Too big for mountain rescue, St. Bernard dogs engaged in social work

They are too heavy to board rescue helicopters, but in Switzerland they are in great demand for children, the elderly and the disabled

No longer rescue in the high mountains, but support for the elderly, children and the disabled. Too big and heavy to get on mountain rescue helicopters, St. Bernard dogs are now engaged in social work in Switzerland‘. The seven Saint Bernard puppies born a month ago at the Barry Foundation in Martigny (canton of Valais), will be sold to families or used for social visits in homes for the elderly or in schools, once weaned.

The seven puppies – five females and two males – are part of mother Edène’s first litter, born two years ago at the Barry Foundation. About 30 Saint Bernards live permanently at the Foundation and an average of 20-25 pedigreed puppies are born each year. If some remain in Martigny to continue breeding, most will be placed in carefully selected families. Edène’s puppies will be presented to the public in Barryland’s parks starting in mid-September. While waiting to admire them live, it is possible to follow their evolution daily through the webcam on the foundation’s website.

Used for a long time to accompany travelers and above all to find and save those missing in the snow and fog, the St. Bernard – with the characteristic wooden barrel around its neck – is assimilated in the collective imagination to a rescue dog. At the time, the dogs intervened around the Gran San Bernardo hospice, where they lived, and also served to support men in activities related to transport. But “with the use of helicopters, the rescuers preferred lighter races to them,” Manuel Gaillard, head of dogs at the Barry Foundation, explained today to the Keystone-ATS agency.

“The St. Bernard is no longer used due to its size and weight”, which can reach 80-85 kilos, confirmed Fabien Marmy, president of the Valais avalanche dog group. In fact, you need to be able to carry the dog in your arms to put it in the helicopter, he added. It is also a question of seating in the passenger compartment. Labradors, German Shepherds, Australian Shepherds and Golden Retrievers weigh an average of less than 35 pounds and are “particularly hardy”.

Redog, the Swiss Society for Search and Rescue Dogs, which trains dog trainers and their animals to find victims in the rubble in the event of disasters, such as earthquakes or explosions, has only one Saint Bernard. The latter, which has remained rather small, is active in localization. A job that allows him to go at his own pace, explained Denise Affolter, president of the Valais regional group.

“Today the Saint Bernard is no longer used for its avalanche or research skills, but for its mental stability, its social side and its openness,” he continued. These qualities lend themselves very well to visits to nursing homes or schools. Since 2007, the dogs of the Barry Foundation have also been trained to interact with disabled or elderly people throughout Switzerland but also for pedagogical or therapeutic activities. “This new mission of theirs is a huge success,” concluded Manuel Gaillard.