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St. Bernard Gives Up Dogs to Care for People

A controversy has arisen in Switzerland regarding the well known St. Bernard dogs and the accompanying St. Bernard hospice that have kept watch over an ancient alpine pass for centuries. The monks at the hospice are trying to find another organization to take care of the large dogs. St. Bernard hospice was founded in 1050 A.D., some 650 years before the first dog showed up. But for the last 300 years the hospice has been mostly about dogs.

Over the years, the hospice and the famous dogs—wearing barrels marked with a red cross—helped more than 200,000 safely cross the 8,000-foot pass. Neither the dogs nor the monks of St. Bernard's have actively worked in rescues for at least 50 years. Faster and safer methods of rescue such as helicopters and emergency personnel have been introduced in the area. The only dog at the hospice currently is a golden retriever, while only four monks remain.

St. Bernard hospice is largely operated for the tourist industry these days. The dogs are only present during the summer months. Father Frederic Gaillard says the decreasing numbers of monks and the hard work required to keep up the dogs are causing St. Bernard's to shift their focus. He says the dogs eat four to five pounds of food daily, and the big energetic dogs need to get out for exercise several times a day. He adds, "We think it's better to spend more of our time listening to people and not just them (the dogs). They take up too much energy. It's people that need us, and that's not well understood."

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