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SAR DOGS

MAN’S BEST FRIEND— ESPECIALLY IF HE’S LOST
PHOTOS BY MELANIE CATALANO

The Great St. Bernard Pass connects Martigny in Switzerland with Aosta in Italy via the third highest road in Switzerland. It passes along the ridge between Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa, the two highest summits of the Alps. Evidence of people using this road dates back to the Bronze Age, and portions of it were part of the original Roman road system.

Along the highest point on the road and covered in a perpetual blanket of snow, the Great St. Bernard Hospice was founded in 1049 by Saint Bernard of Menthon, an archdeacon in Aosta whose responsibility was to care for travelers who frequently used the treacherous mountain pass. Tired of seeing weary travelers arriving into Aosta after having been terrorized by highway robbers, he decided to build a hostel at the summit, some 8,000 feet above sea level, to of er protection and a place of respite from the dangers of the road.

Six hundred years later, monks at the hostel began to breed mastif -style Asiatic dogs with other large breeds found in Italy as companions and guard dogs for the hostel. Just before 1700, they started naming their breed St. Bernards. By 1750, they routinely were sent, along with servants called marroniers who helped guide the travelers safely down the mountain.

The broad chests of the St. Bernards were used to clear a path in the snow. However, it was soon discovered that they possessed an incredible sense of smell and could easily discover people buried in snow and seek out injured or lost travelers. For the next 150 years, they would be sent out in packs of two or three in search of lost travelers or avalanche victims. When a traveler was scented, one St. Bernard would dig down through the snow, locate the person and then sit on him to provide warmth while the others returned to the hostel to alert the monks.

The most famous St. Bernard of them all was an individual name Barry, who lived at the hostel from 1800 to 1814 and is credited with saving more than 40 people in his lifetime. The most famous rescue occurred when a young boy was injured in an avalanche and was unable to move. When Barry found him, he licked the boy’s face until he awoke, lay with him to warm him up—and, incredibly, carried the boy on his back to the hostel. Since then, one dog at the hostel has always been named Barry in his honor. (However, it is a myth that St. Bernards carried little casks of rum on their collars.)

PRESENT-DAY HEROES

Fast forward 200 years, and dogs’ keen sense of smell, their unfaltering loyalty and their remarkable ability of direction-finding is still highly valued during search-and-rescue (SAR) missions throughout the United States, especially in remote wilderness locations of the western states.

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About American Survival Guide

American Survival Guide March 2019, How-to : Reload like a Pro, Dogs of SAR, Handcuff Hacks, Pick the Perfect Pistol, When Less is more, And More.....