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The Curious Incident of the Dog Suicide Bridge

By Ned Donovan

Since the 1960s, dogs have been jumping off on a bridge near Overtoun House in south-west Scotland to their deaths at a supposed rate of nearly one per month. Why? Well, no one knows. Theories about the cause of these bizarre occurrences abound, with no one able to provide a definitive answer as to what is causing the strange dog deaths.

Overtoun House was built in the nineteenth century and given to the people of the local area in the will of Lord Overtoun in 1939, under the conditions that it not be used for “controversial meetings, noxious practices, or drinking”. But this has not prevented canine suicide. Since the war, the house has been used by the British military, as a maternity hospital and as a government experiment facility.

Most recently, and slightly ironically for the canines, it has been a Centre for Hope and Healing.

Overtoun House, via the official website

Overtoun House, via the official website

The area has long been thought to be haunted, and in 1994 a father threw his child off the bridge, claiming the infant to be the Anti-Christ before himself attempting to jump off the bridge. In fact, the sinister background of Overtoun can be traced directly back to Celtic mythology: it is said to inhabit an area of Scotland which is “thin”, i.e. where our world crosses with that of heaven, allowing spirits to cross over into our Earthly domain.

Over the years it has been argued that dogs are sensitive to supposed paranormal activity and could be naturally drawn towards the spiritual barrier that may exist on the bridge, a barrier we cannot detect. A psychic, Mary Armour, took her dog walking on the bridge and while she felt “serenity”, her pet pulled her towards the side of the bridge where the dogs are said to jump.

In some extreme cases of doggy suicide on the bridge, the pets have reportedly been brought back up onto Overtoun Bridge, and them promptly jumped off again. Despite action from the owners of the house, and the media attention it has received, the deaths have apparently continued. Several years ago, experts in animal behaviour and other fields descended on the House, determined to discover the reason behind the jumping.

The locals in the area believe that the cause lay nearby at Her Majesty’s Naval Base Faslane, where the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent resides. Residents believed that secret naval communications emitted a sound only heard by dogs and caused them to jump off the bridge. Others placed the blame in the sound of the waterfall next to the bridge where the dogs land after their jump.

The experts, however, had other ideas not involving tinfoil hats or dog spirituality: they believed that the scent of mink urine was driving the animals into leaping off of the bridge. Conducting a test for a documentary for Channel 5 in 2005, Dr David Sands discovered that dogs are naturally drawn to the scent of mink far more than other animals like squirrels or mice, and should a dog smell a mink on Overtoun Bridge, they would be naturally driven to investigate the source.

But the scientists failed to answer why the dogs always jumped off the same spot, on the right-hand side of the bridge.

The Faslane naval base

The Faslane naval base

One newspaper blamed the local economic decline for the dog suicides.

The most emotionally charged explanation is that the dogs are simply depressed, and that Overtoun Bridge is for them what the Golden Gate Bridge is to humans. While there is no credible scientific evidence for dogs choosing to end their own lives, several experiments have attempted to prove dogs can project the emotions of their owners.

One newspaper blamed the local economic decline for the dog suicides after they picked up on their unemployed owner’s cues. If a dog owner was depressed or felt suicidal, then perhaps the dogs merely acted on what it believed to be the owner’s mood. However, Dr Kendal Shepard, a controversial veterinary behavioural specialist, believes dogs can suffer from psychosis and depression and that they may have made a decision based on their own life.

However, problems begin to emerge with the story of Overtoun Bridge the more you look into it. The first properly reported death from the bridge was in 1995. The owner Donna Cooper was widely interviewed and featured in the press, but since then no dog deaths have been reported. In fact, Skeptoid reported last year that there had only been six reported cases in history with no other person in the area wishing to offer a different figure in response.

The most logical reason behind the few disappearances appears to be the impact of mink scent, animals not native to this country, as well as the size of the bridge. The walls of it are 18 inches thick, and extremely high, all of solid granite. With the surrounding views of trees and vegetation and the sound of continually running water, there is an idea that the dogs would have no idea that it was in fact a bridge at all, and merely attempt to explore it.

While the beginning of the dog suicides do seem to coincide with the Anti-Christ incident, there have so far been no portals opened to hell, nor Satanic symbols reported. The dog suicides could simply be a coincidence. Until the root of the phenomenon is discovered, the story truly does remain a mystery.