Saint Bernard Breed Magazine - Showsight

be lead back to the hospice by the dogs. Th e instinct to dig people buried beneath snow and to rouse those lying in snow is still evident in the breed today. During the winters of 1816, 1817 and 1818, the snowstorms at the Great Saint Bernard Pass were especially severe and many dogs perished while doing rescue work. As a result, the Saint Bernard strain living at the hospice came close to extinc- tion. Th e records say that the monks com- pletely replenished the strain two years later with similar animals from the nearby valleys. Rumors persisted that the remain- ing dogs were crossed with Great Danes or English Masti ff s after that near extinction, but no records exist to confirm that these breedings occurred at the hospice. Th ree experimental breedings with a Newfoundland type dog were done at the hospice beginning in 1830. Why were these cross-breedings made 160 years after the breed’s origin and after so many years of success using only the shorthaired dogs? Because many dogs perished during the more severe winters, the monks reasoned that the long hair of the Newfoundland would better protect the shorthaired Saint Bernard against the cold. Th is idea was disastrous. Ice formed on the long hair dur- ing the lengthy circuits through the high snow and the weight of the accumulated ice and snow very quickly incapacitated the dogs. Consequently, they could not use longhaired dogs for rescue work. Almost immediately, the monks returned to the exclusive use of shorthaired dogs for moun- tain work and began to give away all long- haired puppies. Th e Swiss recipients of these puppies used them for breeding with their own dogs, also resulting in litters contain- ing both longhaired and shorthaired pup- pies. Selective breeding done by most dedi- cated Swiss fanciers resulted in the return to the original hospice type dog with only the length of hair di ff erentiating the short- haired and longhaired varieties. During this time, the breed was still without a name. It was the much-traveled and dog-loving English who first recog- nized this outstanding breed of dog in Switzerland. Th ey called them Hospice Dogs, Holy Dogs, Alpine Masti ff s and Saint Bernard Masti ff s. Others called 4 )08 4 *()5 . "(";*/& " 6(645 t

One dog is splash coated, while the other dog is mantle coated. One expert, Professor Albert Heim, concluded that these paintings show a breed that had been in existence for approximately 25 years. Th us, the most accepted estimate is that the breed originated sometime between 1660 and 1670. From the available written records, it seems that the unique lifesaving work of the dogs began about the year 1700. Before that time, it is assumed that these dogs served as watchdogs and companions to the monks during their winter periods of snowbound isolation. No written records clarify how the rescue tasks of these dogs evolved. It appears that the dogs initially accompanied the monks on mountain patrols after bad snowstorms seeking

unwary missing or trapped travelers. Th e dogs seemed to have an uncanny sense to detect impeding avalanches; consequently the monks wanted the dogs to accompany them while they traversed those perilous footpaths. Somehow the dogs learned res- cue techniques from the monks. Eventu- ally male dogs were sent in unaccompa- nied packs of two or three to seek lost or injured pilgrims. ( Th ey thought this work was too arduous for the bitches.) Often the dogs had to find people buried in the snow, dig through the overlaying snow, rouse the traveler and lie atop the wayfarer to pro- vide warmth if the traveler was unable to move. Meanwhile, the other dog would return to the hospice to alert the monks that they needed to rescue a trapped pil- grim. Travelers who could still walk would

Powered by