One of Switzerland’s national symbols, St. Bernard dogs, which became world famous for helping with alpine rescue operations, are now rescuing people in other ways, Reuters reported.
The Barry Foundation, a non-profit organization that has been responsible for breeding the dogs since 2005, has helped the dogs take on their new role as therapeutic and educational aids for vulnerable people.
“The St. Bernard today is a breed that works on the social front,” said Andrea Zollinger, a representative of the foundation, during a visit to the kennels in the town of Martini, near the borders with Italy and France. “Dogs work in hospitals, in nursing homes with elderly people. They help people undergoing therapy, meet with children and prisoners. They work wonders.”
Visitors can also see St. Bernards at Berryland Park, which has a museum and dog facilities. “They have a great sense of smell,” said Ann Holzer, canine training officer at the Barry Foundation. “Because of their size, they were used to clear the snow-covered path for rescuers in the pass.”
These days, alpine rescues involve smaller dogs that can be more easily transported by helicopter than Saint Bernards. However, this does not mean that Switzerland is any less attached to its beloved breed. “She is a solid symbol of Switzerland,” Zollinger said. “I think a lot of people are involved in keeping these dogs in good condition and watching out for breed standards.”