When Pets Cross the Rainbow Bridge

Did pets go to heaven? I set out to explore the topic and came upon a comforting pet poem titled "The Rainbow Bridge."

Editor's Note: "The Divine Life of Animals" explores whether animals have souls that live on even after death. Ptolemy Tompkins, a senior editor at Angels on Earth magazine for Guideposts and a monthly angel columnist for Beliefnet, delves into history, philosophy, religious texts, and personal stories to support his belief that animals do have souls and they do go to heaven. In the excerpt below, Tompkins shares one of the reasons why he was first fascinated with pets and the afterlife.

I went to my boss [at Guideposts magazine] and told him I wanted to put together a piece on the subject of pets and the afterlife.

“Why not?” he said. “No one’s ever done that in the magazine before.”

The article came out in the February 2005 issue under the title “Will My Pet Go to Heaven?” I decided to focus the piece on the Hebrew term nephesh and how the true meaning of that word had been glossed over by many of the Bible’s commentators and translators. I quoted Isaiah’s prophetic passage about a time to come when the lion would lie down with the lamb, and talked a little bit about the rainbow that God sets in the sky after the flood in Genesis, as a promise that the link between the divine and the earthly will never again be broken. Leaving out the complexities of the Hebrew view of the human soul, the Hebrew and Christian relationship to Greek thought, and other such thorny matters, my conclusion was a simple but heartfelt one: not only does the Bible in both the Hebrew and New Testaments provide plenty of suggestions that animals are valuable before God, but the evidence of our hearts does so as well. Augustine and Aquinas (I mentioned them briefly too) might disagree, but from my perspective, any heaven that didn’t include animals would clearly be less than truly heavenly.

I also mentioned, in passing, a popular piece that had circulated on the Internet called “The Rainbow Bridge.” The poem talked about a bridge that the souls of the dead cross when they come to heaven, and the pets that they find waiting for them on it:

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that 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 our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.

The animals 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 intent; his eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together. . . .

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The Divine Life of Animals by Ptolemy Tompkins The Divine Life of Animals
By Ptolemy Tompkins