Don’t worry: Frankie is fine. Yes, the pet sitter from hell got me nervous about his insulin intake, and Frankie was a bit subdued for a few days after I returned from my trip to Portland, but now he’s back to his stroppy terrier self.
No, the reason I started thinking about pet afterlife is that I did an interview about Am I Boring My Dog for a terrific radio show called 2BoomerBabes (I’ll let you know when my segment is going to run). One of the Babes asked me to describe the Rainbow Bridge, which I’d alluded to in my book, adding, “Please tell us that all pets go there.”
That second request was a tough call, what with my lack of omniscience and all. But I felt comfortable answering the first part of the question.
The legend of the Rainbow Bridge, which has become a catchall term for pet heaven, is of disputed origin. Similar stories occur in Norse and Chumash Indian lore, but the recent popularized version derives from a prose poem published by both Paul C. Dahm and William Britton under the name “The Legend of the Rainbow Bridge” (here’s Britton’s version).
According to the story, every cherished pet that dies goes to live in a verdant meadow below the multicolored span, restored to youth and health, eating delicious food, and cavorting happily with other pets. The only thing missing from the picture is the beloved human companion: you. When you arrive, there is great celebration and then you cross over together to the other side.
I confess that I cry like a baby whenever I read this story. It’s only after I blow my nose that I start nitpicking the details — as I do with all strict delineations of the hereafter.
Meadows are all well and good, I think, but shouldn’t spilled garbage, a dog favorite through the ages, be involved, too? And pigs’ ears? If so, would pet pigs get a separate area to wait for their ascent to hog heaven, one where dogs won’t covet their hearing organs? And what about the deceased humans in this equation? In life, my mother feared all creatures great and small. Did she shed her animal anxieties when she left her body — or will I be forced to choose between hanging out with her or Frankie? (Don’t ask.)
More important: What about dogs who don’t have loving owners to help them cross over? They deserve happiness, too — even more so than those who had it on earth.
I didn’t mention any of this to my interviewers, but the question made me think about the afterlife for unloved animals. If I were in charge, all dogs who die in puppy mills or shelters or on the streets would get an express ride to the other side, having a fine old time while waiting for the person who mistreated or abandoned them to die. Said offender would then be transformed into a slab of bacon and spend eternity being gnawed on by the dog(s) he or she wronged. What can I say? I grew up with a vengeful deity– and with cravings for forbidden pork products.
I’m not asking for theological disquisitions here but I’m curious to know: If you were designing it, what type of afterlife would you create for pets?