Author of ‘Rainbow Bridge’ Poem About an Animal Heaven was Finally Revealed–She Had No Idea it Went Viral
Around the US and UK, dozens of animal hospitals have a catch-all when it comes to grieving pet parents who have lost a furry friend: they give them the poem Rainbow Bridge.
Yet this poem that has touched millions of peoples’ hearts has remained largely authorless for years until the sleuth work of an art historian and cat owner Paul Koudounaris, who managed to turn up the original poet decades after Rainbow Bridge became famous.
Her name is Edna Clyne-Rekhy, an 82-year-old Scottish artist and animal lover who traveled the world, and failed to notice her poem’s popularity.
The story begins with Koudounaris’ work researching pet cemeteries, and the constant references he found to Rainbow Bridge. Looking back over the use cases of what he determined to be the single most important text in animal mourning, Koudounaris pinned it to a 1994 appearance on the advice column Dear Abby, the most syndicated column in American history.
A reader told Abby Van Buren that she had received a copy of Rainbow Bridge from her local Humaine Society chapter in Grand Rapids Michigan. From that debut to her 100 million readers, Rainbow Bridge began appearing on everything to do with the loss of a pet—Hallmark cards, veterinary clinics, etc.
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Koudounaris worked out that of the 15 separate authorship filings at the United States Copyright Office, none of them was the legitimate poet. Eventually expanding the list to 25 names in connection to the poem, he determined one, Edna Clyne-Rekny, was the most promising.
This January, Clyne-Rekhy received a strange phone call asking if she were the author of Rainbow Bridge, to which she answered “How on Earth did you find me?”
In 1957, when she was 19 years old, Clyne-Rekhy was grieving the loss of Major, her Labrador retriever, who “died in my arms,” she told Nat Geo. Her mother told her to write down how she was feeling.
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“It just came through my head, it was like I was talking to my dog—I was talking to Major,” she says. “I just felt all of this and I had to write it.”
When Koudounaris met her, he found she still had the original handwritten text of the poem. She explained that she had given out handmade copies without her name on them to several of her friends over the years who had lost pets, before moving to live in India, and Spain, all the while the poem’s popularity blossomed across the US and UK.
“Can you imagine?” she says. “Every vet in Britain has it!”
The original text goes like this:
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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