What if there’s no rainbow bridge?

One of my favorite movies growing up was “All Dogs go to Heaven.”

I loved Charlie, the shepherd-looking dog, and the scene where he gets a bunch of puppies to share a pizza (here’s the clip).

But even at that young age, I don’t remember actually believing in a heaven or that dogs would go there if it existed.

I know this post will make me sound insensitive, but a part of life with dogs is, unfortunately, losing dogs.

So here it is:

I don’t believe in a “rainbow bridge.”

I don’t believe Kacy and Brittni – my past loves – are waiting for me in a meadow so we can all cross a bridge to heaven together.

What if there is no rainbow bridge

And when that day comes where Ace also dies, people will say things out of kindness, like, “You’ll see him at the bridge” or “He’s waiting at the bridge.”

Only, I don’t think my dogs will be waiting at any bridge, as wonderful as it sounds to be greeted by a lifetime of wagging, slightly neurotic sporting dogs.

This doesn’t mean I’m right or that you should agree. I’m just saying we all grieve differently, and we all view death differently.

What is the rainbow bridge?

When people use the term “rainbow bridge” they are generally using it as a symbol to represent whatever they believe happens to a dog’s soul as she transitions to an afterlife. Humans have obviously been telling stories of meeting animals in an afterlife for thousands of years.

The idea of the “rainbow bridge” seems to have first been mentioned within poetry sometime between 1980 and 1992, according to Wikipedia. The author of the poetry is not known.

All dogs Go to Heaven Rainbow Bridge

According to the poem, when a pet dies, he goes to the meadow on “this side of heaven” restored to perfect health and free of injuries where he runs and plays and waits for his special person. Then, eventually, the two are reunited and they walk into heaven together.

It makes sense the idea of the rainbow bridge gained popularity only recently, right around the time people also started “rescuing” dogs (vs. “getting a dog” or “adopting a dog”).

Grieving in our own ways

Just as we will all love and raise our dogs in unique ways, we will also experience loss in our own ways.

This makes us all the same, but also different.

Here I am with my family’s two golden retrievers in 2005:


As someone who writes about dogs, fosters dogs and works with dogs, I am almost always aware of someone grieving over a pet, and I am always sad for their loss, often struggling with what to say.

It’s usually something along the lines of “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Or, if I knew the dog, something like, “I’m thankful I got to know Misty.”

I do not mention a bridge.

Yet, “rainbow bridge” is so recognizable and widely used, it could almost be used interchangeably with words of kindness such as “Sorry for your loss,” “Rest in peace” or “Thinking of you.”

One more soul. Waiting at the bridge.

Do you believe in some sort of a rainbow bridge?

Related blog posts:

What did people do for you when your dog died?

How do you move on when a dog dies?

Planning for the end of your pet’s life – questions for families

What do dog walkers do when a client’s dog dies?

This post was inspired by author and blogger Jon Katz, and his posts about the rainbow bridge as well as his short story “Luther and Minnie in Heaven” from the book “Dancing Dogs.”

What if there's no rainbow bridge

24 thoughts on “What if there’s no rainbow bridge?”

  1. This is such an interesting topic, and probably a bit controversial too. I thought the Rainbow Bridge poem was beautiful, but I’ve never believed it represented any kind of reality and it makes me cry so I never read it when it inevitably shows up in the mail on a greeting card from the vet when one of my pets kicks the bucket. I actually find the idea of some poor pet I had waiting for years and years in some purgatory just waiting for me to croak and join them seriously depressing. My personal beliefs on animal afterlife is just a vague, “well it can’t be anything bad.” I am a firm believer in the bible and what it says about human souls, so my logic basically goes, “since the animals never committed the original sin, and they have no concept of morals, it’s not like they need to repent or face hell.” I do believe that animals probably have souls of a sort and a purpose in life (even if that purpose is just feeding another animal).

    1. I believe as you do. I also believe that since God is our loving Father, He will give us our pets back if that makes us happy.
      Personally, I’d love to have all of my fur babies back with me in heaven. That would make me very happy, indeed!

    2. I also am a believer in God and the Bible. There are many scriptures that indicate that all animals have a soul that lives on in heaven. These promises from God have given me great peace and comfort after the loss of my pets and great joy in anticipating our reunion. (Not the Rainbow Bridge kind of reunion)

  2. Don’t know where I’ve been, but I haven’t heard of the rainbow bridge until now, although I must admit, it sounds like a lovely concept. I have no idea what happens to our pets, or what happens to any of us for that matter, when we die. I’d like to think souls live on, but who knows? Regardless, it’s really hard when pets die. I’m trying to replace words like loss and lost when offering condolences. Whenever I can remember I just come out and say, I’m sorry your ___________died. I think we try to avoid the whole topic of death too much and it takes actual consideration and practice to just use certain words. Another thought-provoking post. Thank you.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I always say “I’m sorry for your loss” and I see what you’re saying. We don’t want to come right out and say someone died.

      The rainbow bridge is a wonderful concept. It’s just not for me.

    2. That’s actually a really important idea-to use the most accurate words to describe the situation. I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it in the context of death before. But, I think “I’m so sorry she died” is actually more useful than saying “I’m so sorry for your loss.” To have someone be able to articulate what actually happened, for someone to recognize the horrible depth of the situation and name it what it is- instead of masking it with hushed tones and inaccurate language- seems like it could be really helpful to grieving and healing.

  3. Yes, I know what you mean. I read that poem years ago and it did make me cry and it stirred some emotions, but it’s kind of strange when everyone now uses it to express sympathy when a pet dies. I do feel that a pet’s soul lives forever and we’re all connected in some cosmic spirituality. I saved this Native American poem awhile ago and it represents how I feel about a pet’s (or human’s) passing.

    Don’t stand by my grave and weep, for I’m not there, I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow, I’m the diamond’s glint on the snow. I am the sunlight on ripened grain, I am the gentle autumn’s rain. Don’t stand by my grave and cry, I am not there, I did not die.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I have not heard that poem, but it makes a lot of sense and sounds so peaceful.

  4. I’m not sure what happens after any living thing dies but I know for dogs, I like to concentrate on making every day count & enjoying the little things together. Then looking back, I’ll know I did my best to enjoy all our time together. Their lives are so short. Especially compared to how ingrained they become in our lives & families.

  5. The poem is very sad, I think all of us who have lost someone close or a beloved pet can find great comfort in beautiful words. I’ve wondered why that phrase is used all the time now; I didn’t know what it was a few years ago and had to look it up. I don’t believe in it, but I certainly understand it.

  6. Having lost my dad to cancer last week, I know that death has been on my mind a lot lately. Not long ago I asked him if he thought there was life after death. His honest reply was “no” and I admit to be saddened by that. As a child, I always believed that animals would go to the same heaven as humans. Now that I’m older, I’m not sure if I believe in heaven, but if there is one, I’m sure that dogs are there too.

  7. When people mention Rainbow Bridge to me, I never really believe that anyone really believes it. It sounds like pure poetry, a comforting imagination that we’re all unfortunately too smart to take as real. I sometimes envy people who can trick their minds into believing something just because it offers comfort. Yet I’m not sure deep down they do, because they still grieve just as much as anyone else. My beloved dog died last month of bone cancer. My first comfort was that she was no longer in pain and that I did the very best for her that I could. Then I missed her tremendously. I let myself feel sad because that sadness felt so honest and real, and I’d rather let what’s real live than push it away with a lie. Surprisingly, it vanished quickly, and my thoughts of her were loving and bright, and only sometimes sad. This is only an example of what you said – people grieve differently, and this is how it was for me. As a hospice volunteer, we are trained not to give people platitudes and cliches. What grieving or dying people want is usually to just know you are there for them. Presence is more important than comforting words. This gives people space to go through it in their own unique and hard-to-express ways.

    1. There are a lot of people who really do believe there is a rainbow bridge and they will actually fight over it being so. I have encountered them. I just tell them, I am glad for them, as I roll my eyes in disgust at how adults grasp onto fantasy, just so they do not have to face reality.

  8. I can’t stand Rainbow bridge talk. This is the quote I believe…”You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.” Robert Louis Stevenson Yes! I look forward to seeing everyone of my best furry friends!

  9. I agree, with Lindsey, about there not being a rainbow bridge, I work on my grief by knowing i gave my dogs a loving life, and they are not suffering anymore. It’s especially hard when you put a physically healthy dog down for aggression, and there’s no help anywhere. and not a friend in site or available to help.

  10. I personally am kind of tired of hearing about the rainbow bridge. I agree with Jessicavy that thinking about my dogs in some kind of limbo, waiting for me to die so I can join them, is just creepy and hellish for the animal. Some folks might find it to be a lovely sentiment on a sympathy card, but it sounds awful to me. I do believe my pets go to heaven, whatever that may be, and that does give me comfort. And to Nancyspoint, I live in the south at the moment, where when someone dies, they say they “passed”. I would rather people tell it like it is, my wonderful ___ died and I am grieving.

  11. sandy weinstein

    I hate to say this but I am so tired of hearing abt the rainbow bridge. I loved my baby, I want her to be here with me not at the rainbow bridge. when Evie passed away recently, 8-11=17, all I heard was abt how she would be waiting for me at the rainbow bridge, it is a beautiful poem. however, I want her here with me. it is used too much and I am tired of the saying. she is going to be buried with me when I die and we will be together forever.

  12. The Bible does not say that God has a special place for animals. The Bible does not say there is a rainbow bridge where the animals play in the sunshine, waiting for us. Like people read the Bible and follow Israel’s gospel, which is a false gospel to the body of Christ who is to follow Paul’s gospel, they also say these things about our pets and it is NOT in the Bible. The Bible says not to add to or take away!!

    The only requirement to getting into heaven is to BELIEVE that Jesus died, was buried, rose the third day for our justification, upon believing we are sealed by the holy spirit unto the day of redemption.

    ANIMALS CANNOT DO THAT! Once they are gone, they are gone! They are a gift, for a time. Harsh Reality. And it causes me excessive pain because I face reality and all the pain that goes with it.

  13. 1.There is,no rainbow bridge.Dogs are incapable of any kind of abstract belief system
    2.There is no forever home
    3.You are NOT a parent and a pet is NOT your child.
    Pets are nothing more than things to be owned and occuoy time with

  14. I’m not a religious person, but I do have spiritual beliefs. With regard to things we know little of; I’m willing to believe that anything is possible. I can’t bear the thought of Bucko being apart from me, somewhere else, like at the Rainbow Bridge, with me not there. He was always with me, for 16 years. So very, very soon after his passing, I chose to believe that his energy, his love, was all around me, in me, in my heart, my soul, my actions. The day after Bucko’s passing, a casual friend, a very wise, very humble woman offered to be my “companion in grief”. I think she must have walked this road with many people before. “I’d love that, thank-you”, I replied. One of the first things I thought of doing was spreading some of Bucko’s ashes at a few beaches and vacation spots we loved going together. Then I thought, “NO, Bucko doesn’t want to be there without me, I’ll keep his ashes close to me.” I asked Judy if keeping Bucko so close would impede his spiritual journey. Judy replied, “You know that you and Bucko will always be together. That is real. I don’t understand the how. I don’t have a belief system about it. But i do know that it is as real as the ground under your feet. He is as present as always. You two had an extraordinary relationship. Bucko’s spiritual journey was/is with you. He has been and will continue to be your healer. The love you guys had always bonded heaven and earth. It has never been his will to leave you.”

    That was very comforting to me. So I believe that Bucko’s here, with me. Helping me heal. Here to share future joyous moments with me.

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