Spate of canine 'suicides' from bridge baffles animal experts

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The Independent Online

On a wet and windy winter's day on the west coast of Scotland, the ancient borough of Dumbarton can appear bleak and depressing. The once fashionable and prosperous ship-building centre is now little more than a suburb of Glasgow and, it appears, even some of the dogs have lost the will to live.

Animal behaviourists are concerned at an apparent spate of canine "suicides" in the town after at least five dogs are said to have thrown themselves from an historic bridge in the past six months.

In the once landscaped grounds of Overtoun House - a country mansion built in 1863 with ornate religious symbolism and the words "Fear God and keep His commandments" carved into its walls - the bridge is fast becoming known as "rover's leap".

Following a rash of unexplained incidents in which family pets have leapt to their deaths from the parapet of the bridge, animal welfare experts are warning owners to keep their dogs on a tight leash.

"Dogs do not commit suicide. They have a strong fight or flight response," said Doreen Graham of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "The incidents at the bridge are of very great concern to us because we would like to understand why they are happening."

In the latest incident, a woman was shocked to see her dog suddenly vault over the parapet and plunge 40ft to its death for no apparent reason.

"It is very weird for five dogs to have done the same thing at the same spot. There needs to be an urgent investigation of the bridge and what has happened. There must be a rational explanation," said Joyce Stewart, an animal behaviourist, who has never heard of a canine suicide but admitted the pattern of deaths was "abnormal".

Ms Graham added: "Dogs naturally have a very good ability to judge distances ... so it is possible there is something which is causing an optical illusion or enticing the dogs to jump. From photographs of the bridge it would appear that the tree canopy rises above the bridge and it may cause some sort of confusion to the animal, which thinks it is jumping to something solid."

Folklore claims that Overtoun House is a place where angels and gargoyles keep company. The former home of Lord Overtoun, the owner of a huge chemical works, it is now being renovated as a Christian "centre for hope and healing".