National Geographic : 1957 Jan
The National Geographic Magazine apples and other fruit. But the front part houses the twelve to twenty St. Bernards now kept at the hospice.* As we approached this kennel by way of a long ramp, the dogs began barking. Father Emery opened the door and quieted them with a word. We entered a large room, empty except for beds of straw near the walls. Here the dogs sleep as huskies do, huddled together for warmth. The rest of the space is kept clear to give them room for exercise. Father Emery spoke again, and suddenly we were surrounded by the powerful beasts, yelping with delight at seeing their master. The dogs weigh from 140 to 160 pounds. Their dense white-and-fawn-colored coats make them look even bigger. In contrast to their puppylike exuberance, their mournful faces make a comic effect. But this is offset by their great strength and friendliness. One can sense their dependability at once. Barry Welcomes a Stranger They regarded me soberly for a moment. Then the largest dog planted two great paws on my chest and licked my face. "Well! You are honored!" Father Emery said. "This is Barry." "Barry! Not the one that saved forty people? I thought he lived long ago." "Forty-one people it was. You mean Barry the First, Barry 'the Lifesaver.' He served here about 150 years ago, and he was the bravest of them all." I began snapping pictures. An attendant working with the dogs took one look at my cameras and ran off. He returned with a small cask and fastened it around Barry's neck. I glanced at Father Emery. He smiled. No, he said, the dogs had never carried casks on their missions, not once, so far as anyone at the hospice knew. This legend, he explained, probably dates back to an artist who drew the original Barry with a cask simply because he thought it would add interest. If so, that artist was right. The public loved the idea and would not be told otherwise. I couldn't resist and took a picture of a dog with a cask (page 53). Later at lunch I asked for details of the great Barry's exploits. "There's a story that the forty-first man he found in the snow was a soldier," Father Emery said. "He was freezing and befuddled. When he saw Barry leaping toward him, he thought he was a wolf and killed him with his sword. "But as far as we know, Barry didn't really meet such a sad end. He worked faithfully for twelve years, and when he seemed near the end of his strength the prior sent him to Bern. He was well cared for and lived an other two years. He can still be seen in a museum there, stuffed." Monk Vouches for Famous Tale I wondered about Barry's famous rescue of the little boy from the icy ledge. How had the dog managed to carry him down? Father Emery's face lit up with enthusi asm. "Barry kept him warm and licked his face. That woke him up, and he threw his arms around Barry's neck. Barry began to drag him, but gently, you understand. The boy saw Barry needed his help, so he got himself on the animal's back and clasped his hands under his neck." "Are you sure this really happened?" I persisted. "The story has been told too often by too many good men to be false," my friend re plied. "Details of rescues were rarely written down here, so we have no complete record of the dogs' work. But we all believe that these things are true." After lunch I returned to the kennels and watched the attendant feed the dogs their daily rations of horsemeat mixed with dog meal, in tremendous amounts. "They're good eaters," he laughed. "So would you be if you raced about in the bitter cold as much as they do. Five pounds of food a day down every one of them, and they lick their chops for more. Their food comes up by car when the road is open in summer, and we store enough for the winter." Dogs Scent Man Buried in Snow The feeding over, the dogs sniffed the air and milled about. The keeper said that after eating they usually went out for a run in the snow. Today, to show me what the dogs could do, the monks would enact a rescue. I waited near the hospice with the prior and the other canons while one of the novices skied away. He halted some distance from us and buried himself in the snow. * See "Working Dogs of the World," by Freeman Lloyd, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, December, 1941.