Barry, a four-legged legend

Image from Barry MuseumMost people in the USA probably haven’t heard about Barry, but his story is fascinating. He was a St. Bernard that lived 200 years ago at the famous hospice on St. Bernard Pass. Myths declare that he saved at least 40 people during his working years.

The hospice resides 2,500 meters above sea level, and has been run since the 11th century. The St. Bernard pass is dangerous at the best of times, and the dogs served an invaluable function in finding the way home even in blizzards. During 200 years, at least 2,000 people were saved by the hospice.

Barry was born in the year 1800, and has inspired countless myths. Some claim he even rescued a child on his own and carried the boy to safety on his back.

He was clearly special even during his lifetime, because spent his last years in Bern, in retirement, and was preserved after his death.

Today, there’s a Barry exhibition at the Natural History Museum in Bern. He looks a bit different from St Bernards of today. The breed went nearly extinct during the 19th century, and the remaining dogs were bred with Newfoundlands in an effort to save the St Bernard. This changed the build of the dogs and resulted in a much longer coat. While the effort to save the breed was successful, it also changed them to the point where they were no longer able to rescue people in the mountains.

Barry has also given name to the Fondation Barry du Grand Saint Bernard, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of St. Bernard dogs.

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