Barry the Great Saint Bernard, famous mountain rescue dog.

Barry the Great Saint Bernard is the most famous Saint Bernard dog of all time. He saved over 40 travellers lost in the snows of the Great Saint Bernard Pass in Switzerland. This is his story.

In 1800 a Saint Bernard puppy was born who was to achieve worldwide fame due to his outstanding rescue work. This puppy was called Barry, and was responsible for saving the lives of over 40 people. The fact that the Saint Bernard breed came to be known to the wider world in Barry’s lifetime is possibly due to the courage of this one dog. There are many stories associated with Barry and the rescues that he carried out in the Great Saint Bernard Pass. There is a statue of Barry in the Paris pet cemetery and his body is preserved at the Natural History Museum in Bern.

From a young age Barry was trained by the monks of Saint Bernard Hospice to rescue those trapped or lost in the area of Saint Bernard Pass in the Swiss Alps. The training that the puppies chosen for rescue work received involved learning how to care for victims of avalanches. The dogs travelled in small groups looking for victims to rescue; when a person was found unconscious the dogs licked their face to rouse them and then one would use his body to warm the victim while another returned to the hospice to get help.



Saint Bernard's Hospice in the Great Saint Bernard Pass in Switzerland

Saint Bernard's Hospice in the Great Saint Bernard Pass in Switzerland

Barry the great Saint Bernard is most famous for the rescue of a small child who was trapped after an avalanche in the mountains. The little boy was trapped on a ledge inaccessible except for dogs; Barry made his way to the child and licked his face to bring him round. The boy regained consciousness but was unable to make his way to safety due to his injuries and the dangerousness of the ledge. The child grabbed hold of Barry’s fur was carried to safety and received medical attention from the monks. This story seized the public imagination and many paintings were made representing the rescue.

Saint Bernard Rescues a Boy from an Icy Death
Saint Bernard Rescues a Boy from an Icy Death

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Interestingly, while it may not be verifiable fact that the rescue of this boy actually happened, because the records from the time are simply not exact, what is certain is that Barry rescued at least 40 people during his rescue career. This is not the only rescue attributed to Barry whose exact and true story is open to doubt, because there is confusion even about exactly where and how he died.

According to the plaque below the statue of Barry in the Paris Pet cemetery, he was killed while he was out on his final rescue. In 1814 a prisoner had escaped while being escorted over the Alps and the weather had turned nasty as so often happens in the Great Saint Bernard Pass. Barry and his fellow rescue dogs were sent out to try and find the prisoner. Barry found the man, dug him out of the snow, and then lay on him to keep the man warm. Unfortunately the prisoner then regained consciousness, realised he was trapped by a large dog, and stabbed Barry and killed him. His body was then carried down the mountain where it was stuffed and placed on display in the Bern Natural History Museum where he remains to this day.

St. Bernard Dog
St. Bernard Dog

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However, this story is disputed by the Museum who say that when Barry was 12 years old he was taken to live in Bern by one of the monks. Upon his death 2 years later from entirely natural causes he was stuffed by a taxidermist and placed in the Museum. Whatever the truth, Barry was a truly remarkable rescue dog, who is fondly remembered by the monks of the hospice to this day. One of the puppies is always named Barry, in memory of Barry the Great Saint Bernard dog.

Fittingly, the modern gadgets now used to detect avalanches are called Barryvox, or Barry’s voice. Barry's story lives on.



Barry the Great Saint Bernard Monument in Paris Dog Cemetery

Monument to Barry in Paris Dog Cemetery



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