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The St. Bernard Dog
( Originally Published 1894 )
The St. Bernard Dog always honoured for his work's sake, resembles the Newfoundland in form, hair, colour, and size. "There is another race," says Colonel Smith, "trained to the same service, with close short hair, and more or less marked with grey, liver colour and black clouds." Bass, a famous St. Bernard, the property of Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, is thus described by him in a letter to Mr. W. H. Lizars printed in Vol. XIX of "The Naturalist's Library":-"My St. Bernard was brought home direct from the Great St. Bernard, when he was a puppy of about four or five months. His bark is tremendous; so loud, indeed, that I have often distinguished it nearly a mile off. He had been missing for some time, when, to my great joy, one of the letter-carriers brought him back ; and the man's account was, that in going along a certain street, he heard his bark from the inside of a yard, and knew it immediately. He knocked at the gate, and said to the owner of the premises, 'You have got Sir Thomas Lauder's big dog.' The man denied it. 'But I know you have,' continued the letter-carrier; ' I can swear that I heard the bark of Sir Thomas's big dog; for there is no dog in or about all Edinburgh that has such a bark.' At last, with great reluctance, the man gave up the dog to the letter-carrier, who brought him home here. But though Bass's bark is so terrific, he is the best-natured and most playful dog I ever saw; so much so, indeed, that the small King Charles's spaniel, Raith, used to tyrannize over him for many months after he came here from abroad. I have seen the little creature run furiously at the great animal when gnawing a bone, who instantly turned himself submissively over on his back, with all his legs in the air, whilst Raith, seizing the bone, would make the most absurd and unavailing attempts to bestride the enormous head of his subdued companion, with the most ludicrous affectation of the terrible growling, that might bespeak the loftiest description of dog-indignation. When a dog attacks Bass in the street or road, he runs away rather than quarrel; but when compelled to fight by any perseverance in the attacking party, he throws his enemy down in a moment, and then, without biting him, he lays his whole immense bulk down upon him, till he nearly smothers him. He took a particular fancy for one of the postmen who deliver letters here, whose duty it was, besides delivering letters, to carry a letter bag from one receiving-house to another, and this bag he used to give Bass to carry. Bass always followed that man through all the villas in this neighbourhood where he had deliveries to make, and he invariably parted with him opposite to the gate of the Convent of St. Margaret's, and returned home. When our gate was shut here to prevent his following the postman, the dog always leaped a high wall to get after him. One day when the postman was ill, or detained by some accidental circumstance, he sent a man in his place. Bass went up to the man, curiously scanning his face, whilst the man rather retired from the dog, by no means liking his appearance. But as the man left the place, Bass followed him, showing strong symptoms that he was determined to have the post-bag. The man did all he could to keep possession of it. But at length Bass seeing that he had no chance of getting possession of the bag by civil entreaty, raised himself up on his hind-legs, and putting a great forepaw on each of the man's shoulders, he laid him flat on his back in the road, and quietly picking up the bag, he proceeded peaceably on his wonted way. The man, much dismayed, arose and followed the dog, making every now and then an ineffectual attempt to coax him to give up the bag. At the first house he came to, he told his fears, and the dilemma he was in; but the people comforted him, by telling him that the dog always carried the bag. Bass walked with the man to all the houses at which he delivered letters, and along the road till he came to the gate of St. Margaret's, where he dropped the bag and returned home."
" The convent of the Great St. Bernard is situated near the top of the mountain known by that name, near one of the most dangerous passages of the Alps, between Switzerland and Savoy. In. these regions the traveller is often overtaken by the most severe weather, even after days of cloudless beauty, when the glaciers glitter in the sunshine, and the pink flowers of the rhododendron appear as if they were never to be sullied by the tempest. But a storm suddenly comes on; the roads are rendered impassable by drifts of snow; the avalanches, which are huge loosened masses of snow or ice, are swept into the valleys, carrying trees and crags of rock before them. Benumbed with cold, weary in the search for a lost track, his senses yielding to the stupifying influence of frost which betrays the exhausted sufferer into a deep sleep, the unhappy man sinks upon the ground, and the snow-drift covers him from human sight. It is then that the keen scent and the exquisite docility of these admirable dogs are called into action. Though the perishing man lie ten or even twelve feet beneath the snow, the delicacy of smell with which they can trace him offers a chance of escape. They scratch away the snow with their feet; they set up a continued hoarse and solemn bark, which brings the monks and labourers of the convent to their assistance. To provide for the chance that the dogs, without human help, may succeed in discovering the unfortunate traveller, one of them has a flask of spirits round his neck, to which the fainting man may apply for support; and another has a cloak to cover him. These wonderful exertions are often successful; and even where they fail of restoring him who has perished, the dogs discover the body, so that it may be secured for the recognition of friends; and such is the effect of the temperature, that the dead features generally preserve their firmness for the space of two years." One of these dogs is said to have saved as many as forty lives and finally to have fallen a victim to an avalanche.