move through the grieving process, as well as provides hope.

According to the Washington Post article, a study was done showing that people who lose their pets can grieve as much as those who lose a family member. The level of grief was dependent on how the pet was perceived. The study showed that approximately 30% of the people said their grief was prolonged for six months or more; 12% had major life disruption after the loss of a pet. In addition, more than five percent suffered post-traumatic stress. This shows that pets have become so much more to us than before. It also makes sense they are more likely to be our companions, even our best friends.

Last Words

When I was younger, I thought the sentiment of a pet crossing over the rainbow bridge was rather silly. Why would they do that? Wouldn’t they just go to Heaven? Why would they wait for us? Now, especially after losing a few family members, I can understand why we choose to say they have crossed that bridge.

Our pets are not only cute fuzzy beings that rely on us to care for them. They are cute and fuzzy creatures who take care of us and give us unconditional love, which is much more than we can give in return. These creatures who we say we’ve domesticated bring so much more into our lives.

I want to meet Roc, Aprilia, Harley, Patches, and Abel in the meadow when I die.  I want to hug them and kiss them; to let them know how much they have given to me. But, I also want to thank them for the love and lessons taught. Then, we can walk over that rainbow bridge to Heaven, where we will be together again.


Rainbow Bridge
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12 thoughts on “Somewhere Over the Rainbow Bridge”

  1. hello, I have also had pets all my life, mostly dog’s. I do remember everyone of them still. I have had 4 dogs of myself and allot more in my family. My first true one, the one that I cared for as a puppy and fed all on my own was named Congo, I still remember him and miss him. I try to give every dog a special place at home and in our hearts.

    I really enjoyed your article.

    God bless

  2. I have lost some close family members as well, and I’ve lost some pets too. It’s the same sense of loss that overwhelms me each time. I do believe they’ll be waiting for me over the rainbow bridge or, maybe that’s how I’ve learnt to console myself. 

    Thanks for this write-up, bringing back some nostalgic feelings, helping me remember my good companions. Hope to see all I’ve lost someday

  3. Thanks for writing this article on somewhere over the rainbow bridge. I must commend you for a job well done for taking your time to do your findings on the meaning of rainbow bright with the way we use it for our pets when we loss them. To be sincere I have been using that words seems when I was little and I don’t know that history of this words and the meaning. I really find this article so informative and educative also interesting I must say. 

  4. I have only had one pet all my life. As a child, he seemed like a nuisance, because he’d want to lick our faces and play with us and at the time I didn’t like to be touched by animals. 

    But a time came when he started coming home less frequently and with one injury or the other. One day he left and never came back. I cried my eyes out and I still miss him although it’s been mostly 20 years. 

    But I take solace in the fact that he has crossed the rainbow bridge Joe we’d surely meet again. 

  5. Losing anything can be really very hard on anyone depending on how much attachment the person has to that person or thing. I remember when my favorite pair of shoes got destroyed,I kept it for a long while,thinking of all the things I could do to revive it but I finally did let it go with so much pain in my heart. So,I can clearly understand people who want to believe that their darling pets have gone somewhere over the Rainbow Bridge. I wonder though, is this really a good coping mechanism? Wouldn’t people in so much pain, find a way to end their lives just to go be with their pet?

  6. Hello Kelly, your write up on somewhere over the rainbow bridge left me speechless. I have been hearing of that phrase, but I have never taken out time to know what it really means. Starting from the history of the phrase down to the actual meaning of the phrase got me thinking deeply with imagination of how the bridge will look like.

    Being able to unite with one’s pet at the bridge and then together take a walk to heaven will be the desire of all pet owners. That phrase is great for soothing people that are grieving over the lost of their loved ones or pets.

    Thanks for bringing this to light.

  7. Nice articles.. Reminds me of our family dog Hitler who died two years ago. Missed him so much.. I grew up with it. It was just like a younger brother to me. Well I guess over the rainbow bridge now. 

    although I have a questions for you. This is a coined phrase and it was used in a poem, but why is it that it is taken with so much realness? Should we believe in the existence of this phenomenon or is it all just for consolation and grief management?

    1. I think that it really helps with managing grief, but because we don’t know for sure there is an afterlife, it also created hope they you will see your beloved pet again. What are your thoughts?

  8. Hmmm. The Rainbow Bridge. Death is inevitable, however, the death of a loved one is sorrowful. I can relate to this, I had a female german shepherd dog I got in 2009; she was dear to all members of my family, even though we tried for her to give birth, but all to no avail, until she eventually died probably as a result of poisoning. We share similar feelings with Pets especially dogs and cats and they can relate with us humans compared to other animals; they are loyal and faithful friends, that is why we grief over them. I hope this Rainbow Bridge is real.

  9. I have to say that after all this time I had not heard this phrase or poem, of over the rainbow bridge, couple of years ago I had the sad loss of my pet of many years and a good friend, who had named him charly, I wish I had known about this poem It would have helped a lot.

    Thank you for sharing the history of this phrase very good article.

    Do you think that pet go to heaven?

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