Christmas at the Rainbow Bridge

The snow was lightly falling as the residents of Rainbow Bridge snuggled down in their warm beds to sleep softly before the Big Day. At the foot of each bed hung a Christmas stocking with each resident’s name beautifully embroidered by Josh [Poodle-mix] and his design team. The Huskys [Natasha, Buddy, Chopper, and Riki] took a last peek out of the window, hoping for a blizzard so they could have a major holiday run the next day. After Skylar [Sheltie/American Eskimo] said that a big snow was likely, Athos [Collie], who always loved to play in the snow, could hardly sleep for being excited about a good run and roll in the drifts

When daybreak arrived, the residents awakened to find their stockings stuffed with their favorite treats. Bones had been selected for each dog by Trinka [Lab/Rottie] and Duncan [Aussie], connoisseurs of fine dining, and Sparky [still in catnip recovery] had put an aromatic toy into each of the cat’s stockings. As the residents were gleefully looking through their stocking’s contents, Jake, the Mayor of Rainbow Bridge was heard on the loudspeaker, “Come to the playground at once!” The parrots, parakeets (except Peanut’s, which didn’t leave her shoulder), and cockatiels flew overhead with large banners announcing a surprise at the playground. A huge procession formed as everyone raced to the playground with Fuzz and Ziggy [Maltese/Lhaso Apso] leading the way wearing their reindeer antlers. Chance (black horse), with the star of Christmas on his forehead, offered a ride to the little ones who were gently helped onto his back by Jonah Bear (Great Pyrenees) and Pappy [Shar Pei].

Upon arrival, the residents saw beautifully wrapped gifts for as far as they could see. There were mounds and mounds of presents, a present for each and every resident of Rainbow Bridge. Magically, each resident knew exactly which present was his or hers, and retrieved it. As they quickly tore off the wrapping paper, they found inside boxes containing all of their favorite toys and treats from their Earth-lives. Long loved stuffed toys, balls, squeaky mice, and Frisbees were some of the more frequently seen items. Each item was exactly as the resident had left it, some with parts missing and others well-chewed but all well-loved and happily remembered. Tazz [Sheltie] was especially thrilled to have his green frog and made quite a spectacle as he spun around and around with glee.

Residents who had not had a Forever Family on Earth received beautifully wrapped boxes containing toys that they had only dreamed of. Tippy [Cockapoo], who was highly skilled at opening gifts, showed them how to quickly unwrap a present because many had never received even one. Lodi (Pit Bull), a wise dog who had spent his last days in a shelter, and Caine (Rottie mix) who also went to the Bridge from a shelter, suddenly looked up from their new toys and said, “What will happen to us who have no family to walk with across the bridge when the time comes?” Complete silence fell. The residents looked at one another, thinking deeply about this question, because everyone knew that the day would come when one of their family members would arrive at the Bridge to be greeted by them, and the two would walk across the Bridge to be together forever. Suddenly Miss Eddie’s (Great Dane) large paw went up and she said, “I know the answer to that! My dads [Gary and Armin] will take some of you across with us when they arrive! They have room in their hearts for more!” Then the other residents were soon jumping up and down, saying “My Mom will take more!” and “My Dad will take more!” until there were clearly enough Future Families for all. Lodi and all of those whose days had ended in shelters or alone broke into gleeful cheers and were hugged by their newly adopted resident brothers and sisters.

Sydney, CICMEE (Chief-in-Charge-of-Magical-Easter-Eggs), called upon the Pyr and Mastiff group led by Molly [English Mastiff] to haul out a huge wagon full of specially created shiny Christmas ornaments which worked just like the Magical Easter Eggs: each resident could look into the ornament and view his/her family any time they wanted to. Xena (Rottie), who was known for her beautiful smile, and her brothers Suds (English Bulldog) and Chopper [Lhasa mix] proceeded to distribute the Magical Christmas Ornaments to all of those who had just acquired a Future Family. A quick tutorial brought them up to speed, and they could “tune in” their Future Families anytime just like the others. Their newly adopted brothers and sisters pointed out each member of their Future Family, sharing stories about each one.

As Sydney was finishing the Magical Christmas Ornament distribution, bagpipe music could be heard the in the background. It was the Rottie [Rottweiler] Piper Band lining up for the grand parade. They had been selected to lead this year’s Christmas parade because of their unique band uniforms: plaid kilts with matching scarves and tams. Zachary [Rottie], who was so admired for his fashion sense, personally designed the pipers’ outfits and, he too, had a tartan scarf made after searching through his inventory of hundreds and finding no match. For the rotties, learning to walk upright for miles was nothing compared to learning to play the bagpipes with paws, but the ever-resourceful Rotties had mastered both and their position as lead group in the parade was a stunning success. Harrison [Rottie] had been selected to use his long tail as a metronome for the marching group. Bruno [Rottie/Mastiff mix], so recently arrived at the Bridge, caught on quickly to the bagpipes and absolutely LOVED the piper’s outfit he was given. Long admired for his many outfits, he was thrilled to find that the Bridge had its own design team and costumes are an important part of life at the Bridge.

The residents hurried from the playground and quickly lined Main Street. “Dozer the Sheriff, Anton, Gabriel, Snow, Sam, Sheba, Drifter, Jogger, Shiloh [German Shepherds] and staff oversaw the orderly group of spectators. Leo (Shepherd/Rottie) was sworn in as the newest deputy to help with crowd control. Justice [Rottie] was available for all those who tried to break in line.

Serving as commentators for this year’s parade were Roddy, Rottie Extraordinaire, and Sampson [St. Bernard], who wore a dashing red eye patch for the occasion. Promptly at 10 AM (a little early for the felines but they adjusted), the parade started down Main Street.

Roddy: welkum sampson – it is an honur to hav yu here wif me fer the parade – it looks like it will be a speshul one! Nice patch yur waring – vurry festif.

Sampson: its gud to be heer roddy. i kin heer da band warmin up. glad yu likd my patch – yur red bandanna is vurry nice too. hey, heer cum da pipers!

The Rottie Pipers, led by Moose and Player, played a variety of Christmas and holiday tunes, to the amazement of the spectators. Looking dashing in their kilts and tams were Miles, Chaos, Player, Lady, Basse, Maggie Mae, Mandy, Cujo, and Megan. Huge cheers were heard as they smartly marched by. Button, spying a squirrel in the crowd, missed a few beats but kept herself in line.

Roddy: wow! did yu see da skirrul? Button did – betcha she wantid to chase it – wudda messed up da whole band!

Sampson: i am so impressd by yu rotties – lernin to play da bagpipe wif dem big feet.

Roddy: luk whose talking (smile & paw high-five)

Following the Rottie Pipers, and performing to their music, was the Basset Hound Precision Drill Team, executing precise and intricate maneuvers. They were accompanied by Steffie and Punkin [Shih Tzu] as majorettes. Although not a Basset, Barney [terrier] had been invited to join the group to put a little zip into the Basset’s maneuvers.

Roddy: i nevuh knew dat bassuts cud move dat fast ! did yu see dat? dey can twirl an shuffle !

Sampson: must be dem big earz keeps dem movin. wunder dey don’t trip on em.

The Cat Carolers was a huge contingent led by Frodo and Curfew, dressed, of course, in her signature pearls. Frodo, who secretly coveted the Rotties’ kilts, chose a plaid scarf and hat for the occasion. The Cat Carolers were led in the singing of many of the traditional Christmas Carols by Muddy Waters and accompanied by the lovely mews of Clawdia, Inky Velvet, Baby Cat, Gus, and Spud. Sugarbutt, as the senior-ranking feline, declined to march and was instead pulled on a special platform by the Mastiff card sharks – Toivo, Bruno “Boo”, Brooke, Morris, and Morgan. Molly, too, though not a card shark, joined the Mastiff pulling team. As the cheers arose from the crowd, Sugarbutt rose from her feline lethargy and did her famous happy-butt wiggle.

Roddy: those cats hav nice voyces, fer cats dat is. must be all da fish dey eat, keeps da voice boxes well oiled.

Sampson: yu know, roddy, dey hav bin praktising all month fer dis. i cud heer dem in da gym when i wud go down to da kitchen fer a snack.

Roddy: luk, sampson, heer cum da floats! evurrywon did sech a grate job wif da dekurashuns. dey reely outdid demselfs dis year. lets watch dem go by!

Next came the landscape floats representing various areas of the US as well as other countries. The Southern float had been designed by Miss Mamma [cat] and featured palm trees and cats lounging by the shore. Simba, still the reigning Thanksgiving Butterball, insisted on appearing in sleek swimwear. The southern canines were represented by Barkley [Dalmatian], Jonah Bear [Pyr], and Grifter [Doberman]. Miss Eddie [Great Dane] posed in a reclining position, wearing a pink bikini to match her favorite pink bear. Katie [Yorkie], Prissy [Yorkie], and Rosie [Shih Tzu], enjoyed being part of the beach scene and threw kisses to the crowds as Nikki [shepherd mix] raced around the beach chasing imaginary birds. Maggie Mae demonstrated a variety of swimming strokes to the impressed crowds.

The Icelandic float was especially designed by Spori the Viking cat and featured former residents of the Kattholt [cat shelter] dressed as Iceland’s 13 santas. No dogs were allowed because, as Spori is quick to tell everyone, dogs are verboten in Reykjavik. Lucy [Great Dane] asked to be included and promised to sit quietly in one of the cat’s laps.

The Western float was designed by Rocky and Pepe [golden retrievers] from Texas and Nicholas [cat] from Wyoming. Initially they were building a replica of the White House, in honor of those residents from Texas and Wyoming, but the idea was quickly nixed by the more liberal residents of the apolitical Bridge. Instead, they decorated their float with a large and beautiful Christmas tree, under which sat the beautiful Nicholas who had been a Christmas present himself at one time. Rocky and Pepe decorated the tree with thousands of stuffed animals that were being thrown into the cheering crowds by DJ [sheltie] and Cash [Dalmatian]

The Canadian float featured huge mounds of real snow decorated with red maple leaves. The float was pulled by the famous Pyrenees team, Callei, Tom, Clondyke and Turbo. Jonah Bear, because of his close friendship with his Canadian Pyr cousin, Cuz Cruz – the wonder Pyr - was allowed to participate as an honorary Canadian. Duncan and Flashdancer [Aussies] ran alongside singing “Oh, Canada”. Bruno “B” [Mastiff/rotti], ran back from the pipers to join in.

Jake, aka Bubba, [Rottie] led the Spanish-speaking Chihuahuas in an amazing rendition of Feliz Navidad. Jake had been rehearsing for this moment for years and his performance was stellar. He received a sustained ovation from the onlookers. Peanut had been devoting much time and attention to teaching her parakeet this Christmas carol in its native language, albeit without a great deal of success, and Peanut’s parakeet could be heard singing to the correct tune, “No fleas on my dog, no fleas on my dog”.

The Midwestern float had been designed by Shayla and Sydney (rotties) and had a dazzling star over the prairies and cornfields of Kansas. They, along with George, Baby, and reluctantly, Mindy [calico cat] wore dazzling sunflower headbands designed by Josh and his team. Stalks of corn and wheat along with gilded tumbleweeds shone like gold in the sparkling sunlight providing the perfect backdrop for Shayla’s famous road-kill rendition. As she rolled through the tumbleweed, with feet-up and tongue hanging out, the crowd roared.

Roddy: did yu see dat shayla? what a ham she is ! best rendishun ive evuh seen! well, sampson, what did yu think of those flotes? dat kanadien one is bootiful. reel snow on thur flote too. can yu believe jake da mayor? he is sech a gud singer! had those little dogs all in harmonee.

Sampson: maybe next yeer i can yodel wif dem – i can do dat, you know.

Roddy: yes, sampson, we heer yu in da shower all da time. (another paw high- five)

Sampson: wunder if aneewon kin guess who santa is dis yeer. i tried to inturview sami-san while she wuz garding da dressin room but she wudnt say a peep.

Santa’s sleigh was pulled by the Berners, Moses, Samson and Simbo. How perfect they were for the accumulating snow! The amazing dog and cat twins, Maximillian [Lhasa Apso] and Nermal [cat], rode side-by-side on the front of the sled. No one knew who this year’s Santa was. It had been the most carefully guarded secret of Rainbow Bridge. Sami-San (Akita) had been posted by the dressing room so no one could peek. As the float went by, Santa threw magic pennies, dogwood berries, and (yes!) even diamond earrings into the crowds but his/her identity was never revealed. Runt-Runt rode Santa’s float, sitting by the many thousands of candles lit for all of the Bridge’s residents.

As Santa ho-ho-ho-ed, s/he invited all to the Rainbow Bridge Dining Room for the Christmas banquet. Yuma and Figgy led the way, resplendent in her collar of blinking Christmas lights and tinsel ear-bows.. The Rainbow Bridge Dining Room was splendidly decorated for the occasion. Josh, Zachary, Little Guy, Petey, Tanya [poodles] and the team had been working since the day after Thanksgiving. With snow falling outside and candles in every window, it was a beautiful sight. There was a huge Christmas tree covered with thousands of lights and stuffed animals. The star had been placed on top by Brea, Embers, Brooke, and Miss Eddie [Great Danes]. Several of the residents who loved Christmas trees, including Shelly Sheltie, Yuma, Nicholas with his beautiful bi-colored nose, [cat, disguising himself as a gift], Scapa, Timber, and the beautiful red-winged Skye seemed transfixed by the sight. A nativity scene was elegantly displayed under the tree and was carefully guarded by Sami-San, to protect against significant characters being stolen by Mandy [black lab mix].

In charge of the Christmas banquet was Baby [boxer] who used all her mother Missy’s favorite recipes. There was, of course, boneless turkey, ham, shrimp, prime rib and all of the favorite foods from their Earth lives. Tuna juice was served to the felines from huge punch bowls by Tuvok and Simba. A few canines – Barkley and Jonah Bear – tried to sneak in line for the tuna juice. There was an elaborate display of Christmas cookies prepared by the two Barkleys (Irish Setter and Dalmatian) and Tipper, all of whom were wearing special Christmas bandanas designed by Zachary and Josh. The cookies, of which there fortunately was an endless supply, were distributed by Rusty [golden retriever], Bandit [lab/collie], and Shelly Sheltie. Shanti [rottie] was found licking the icing off of the cookies but Snuggles [Lhasa Apso], vowing to not get upset, simply retired to her favorite pillow until the commotion died down.

Entertaining the guests during the banquet were Pepe [golden], Rocky [golden], Aimee, and Miss Zacky Zrilla who preformed ballet scenes from the Nutcracker Suite. Rumpus [OES}, a mother dog to all, watched over the little ones, making sure they had plenty to eat while Thud and Mira [OES] ran back and forth to the buffet line to replenish everyone’s plates. Stormy [Chesapeake], Patrick [Samoyed], Teddy [Chow], and Maynard[Samoyed] walked among the tables, distributing Frosty Paws and meringue cookies while Ryley [golden], Buddy [black lab], Cleo [retriever], and Marley [black lab] passed baskets of Hersey’s kisses, a particular favorite because at the Rainbow Bridge chocolate is not at all harmful. A small commotion broke out when the greyhound bunch – Snoofy, Carly, Jack, Dulce, Mondo, and Raff – began a relay race with the Hershey wrappers but it was quickly under control by Hintza [Rhodesian Ridgeback] and Lisbett [Norwegian Elkhound].

As always, Jim and Lady were nearby to give tummy rubs.

As the residents were completing their meals, Sharpy [Shar Pei], the Master of Ceremonies, focused their attention on the Christmas tree, and most particularly to the beautiful star on top and the many stars decorating the tree. There seemed to be rainbow lights emanating from the star and from each light, each growing wider and glowing brighter. As the residents looked into the lights, they were seen by their Earth families and their Future Families who could tell that they were happy, restored to health, well-fed, and looking forward to the that time in the future when they would be reunited for the walk across the Rainbow Bridge to be together forever. And then this year’s Santa, HRH Hannibal, told the residents that anytime their families looked toward Heaven and saw a bright star, they will know that their beloved pet was thinking of them, watching over them, and protecting them from harm. Before they left the Rainbow Bridge Dining Room, all of the residents took out their Magical Easter Eggs – or their new Magical Christmas Ornaments – and peeked inside for a glimpse of their families as they too settled down for a sound Christmas night’s sleep filled with dreams of days spent in the sun and nights snuggling with their beloved pets.

Chance (horse) awaited outside the Rainbow Bridge Dining Room, with the star of Christmas glowing on his beautiful forehead, to assign the other equine taxis to carry the residents safely to their soft warm beds.

And with tummies full, hearts happy, bodies healthy, and wrapping paper stuck to their toes, the residents spent a wonderful Christmas 2004 at the Rainbow Bridge.

Happy Holidays to All,

. Susan Benedict

Professor of Nursing

Medical University of South Carolina