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The Rainbow Bridge is the theme of a work of poetic prose written some time between 1980 and 1992, whose original creator is unknown. The theme is of an other-worldly place to which a pet goes upon its death, eventually to be reunited with its owner. It has gained popularity amongst animal lovers who have lost a pet. The belief has similarities to the Bifröst bridge of Norse mythology.
According to the story, when a pet dies, it goes to the meadow, having been restored to perfect health and free of any injuries. The pet runs and plays all day with the others, there is always fresh food and water, and the sun is always shining. However, it is said that while the pet is at peace and happy, they miss their owner who had to be left behind on Earth.
When their owner dies, they come across the Rainbow Bridge. It is at that moment that their pet stops what they are doing and sniffs at the air and looks into the distance where they see their beloved owner. Excited, they run as fast as they can until they are in their owner's arms, licking their face in joy while their owner looks into the eyes of their pet who was absent on Earth, but never absent in their heart. Then side by side, they cross the Rainbow Bridge together into Heaven, never again to be separated.
Having been circulated and attributed sufficiently widely around the world, the original authorship of the poem is now uncertain. The website About.com suggests that there are three known contenders at present:
However, the concept of a paradise where pets wait for their human owners appeared much earlier, in the little-known sequel to Beautiful Joe, the Margaret Marshall Saunders' book, Beautiful Joe's Paradise. In this green land, the animals do not simply await their owners, but also help each other learn and grow and recover from mistreatment they may have endured in life. But the animals come to this land, and continue to true heaven, not by a bridge but by balloon.
The first mention of the "Rainbow Bridge" story on the internet is a post on the newsgroup rec.pets.dogs, dated January 7, 1993, quoting the poem from a 1992 (or earlier) issue of "Mid-Atlantic Great Dane Rescue League Newsletter", which in turn is stated to have quoted it from the Akita Rescue Society of America. Other posts from 1993 suggest it was already well established and being circulated on the Internet at that time, enough for the quotation of even a single line to be expected to be recognized by other newsgroup readers.