August 20th is a big day for some of our largest canine companions: it’s St. Bernard’s Day. This famous Italian monk is both the namesake and breeder of the gentle giants we know and love today. A local veterinarian shines the ‘spotlight’ on the St. Bernard in this article.
St. Bernard of Montjoux—who is also sometimes known as St. Bernard of Menthon—was originally known for building a hospice near two of the main passes through the western Alps. The passes are now called the Great and Little St. Bernard Passes. Though the precise dates and lineages of those first St. Bernard litters are not known, the first pups would have been born sometime in the 1660’s. The pooches soon became renowned for their skills at search and rescue. Fido made an appearance in a painting by Italian artist Salvadore Rosa in 1690. His first official appearance in written records happened in 1707.
A Landslide Appearance
Today, the St. Bernard looks quite different than his earliest ancestors. From 1816 to 1818, the Alpine region was pummeled by unusually harsh winters. This caused more avalanches than usual, which unfortunately led to the deaths of many St. Bernards. The puppies that survived were bred with Newfoundlands. However, this had an unexpected side effect to this rescue effort: fur that was heavier, and not as resistant to ice and snow.
St. Bernards have saved a remarkable number of people, though the exact figure is unknown. However, one amazing pup, named Barry (or Berry: there’s some confusion there) rescued between 40 and 100 people. This very good boy has been honored with a statue, and is the reason the breed was called the Barry Dog for some time. Fido has since retired from search and rescue: the last recorded St. Bernard rescue was back in the 1950’s. Today, he is celebrated as the national dog of Switzerland. Fido is also honored by an annual St. Bernard celebration, which happens in Rosiere-Montvalezan in France.
The St. Bernard is the true gentle giant among our canine buddies. These wonderful dogs are known for being loyal, calm, and steadfast. However, Fido’s statue does have some drawbacks. He has a shorter lifespan than smaller pooches: St. Bernards usually live about 8 to 10 years. They are also prone to certain health issues, including hip dysplasia, bone cancer, and epilepsy. Training and socialization are also crucial for these guys. Ask your vet for specific care tips.
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