Did you know that Saint Bernard dogs were originally called Barry dogs? I learnt this when I visited the Barry Foundation in Martigny, Switzerland last weekend. The foundation was only set up in 2005 to continue breeding dogs like the legendary dog called Barry, who lived at the Great Saint Bernard Pass from 1800 to 1812 and saved more than 40 people’s lives as they crossed the difficult terrain. The dogs come in both the fluffy variety that we know from films like ‘Beethoven’, and also in a more labrador-like short-hair variety.
The foundation is literally the breeding ground for St Bernard dogs, and their goal is to protect, support and preserve the breed. Last weekend was their open day, and it meant lots of dog patting, and watching various shows where the dogs were trained to do tricks. One dog stripped her trainer of her shoes AND socks, unzipped her jacket and removed that, and even took off her belt. The crowd predictably yelled out for it not to stop there, but it did. There was also a lot of hearts melting at the site of the puppy fluff balls romping around in their play pen.
For anyone who would like to visit the dogs but can’t make an open day, you can also visit the dogs in their original place of existing — the Great Saint Bernard Pass. There was no mention of the saint himself, but you may remember that he came from just down the road here in France, leaving his family who lived in the Menthon Saint Bernard castle the night before his wedding (with folklore saying he jumped from a window that was built centuries later) to aid pilgrims crossing the pass from Italy to Switzerland. The first doggy aid didn’t arrive until the late 17th Century, and it took more than another century for the St Bernard dog breed to be officially registered. His name was not Barry, but Léon. As for the original Barry, he spent the last few years of his life convalescing in Bern before popping his clogs in 1814. You can visit him at Switzerland’s natural history museum, where he’s been stuffed, restored and restuffed as required.