Collarworld: A conversation at the Rainbow Bridge

The dog entered through the special swinging door.  She didn’t know what to expect.  It was different than anything she ever experienced.

“Why am I here?” she asked.  “And where am I?  My mistress will be upset if I’m not home to meet her when she gets done from work.”

“It is all right,” said the soothing, angelic voice.  “You are welcome here.”

“Where is here?” the dog barked.

“You are at the Rainbow Bridge,” said the angel, kneeling down to pet the dog’s fur.  “My name is St. Francis of Assisi.  I am your patron saint.  As I am for all animals.  It can get somewhat disorienting, I understand.  You probably didn’t even know you had a patron saint.  Don’t worry.  Everything is all right.”

“But you don’t understand,” the dog whimpered.  “I need to go home.  My mistress needs me.  And I need her.  She rescued me from a very bad life.  And every day, I thank her for being such a wonderful person.  I never bark at night, I don’t chew the furniture, and all I ever want to give my mistress is unconditional love and support.”

“And you’ve done that,” replied St. Francis.  “You’ve done that and so much more.  And your name is…” He looked at the red, heart-shaped dog tag around the dog’s collar.

“Paisley,” the dog barked.

“What a fine name.  And you are a – a pit bull, am I correct?”

“Yes, sir,” she yipped.  “Just like Pete the Pup from the Little Rascals.”

“Yes,” said St. Francis.  “I’m looking over your records.  You were rescued, correct?”

“I was.”

“And according to this file, you’ve been a faithful companion to your mistress for a long time.”

“She cared for me,” woofed Paisley.  “I miss her already.”

“I know she misses you.  But you’re in a new place now.”  St. Francis tapped his thigh twice.  “Walk with me.”

Paisley obeyed.  “Sorry,” she barked.  “It’s a little hard to walk; before my mistress took care of me, I was rescued from a person who didn’t like my claws on his bare floor.  So that person de-clawed me.”

“Oh, how terrible.”

“I know.  Thankfully, my mistress loved me even without my nails.  I love her and I miss her terribly.  Can I go back to her?”

“I’m afraid that’s not possible,” smiled St. Francis.  “But I want you to come over and talk with some others who have crossed over.”

“Okay,” barked Paisley.  “If you say so.”

The walk was clear and crisp.  As Paisley looked around, she saw pets and animals of all shapes and sizes, all species and breeds.   “I’m scared,” she whimpered.

“Don’t be,” St. Francis of Assisi whispered.  “Everything will be all right.  Come over and meet some of my friends.  Millie… come over here.”

At that moment, a small dog named Millie walked over.  “Hello, Paisley.”

“Hi,” Paisley replied.

“Everything’s going to be all right,” Millie barked.  “Like you, I was a rescued dog.  Have you ever heard of a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel?”

“I don’t think so.”

“We’re a very desirable breed,” Millie barked, “but that’s not important now.  I spent the early part of my life as a breed mother in a puppy mill, and by the time someone rescued me out of that hell, my back was fractured from being force-bred so many times.  My new mistress took care of me and loved me – she rescued other dogs and took care of them and loved them.  Some of them are here with me now – Pepe and Taffy and Lucky, all of them.  And come the day when we’ve  given every ounce of love and support to our owner… then God calls us and we come here.  And this is where you are now.”

“I’m in…”

“It’s the other heaven.  Not the heaven on earth, where rescued animals spend their lives – this heaven is where we watch over our masters and mistresses and make sure they’re okay.”

“Oh,” said Paisley.

“See, Paisley, those who rescue us from bad or unwanted situations – those are the most noble of pet owners.  They chose us because they wanted us.  How much more can we ask?”

St. Francis knelt down and petted Paisley’s side, then rubbed Paisley’s front and rear paws.  “Come with me, Paisley,” he said.

They walked along the trail.  To the left, Paisley saw a beautiful glistening lake.  He glimpsed at the water – and saw all manner of tropical fish, all swimming in the glass-clear sea.  To the right, Paisley saw a menagerie of circus animals – tigers and lions, monkeys and seals, all playing and running and enjoying themselves.

“Come with me,” St. Francis beckoned.  “I want you to meet someone.”

They approached a small meadow.  An orange tabby cat walked up to Paisley.  “Welcome, Paisley,” the cat said.

“Hi,” Paisley barked, still nervous of her surroundings.

“It’s okay,” said the cat.  “I understand you’re very nervous.  I was, too.  Thankfully, my master and his children took me in and made me part of their family.  Without them taking care of me, I don’t know where I would have ended up.”

“I understand.”

“I passed over about a decade ago.  That doesn’t mean I don’t miss my master.  I still do.  In fact, I’m sure he still misses me.  Paisley, you and I – along with Millie and some of the other animals you’ve met just now – were rescued from bad situations by caring, wonderful people.  All they ever wanted was our love and compassion, and that’s what we gave them every day.  That’s the most anyone could ever ask of us.  And now we have one thing left to do – a payback of kindness, if you will.”

“What’s that?”

The cat walked over to a bright green portion of the meadow.  “There’s going to come a day, Paisley, when our masters and our mistresses are going to cross over that bridge.  They’ll cross over that same Rainbow Bridge that we just spanned.  And they’re going to be confused.  And they’re going to be upset.  And they won’t know why they’re here.  But as long as we’re the first thing they see once they cross over… if we’re the first friendly face they see, just as we were the first friendly face they saw when they woke up in the morning, or when they came home from work, or when they’re sitting in front of the television and we’re comfortably sitting on their laps… that’s going to be very important.  All of us want to be reunited with our masters and our mistresses.  And someday we will.  We wait here, morning noon and night, for them.  It may take a day, it may take twenty years.”

“I’ll wait two hundred years if that’s what it takes,” Paisley barked.

“I know,” said the cat.  “It’s the love we shared with our human owners.  It doesn’t end just because one of us is still in the living world.  It won’t end, it won’t fade.  Oh, and by the way, did St. Francis touch your paws?”

“Yes he did,” Paisley barked.  “I don’t know why… maybe he was checking to see if my feet were okay.”

“Well,” said the cat, “check your paws.”

Paisley looked down.  And smiled.

“We’ve got some time before we’re reunited with our loved ones,” the cat said.  “Come walk with me.  I’ll introduce you to some friends I’ve made up here.”

“Okay,” said Paisley.  “But what about St. Francis?”

“He’s already taking care of the next animal that crossed over a few moments ago.  A greyhound, I believe.  He was rescued from a race track in Florida.  For the last few years, all he did was chase a stick – instead of that robot rabbit at the dog track.”

“Wow,” barked Paisley.  “What’s your name, friend cat?”

“My master called me Vincent.”

“I like that name,” Paisley smiled.  “Okay.  Let’s go for a walk, Vincent.”

And as Vincent and Paisley walked along the trail, Paisley flexed her paws, feeling her newly-grown and restored nails digging into the warm dirt.