August 20th is a pretty special day for some of our largest canine buddies: it’s St. Bernard’s Day. As you can probably guess, this Italian monk is the namesake and breeder of the dogs we know and love today. A veterinarian shines the ‘spotlight’ on these gentle giants below.
St. Bernard of Montjoux—or St. Bernard of Menthon, as he is sometimes called—was first known for building a hospice in the western Alps. The hospice was near two passes, which are now called the Great St. Bernard Pass and the Little St. Bernard Pass.) Though there are no records showing the precise dates and lineages of those first St. Bernard litters, they would have been born sometime in the 1660’s. Before long, the pooches had become known for their skills at search and rescue. As you may know, they are credited with saving many lives In 1690, Fido made an appearance in a painting by the Italian artist Salvadore Rosa. His first official appearance in written records happened in 1707.
A Landslide Appearance
These days, Fido looks quite different from his earliest ancestors. From 1816 to 1818, the Alpine region was struck by unusually tough winters. The brutal weather caused more avalanches than usual, which unfortunately led to the demise of several St. Bernards. Those that survived were bred with Newfoundlands. However, this rescue effort had an unexpected side effect: fur that was heavier, and not as resistant to ice and snow.
One amazing pooch, named Barry (or perhaps Berry: there’s some confusion there) rescued as many as 100 people. This very good boy is commemorated with a statue. He’s also the reason the breed was known as the Barry Dog for some time. Fido is now retired from search and rescue: the last recorded St. Bernard rescue happened back in the 1950’s. Today, he is celebrated as the national dog of Switzerland. He’s also honored by a special St. Bernard celebration, which happens every year in Rosiere-Montvalezan in France.
The St. Bernard is the true gentle giant. Fido is known for being loyal, calm, and steadfast. However, Fido’s statue does have a few drawbacks. For one thing, he has a shorter lifespan than that of smaller dogs. St. Bernards usually live about 8 to 10 years. They’re prone to certain health issues, such as hip dysplasia, bone cancer, and epilepsy. Training and socialization are also crucial for these big boys. Ask your vet for specific care tips.
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