A story broke today that a St Bernard dog, a breed famed for mountain rescue, herself needed rescuing from Scafell Pike.
The tone of the articles was relatively light-hearted but the operation required 16 members of the Wasdale Mountain Rescue team to administer pain relief then carry a dog weighing 55kg for five hours over rough terrain, including negotiating a waterfall.
The dog is 4 years old. Young for most breeds but in the giant breeds with a life-expectancy that rarely breeches double figures, middle aged. A 2014 UKKC breed health survey of 65 St Bernards with a median age of 3 years found that the majority of the dogs were affected by at least one condition. There were 77 incidents of conditions overall, with a median age of onset of just 18 months. Hip dysplasia was the third most commonly reported problem. Reportedly, the dog taken off Scafell Pike was showing signs of pain and refusing to walk. Hardly surprising.
There are often people who risk rescuers’ lives by going into potentially dangerous environments unprepared, but subjecting such a dog to England’s highest mountain beggars belief.
It wasn’t always like this of course. St Bernard dogs have not been used for mountain rescue since 1955, not least because crossing with Newfoundlands in the mid-19thC and closed stud books made them unfit for purpose. The dogs in the image on the right were the St Bernards of 1929. Tragic hardly covers it.