Monday, May 16, 2011

The Rainbow Bridge...

Early on when I began volunteering to help rescue our fellow Earthlings, I would hear references to the death as "crossing over the bridge". After a time I did some research and came across the story of the Rainbow Bridge. There are a number of variations floating around, here is one:
The Rainbow Bridge

Just this side of the final home for spirits is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

 When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that animal 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. Her bright eyes are intent; Her eager body quivers. Suddenly she begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, her wings or legs carrying her 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 companion(s), so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross the Rainbow Bridge together.
When I was a child, some of the most devastating emotional pain I ever endured was caused by the death of a companion animal. After the death of a dog I loved deeply I was so anguished that I refused to ever again to "own" a dog, and I haven't...that's a long time ago and I simply can't bring myself to enter into such a relationship again. Now I am (accidentally) involved with a dog who lives with other family members...I call her my "granddog" and I love her terribly but am hopeful that my life will end before she reaches her final days.

Just to be clear, having a relationship of great importance is not restricted to any particular form of Earthling. One of the most painful losses I have ever gone through as an adult happened because of the death of a wonderful parakeet that lived with me. She was an exquisite being and I loved her so very much and miss her still and always will.

I remember thinking when a child that I hoped being dead would include the happy circumstance of being reunited with those animals that were so very much loved by me. If that were to be true being dead would be a happy thing. I had never heard of any story like the Rainbow Bridge but I had my own private version of something similar.

While looking around at versions of the Rainbow Bridge I ran across something called the Rainbow Bridge Rescuer. Here it is:
The Rainbow Bridge Rescuer

Unlike most days at Rainbow Bridge, this day dawned cold and gray, damp as a swamp and as dismal as could be imagined. All of the recent arrivals had no idea what to think, as they had never experienced a day like this before. But the animals who had been waiting for their beloved people knew exactly what was going on and started to gather at the pathway leading to The Bridge to watch.

It wasn't long before an elderly animal came into view, head hung low and tail dragging. The other animals, the ones who had been there for while, knew what his story was right away, for they had seen this happen far too often.

He approached slowly, obviously in great emotional pain, but with no sign of injury or illness. Unlike all of the other animals waiting at The Bridge, this animal had not been restored to youth and made healthy and vigorous again. As he walked toward The Bridge, he watched all of the other animals watching him. He knew he was out of place here and the sooner he could cross over, the happier he would be. But, alas, as he approached The Bridge, his way was barred by the appearance of an Angel who apologized, but told him that he would not be able to pass. Only those animals who were with their people could pass over Rainbow Bridge.

With no place else to turn to, the elderly animal turned towards the fields before The Bridge and saw a group of other animals like himself, also elderly and infirm. They weren't playing, but rather simply lying on the green grass, forlornly staring out at the pathway leading to The Bridge. And so, he took his place among them, watching the pathway and waiting.

One of the newest arrivals at The Bridge didn't understand what he had just witnessed and asked one of the animals that had been there for a while to explain it to him.

"You see, that poor animal was a rescue. He was turned in to rescue just as you see him now, an older animal with his fur graying and his eyes clouding. He never made it out of rescue and passed on with only the love of his rescuer to comfort him as he left his earthly existence. Because he had no family to give his love to, he has no one to escort him across The Bridge."

The first animal thought about this for a minute and then asked, "So what will happen now?" As he was about to receive his answer, the clouds suddenly parted and the gloom lifted. Approaching The Bridge could be seen a single person and among the older animals, a whole group was suddenly bathed in a golden light and they were all young and healthy again, just as they were in the prime of life.

"Watch, and see.", said the second animal. A second group of animals from those waiting came to the pathway and bowed low as the person neared. At each bowed head, the person offered a pat on the head or a scratch behind the ears. The newly restored animals fell into line and followed him towards The Bridge.

They all crossed The Bridge together.

"What happened?"

"That was a rescuer. The animals you saw bowing in respect were those who found new homes because of their efforts. They will cross when their new families arrive.

Those you saw restored were those who never found homes. When a rescuer arrives, they are allowed to perform one, final act of rescue. They are allowed to escort those poor animals that they couldn't place on earth across The Rainbow Bridge...You see, all animals are special to them...just as they are special to all animals."
I can never read this version without being overwhelmed. The terrible truth is that many many of the animals that are rescued never end up with a forever family. The fact is that most shelters (and it truly is a shelter only if provision is made for the rescued animal living there forever if need be) are always at or over capacity. Adoptions do occur but those needing forever families are in great excess of those that do find forever families.

A rescue can provide shelter, a rescue can provide food, a rescue can provide medical care, a rescue can pretty much cover the gamut of physical needs but it is almost impossible for rescuers to fully provide for the emotional needs of those in their care. Almost nothing can equal the opportunity for individual attention and caring that can occur for a companion animal (fin, fur, feather or skin) in a human family.

The key element missing is not caring...the caring is there, the key element in too short of supply is time. The expression of caring requires time (and patience), spending one-on-one time with a particular animal offers the opportunity for that animal to develop and explore and grow in a caring and safe environment. And sadly, many many of those rescued will be shortchanged. Not because the rescuers or workers or volunteers don't care, they do care and care deeply. No, it is because of a lack of time.

For example, I volunteer at a rabbit rescue. The warren I work in has around 70 bunnies. Let's say there are 4 people (and that is an exaggeration) spending 16 hours (hypothetically) each day with the bunnies. That means there are 64 human hours available each day for 70 bunnies, that's less than 1 hour per bunny...and in that hour, in addition to emotional needs, food, water, bedding, grooming and medical needs have to be attended to. Do the math, the time is just not there for each bunny to get what they need in terms of being able to be appreciated and enjoyed and encouraged in their individuality and their self-hood. (And by the way, the 64 human hours available each day is a pipe-dream number...reality doesn't have near that daily number of available human hours.)

If they were wild, if they had not been interfered with by humans, if they could live in a rabbit culture  and society...then...well, they could find their own niches and meet their own needs with those they chose to meet them with. They don't have that chance, nor do dogs, nor do cats, nor do hamsters and on and on. These are "domesticated" animals, interfered with by humans for many generations in ways that have resulted in their dependence on humans...there is no "wild" for them, no place they can go and just safely be a bunny. For better or worse they are stuck with forced and mandatory dependence on us human animals.

Now many of the bunnies are "bonded", that means they have another bunny they are paired up with (sometimes bonding occurs with groups of bunnies), that's great...that means they have a friend with them, someone to interact with, to groom, to squabble with (sometimes)....but that pair (or group), if in a shelter, get nothing like the time and attention and resources they could potentially get if they lived with a human family. It isn't possible...well, maybe it would be possible if there were an unlimited number of caring volunteers and financial resources...but that isn't the case.

Right now, where you live, there are rescue operations that are needful of your time. Time for a dog, time for a cat, time for a bunny, for a cow, for a chicken, for a parakeet, for a horse. Give it...we owe...we owe so terribly much.

And remember those rescuers, the biggest and bestest humans of all, those who give and give and give to the Earthlings we have all conspired to do wrong deprive them of their deprive them of their ability to live on their own as a child of the Earth. Those rescuers are the ones doing their best to right what is (maybe?) the greatest wrong ever.

And remember those Earthlings whose only crime was not being a human animal...who have had their right to their own life taken from them by us, for our convenience, for our entertainment, for our greed and profit, for our taste. Remember them and know how terribly we have cheated and harmed them...and in that doing...cheated and maybe irremediably harmed ourselves too.

Start paying back what we have stolen...volunteer at a rescue operation....adopt a homeless Earthling.

Stop adding to the horror (if you haven't already) by living as an ethical vegan. Please.



Christina said...

I had to keep coming back to this one. I couldnt communicate what I took from it. Losing our beloved companions causes great pain but living without one in our lives is even more horrible to me. Over the last 20 years I have buried many companions in my yard. My bestest old dog Moe. I held him as he left. Our parakeet Chico 2 who talked and cussed and demanded a bite of whatever you were eating, Oscar kitty..a wild kitty who became my best bud and died in the damn road. Nemo and Stewart, two special bunnies. My greatest fear is not thier passing, but their passing alone. Holding them as they leave is my priviledge and my duty and I can never say "oh, no I have to walk away because its too painful". I know they will leave, as I will too. That doesnt worry me. What worries me is that they dont have the best life possible while they are here.

Some of the coconuts are predicting the rapture on May 21. I dismiss that as lunacy of course but IF it were to happen...I hope god takes all the animals and kids and leaves the rest of us to fight it out. There are some people out there I am going hunting for.

Have Gone Vegan said...

Interesting post! I had heard of the Rainbow Bridge but thought it was more of an animal version of heaven. What struck me though about the passages you quoted is how even after death other animals are made dependent on humans. How incredibly unfair! And egotistical of us to assume that they wouldn't get entrance to a heaven-like place simply by virtue of being themselves. I remember too when hearing about the Bridge that it seemed as if it was more for cats and dogs and other companion animals and you never heard of farmed animals, for example, being there. Which seemed odd to me as I would think that those who are most cruelly treated are the most deserving if a place like that exists.

veganelder said...

Thank you Christina for commenting. I would shudder to consider having to have had a life with no closeness to other Earthlings. Before you leave on your hunting trip, let's compare lists...we might be headed the same direction. :-)

veganelder said...

Thanks for commenting HGV. You're perfectly correct re the dependency reinforcing notions and the companion animal emphasis. I avoided them because I saw that the post would include all but the kitchen sink if I tried to address those depressing flaws as well as the other I thought I would save them for a rainy day. :-)

I think the heart of the rainbow bridge thingee is the import and significance of relationships that can develop between various bird animals (and cat animals and dog animals and others) and human animals and that those relationships, when they do develop are powerful and as significant as any other sort of relationship a human animal might have...and that the same is true for the animal that didn't happen to be human experiencing such a cross-species emotionality.

To me, one of the most poignant tragedies going is that quite often rescued animals never get the chance to blossom the way they can because of the absence of time (and human body count) on the part of the rescuers. In other words, there aren't enough people devoting their time, energy and their hearts to allow these "rescuees" to develop to their fullness. And that's sad, both because of the loss of the potential benefit for the rescued one and the loss of the immeasurable goodies possible for some human animal.

For the harmed (farmed) animals, I have no doubt really powerful relationships between those individuals and human animal individuals can develop...however...the harmed ones seem to have been less screwed out of their usual way of living in that they (I'm thinking mainly of cows, pigs, sheep, goats and horses) seem to quite readily operate in their ancient tribal ways fairly well...if allowed the opportunity. I am now talking beyond my fund of information here so beware.

Last thought though, my impression is that dogs have been the most impacted emotionally by human interference (in other words their emotional configuration has been nudged in certain directions by arrogant-assed humans), cats next (and considerably less so than dogs), rabbits next (and here I am floundering because I haven't been around wild European rabbits at all...just North American wild ones) and then some lesser degree of impact on the remainder (e.g., hamsters, guinea pigs, parakeets, parrots...etc.).

Consideration of emotional "reconfiguring" of our fellow Earthlings by us is is a seriously big topic, so I make no claims that I have done anything but touch it superficially. Take rabbits for instance...the wild ones here (Cottontails and Jackrabbits) are (on the average) incredibly more "wired" than the average "domestic" bunny. They are extremely easily stressed and triggered into flight behaviors...hence they almost never can successfully be "pets". The will die from stress reactions or kill themselves trying to escape or just not eat and die. I am unfamiliar with any instance of a "wild" bunny being able to live in a house with humans. Rabbits that are "domestic" have had some degree of that "wiredness" taken away...but they are still astonishingly startle prone (on average) and can rather easily be scared into stress related illness or death...yet they can live in homes with humans and can (and do) thrive in such an environment if their needs are taken into account.

Back to your comment...thank you, I did consider the harmed animals but was primarily trying to write about the unfulfilled emotional development often associated with some rescued animals. My apologies for not being able to more clearly express myself.

I am going to stop here to leave this for future development...each time I write something I see more that needs investigating by me or more that needs to be elaborated. This is part of why I didn't pursue it in the's a big big topic.

Have Gone Vegan said...

A huge topic indeed, and no apology needed as I'm the one who went off-topic! :)

But I think that's the fun part of both reading and writing blog entries as you never know what will resonate with a reader and what other connections they're going to make. And of course it's almost impossible to cover all angles or tangents even if we have them in mind. The plus side I guess (or negative depending on your POV) is that we'll never run out of things to write about!

Harry said...

The vet who looked after Plato in his final months had the Rainbow Bridge story beautifully framed and posted in clear sight as you walk into the practice. The thought of re-uniting with him, and all other non-human animals I have known, know now, and will still come to know always makes me smile; I'd like to think that when it is my time to leave here I'll be smiling as I journey to join up with them yet again.
The Rainbow Bridge Rescuer story I have never heard before but I love the images. It brings up the internal, emotional conflict that Sue and I continually face: how many non-human animals and birds do we bring to Avondale? Our decision has been, for some time now, that we're pretty full-up, with space for only the most desperate of rescues. We want those that are at Avondale to have all the love and time they need. If one family member passes on space and time become available for another. But desperate rescues are all around and it's hard not to think we could be offering more.
Interestingly, our little boy in South Korea, (still awaiting the call) is with a foster family - something we are thankful for as it's well-known in adoption circles that the journey is tougher for those children who have only ever known life in orphanages - enough time for each child is just not available. Human and non-human animals have very similar needs ...
Finally, interspecies bonds for the Rainbow Bridge. You bet. I guarantee you Plato has a whole flock of rescued battery hens surrounding him as I write this!

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Harry. The numbers thingee is a sticky, knotty and difficult issue indeed. Each being needs time and attention and these are finite resources. The other factor that can come into play are the personality (emotional configuration) of all beings involved.

We recently brought a rescue bunny to live with us and our resident rescue cat had some real issues with this at first...still some ongoing but much less than at the beginning. Anytime (still) I sit down to play with or stroke the bunny, Bob (the rescue cat) is right there to make sure he gets his share of attention and stroking. He was almost hostile toward her at first but slowly, slowly is moving toward if not friendship then at least neutral tolerance. He had lived in a rescue setting most of his life and was a very very needy fellow...and in many ways still is and likely always will be...he deserves (and gets) whatever consideration he needs to keep his anxiety level at a minimum.

The fact is there are real limits, physical, financial and emotional in terms of what is available and if those are exceeded on a regular basis then everyone can be negatively impacted. Figuring out all these and adhering to them (in some form and fashion) is both necessary and important. Desperate ones abound but exceeding ones abilities and resources can result in disaster for all. In addition, none of us are limitless wells, and should we err on the side of depriving or neglecting ourselves persistently then the emotional "blowback" can be bad juju for all involved. It is a tough balancing act and it is critical to remember that trying to be all for all usually results in being too little for too few.

I agree, all animals (no matter the flavor), have needs that are essentially identical though they may manifest themselves in different ways and styles.

I suspect the hens are smiling now. :-)

Harry said...

"... he deserves (and gets) whatever consideration he needs to keep his anxiety level at a minimum."

I agree wholeheartedly with the issue of individuality and the fact that some special beings will require (be demanding of?!) more time than other special beings. But there is a minimum of such time required. Unfortunately, as you experience with the Bunny Sanctuary, there are not enough humans to give enough time. The solution of course is simple: global responsible interactions with our fellow beings would result in far less time required - less physical and emotional trauma. Less sanctuaries. Less rescuers.

Perhaps we human animals could start with a basic "Love thy fellow earthling neighbours."

And yes, I bet the hens are smiling.

Bea Elliott said...

Beautiful! I had never heard of the The Rainbow Bridge Rescuer story either. I always think with domestic animals who haven't had a chance for genuine tender interactions with whole humans that it's sad... They will only know man with a harsh or fearful hand. And that's not all of us at all!

In your description of the old dog you described my Midas to a tee... He was grey haired, nearly blind and terribly feeble when we said goodbye (for now). Every time I think of him... The tears flow like it happened yesterday. :( Gosh but I miss him. :(

I want so much for every animal, up-right walkers and those on four or with feathers and scales to be able to live knowing a kind relationship with "us" - Or at least the freedom to be able to not "know" us at all!

You're certainly right in the thrust of your post being a matter of "time" - And unfortunately in the calculations of the world, that always converts itself to "money". But all things of real value - money just can't buy... Interacting, socializing and just befriending rescues and adoptees is top of the heap of "wealth" as far as I'm concerned!

Thanks for these great stories and motivations to do more! <3

veganelder said...

Thanks Bea for your comment. Birds, dogs, and cats that once filled our hearts leave holes that don't disappear when they leave. Money is for things not beings. Cindi Lauper said money changes everything...not quite.