Suicide Bridge

Scotlands Route 66


When you talk about Suicide you sadly think of Folk at the end of their tether and taking their lives. Some actually jump from bridges, buildings or cliffs in a sad end to a life. But here in Scotland there is something very strange about the Bridge shown above. This is Overtoun Bridge is a category B-listed structure over the Overtoun Burn on the approach road to Overtoun House, near Dumbarton in West Dunbartonshire, Scotland. It was completed in 1895 to a design by the civil engineer H. E. Milner. Overtoun Bridge has attracted international media attention because of the number of dogs who have reportedly leapt from it, often dying upon landing on the rocks 50 feet (15 m) below; the bridge has also been the site of human murder and attempted suicide. In the past half-century, some 50 dogs have leapt to their deaths from the same historic bridge. During one six-month period last year, five dogs jumped to their deaths. Furthermore, the dogs which have perished have all-been long-nosed breeds: labradors, collies and retrievers. Why?



Could dogs be deliberately committing suicide? Built in 1895 by Calvinist Lord Overtoun, the ornate Victorian structure arches 50ft over Overtoun Burn, the stream which runs below. Now, thanks to stories posted on the internet, dog owners from around the world are asking: could dogs be deliberately committing suicide, and if so, why? Rumours have long circulated that the bridge and nearby Overtoun House are haunted. In 1994, local man Kevin Moy threw his baby son to his death from the bridge, claiming he thought the child was the anti-Christ. Shortly after he tried to end his own life with an unsuccessful suicide attempt from the same bridge.  

The Thin Place: In Celtic mythology, Overtoun is known as 'the thin place' - an area in which heaven and earth are reputed to be close. Certainly dogs have been shown in the past to be more sensitive than humans.   Suicidal or depressed feelings If there is nothing supernatural propelling animals to their deaths, could they be picking up on suicidal or depressed feelings of their owners? Kendal Shepherd, a veterinarian behavioural specialist, believes dogs can indeed suffer from psychosis, and anyone who has ever owned a dog would agree they can pine, look listless and go off their food when they are depressed. As far back as ancient Egypt, dogs have been bred to do specific jobs on farms and in hunting. Today, the need for working dogs has diminished, but we still breed them as surrogate friends and partners, a situation which has led some experts to believe we might be transferring our own negative emotions onto our pets. A famous Austrian experiment has shown dogs can pick up on the thoughts and intentions of their owners from many miles away and don't just rely on physical clues to interpret what their owners want. In the study, conducted by Dr Rupert Sheldrake, a dog and its owner were filmed simultaneously in separate environments.  

If not suicide then what?

So if the dog deaths cannot be attributed to suicide, what is causing them? In a final bid to solve the mystery, canine psychologist Dr David Sands was dispatched to Dumbarton to try to view the bridge - and the sensation of crossing it - from an animal's point of view. His first experiment was to recross the bridge with the only dog known to have survived the fall, to see how she reacted. When he took 19-year-old Hendrix to the scene of her near-death experience, the dog walked happily across the bridge until towards the end on the right-hand side she suddenly tensed. Because of her advanced age, Hendrix did not have the strength to jump, but something had clearly caught her attention, and Dr Sands concluded one of her three primary senses - sight, sound or smell - must have been so stimulated that she experienced an overwhelming urge to investigate. Sight was quickly eliminated, as from a dog's eye view the only thing visible on the bridge is uninterrupted-granite.

Visit from an animal expert

To establish if either sound or smell was the culprit, specialists from a Glasgow acoustics company and the RSPB's David Sexton, an animal habitat expert, visited the spot. Locals thought the nearby nuclear base at Faslane might be emitting some sound audible only to dogs, and there was also the possibility that nearby telephone pylons or the bridge structure itself might give off a sound only animals could hear. However, after monitoring sound levels across the bridge, acoustic experts found nothing untoward that might explain the dog deaths. Sexton, on the other hand, who laid bait in the undergrowth beneath the bridge, soon discovered that mice and mink resided there, while evidence of squirrel nests was also found in cannons embedded in the bridge's structure. In order to narrow down which smell might be attracting the dogs, he distributed odour from all three species in a field and unleashed ten dogs - of the varieties which have died at the bridge - to see which one most interested them. His findings were remarkable. Of the ten dogs tested, only two showed no interest in any of the scents while the overwhelming majority - 70 per cent - made straight for the mink.

Could a mink be the cause? The mink's powerful anal glands leave marks wherever they go and the strong musty smell they emit is obviously proving irresistible to dogs. It would also explain why the deaths have all occurred on sunny, dry days - relatively rare on the notoriously wet west coast - when the mink smell has not been diluted by the damp weather. Furthermore, the theory fits with the timeline of the deaths - single minks were introduced to Scotland in the Twenties but only started to breed in large numbers in the Fifties - which is when the mysterious dog deaths began occurring. But there are 26,000 mink in Scotland. Why are dogs in pursuit of them only jumping to their death from this particular bridge? According to Dr Sands: 'When you get down to a dog's level, the solid granite of the bridge's 18-inch thick walls obscures their vision and blocks out all sound. 'As a result, the one sense not obscured, that of smell, goes into overdrive.'