Paying homage to the most legendary Saint Bernard of all time
By Si Si Penaloza
When visiting Big Bear Lake, the serene town tucked in San Bernardino County, California, it’s easy to become totally enamored with Barry, the most legendary Saint Bernard of all time. Sure, we’re in awe of this stalwart, sturdy breed in general. But Barry, well, he’s in a class of his own. He was the most famous rescue dog in the world, and though he passed onto doggie heaven over 200 years ago, he remains a working breed icon to this day.
Barry was born in 1800, the year that Thomas Jefferson became the third president of the United States. Barry lived at the hospice on the Great Saint Bernard Pass in the Swiss Alps, situated nearly 2,500 metres above sea level. The hospice has been run since the 11th century by Augustinian monks. As time went by, the monks began to take their dogs with them when they went out looking for travelers. As a result of this collaboration between man and beast, over 2000 people were saved from death over the course of 200 years.
Legend has it that a Saint Bernard can smell a person from two miles away. In one of Barry’s most legendary rescues, a ledge was too narrow to hold even the slimmest monk. The victim was a small child, and this child could only be rescued by a dog. The dog risked his own life, inching his way further and further out onto the ledge. The snow was mounting by bucket load: every moment the situation became more precarious. Barry was finally able to dig the boy from the caking ice, licking his face until he revived. The boy nestled himself into Barry’s warm back, and the Saint Bernard carried him to safety. Barry is credited with saving over forty lives in his twelve-year career, spanning 1800 to 1812.
Barry was a spirited forerunner to the modern breed of Saint Bernard, AKA the lovable mug we know from Hollywood’s Beethoven movie franchise. He was rather smaller than the modern Saint Bernard, only weighing about 100 pounds. His coat was shorter and his feet more nimble. Until 2014, Barry was on display in the entrance hall of the Naturhistorisches Museum Bern. Now, in honor of the 200th anniversary of his death, the museum is dedicating a permanent exhibition devoted to this extraordinary Saint Bernard from the Great Saint Bernard Pass.