The History of the “Rainbow Bridge”: Unraveling the Mystery

Written by Rebecca West, Photos courtesy of Edna Clyne-Rekhy

Recently, one of our readers brought to our attention the unraveling of the mystery of the Rainbow Bridge, a touching poem about animal heaven and meeting up together again with beloved pets when our own time comes to pass. Many of you will have seen or heard some iteration of it before, but it’s doubtful you’re familiar with its actual origins.

Though numerous individuals have tried to claim authorship over the years, it turns out Edna Clyne-Rekhy, a Scottish artist and animal lover, wrote it in 1959 to commemorate her beloved dog, Major. She reportedly “had no idea that the poem had brought comfort to so many others” after penning it nearly 64 years ago.

“I’m absolutely stunned,” she was quoted as saying in National Geographic. “I’m still in a state of shock.”

Clyne-Rekhy’s authorship could easily have remained a mystery if it were not for the dogged determination of Tucson resident Dr. Paul Koudounaris. An author, art historian, cat owner, and PACC foster caregiver, Koudounaris was working on a book chronicling pet cemeteries when he repeatedly ran across references to the Rainbow Bridge.

He learned that while it had made the rounds over the decades, it wasn’t until 1994, when advice columnist Dear Abby was sent a copy, that it gained real attention. A reader had received the poem from their local humane society and decided to share its moving message. Abby printed it, noting that the author’s name was absent, and asked if anyone could identify them.

No one came forward at the time, but the poignant ode took off. Further investigation led Koudounaris to compile a list of names with a connection to the heartfelt words. In time, he narrowed it down to one person: Edna Clyne-Rekhy.

So, who is Edna, and what’s the real story? Edna was a 19-year-old living in Inverness, Scotland, in 1959 when Major, her much-loved Labrador retriever, died. Her first canine, “He was a very special dog,” she told 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’s death, at her mother’s urging, a devastated Edna put pencil to paper, the words pouring from her heart until she had filled both sides of the page. She recalled that it was as if Major himself was guiding her writing. When she was finished, she entitled it simply enough: Rainbow Bridge.

“He died in my arms, actually,” she recalled to National Geographic. “I dearly loved him.”

She showed the loving message to a couple of people who admired its sentiment before tucking it away. After marrying, her husband suggested she publish it, but she felt it was too personal. She would eventually make a handful of typewritten copies for close friends, however, who would go on to share it with others, never imagining the impact it would ultimately have.

By the 1990s, it had crossed the Pond, which is how Abby caught wind of it, and now, as Edna put it, “Every vet in Britain has it!”

If you’d like to learn more about Edna and her surprise celebrity, you can read Paul’s wonderful story in full at https://www.orderofthegooddeath.com/article/the-rainbow-bridge-the-true-story-behind-historys-most-influential-piece-of-animal-mourning-literature/


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.



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