“The Rainbow Bridge”: The Emotional—and Once-Lost—History of the Popular Pet Memorial Poem

“The Rainbow Bridge” has long comforted animal lovers who are mourning a pet. But for decades, its author remained a mystery.
“All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor.”
“All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor.” / Kerry Wolfe/Mental Floss (horse); traffic_analyzer/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images (rainbow)

Countless grieving pet owners have found solace in “The Rainbow Bridge”—a short free verse poem about pets awaiting their owners in the afterlife. Despite being perhaps the most famous animal elegy ever written, the identity of the poet remained a mystery for decades. That is, until author and historian Paul Koudounaris made it his mission to track down the pen behind the poem.

The Power of Poetry

A Scottish woman named Edna Clyne-Rekhy (then just Clyne) was 19 years old when her Labrador retriever, Major, died in 1959. Her mother advised her to write down how she felt the day after his passing. Clyne-Rekhy grabbed a piece of paper and started writing: “It just came through my head, it was like I was talking to my dog—I was talking to Major,” she told National Geographic in 2023.

The poem is about a meadow “just this side of heaven” where pets—restored to full health, of course—would play together in the sunshine while waiting for their owners to join them, at which point they would “cuddle in a happy hug never to be apart again” and then “cross the Rainbow Bridge together.”

“The Rainbow Bridge” expresses the strong bond that often exists between a person and their pet, be it a dog, cat, horse, or any other animal. Part of the poem’s popularity lies in its theological vagueness, which allows it to map onto an array of beliefs: Along with its mention of heaven, the rainbow bridge itself recalls the Bifröst from Norse mythology. Plus, many Christians are taught that animals don’t have souls and therefore can’t go to heaven; Clyne-Rekhy’s poem bridges that gap for animal-loving believers. Even for those without religious faith, her writing soothingly speaks of pets being “so long gone from your life, but never absent from your heart.”

The words were written as a way for Clyne-Rekhy to process her own grief. She never intended to publish them—even though years later her husband, Jack Rekhy, suggested she do so—but she did create a few copies to give to friends. Her heartfelt prose thus began to circulate. But Clyne-Rekhy hadn’t attached her name to her words.

Chasing Rainbow Bridges

“The Rainbow Bridge” eventually crossed the Atlantic Ocean; its popularity skyrocketed after it was printed in the syndicated advice column Dear Abby in 1994. “If anyone in my reading audience can verify authorship, please let me know,” requested Abby, a.k.a. mother-daughter team Pauline and Jeanne Phillips. The column’s readership was massive—reaching around 100 million people across the United States—but no one knew who the author was.

Fifteen different copyright claims were made after the poem’s Dear Abby appearance. These names provided historian Koudounaris—who kept coming across the poem when doing research for a book about pet cemeteries—with a starting point when he began trying to find the true author. But most of those leads turned out to be false. Only one non-American name made its way onto his list: Edna Clyde from Scotland, who, according to online chatter, had supposedly written the words after the death of her son’s dog.

“What initially would have seemed like the most unlikely candidate in the end turned out to be the most intriguing candidate and, of course, the actual author,” Koudounaris told National Geographic. Although the name and story were slightly wrong, he was able to track down Clyne-Rekhy.

The author—now in her eighties—had no idea just how far her words had spread in the English-speaking world, probably because she lived in India and Spain for many years before eventually returning to Scotland. Thanks to Koudounaris’s sleuthing, not only does the world now know who the author is, but Clyne-Rekhy (who still has the original copy of the poem!) is finally aware of the comfort her words have brought to millions of mourners.

Read More About Poetry: