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Half a Brain

Dog Suicide Bridge

Overtoun, Dumbarton

Canine Kamikazes

Overtoun Bridge near Dumbarton in west Scotland is the location for a mystery. Since the 1950's, it has been the scene of at least fifty, unexplained, dog deaths, which have horrified local dog owners.

Most of the dogs were long-nosed breeds; Labradors, Collies and Retrievers. Dog deaths have occurred in every season, but notably, on clear days, a rarity in this grey, wet part of Scotland. All of the dogs leapt from the same side of the bridge

Overtoun Bridge
Overtoun Bridge

According to legend, this is a place of dark deeds, tragedy and superstition. On one occasion, a man, behaving very erratically, threw his young baby from the bridge, believing it to be possessed by the devil.

In recent years the number of deaths has risen dramatically, with five animals jumping in six months. The story continues to attract widespread media attention, giving rise to the theory that these dogs could be committing suicide.

Overtoun House and it's grounds have garnered a reputation as a centre for unexplained phenomena. In Celtic mythology, Overtoun is known as a "thin" place. A place where Heaven and Earth are reputed to be close. Some have speculated that sensitive dogs are being spooked by something at the bridge.

Overtoun House
Overtoun House

Scottish psychic, Mary Armour, visits the bridge to see if she can sense anything that could possibly affect the dogs. "I think that some animals are hypersensitive to the spirit world and to people in their earthly lives. As I walked on Overtoun Bridge, I felt pure calmness and serenity. My own dog walked across quite happily, although she did gravitate towards the right-hand side. I certainly felt no adverse energy at all".

Dogs may not be detecting anything supernatural at the bridge, but the idea that dogs have some kind of sixth-sense is not as outlandish as it may seem.

Biologist, Dr Rupert Sheldrake, has done a lengthy investigation which suggests that dogs have abilities beyond current scientific understanding. His most famous experiment was documented by an Austrian TV crew.

In the experiment, one camera followed the dog, at home, while another camera followed the owner. The cameras were synchronised, so the time codes on both were the same. The owner was told to return home, at a randomly chosen time, she had no advance warning of when this would be. She would travel home in a taxi to avoid any familiar car sounds. When she was told to leave, the dog, who had been lying quietly, immediately got up and went to sit by the window, where it remained for the fifteen minutes it took for it's mistress to arrive home.

It seems to be a telepathic response. It could be said that telepathy is some kind of sixth-sense.

Dogs are capable of detecting their owner's emotions and developing their own neuroses. Could they be responding to some sort of human depressive impulse at the bridge which then causes suicide. Although dogs can experience depression, where human and canine brains differ, is in having an awareness of the future. Dogs do not have any such awareness.

So if the dogs are not actually committing suicide, what might explain their strange behaviour on the bridge?

A Mink
The Mink

Dogs can hear a wide range of sounds that are inaudible to humans. So, a team from a Glasgow acoustics company set up sophisticated equipment to scan for any strange sounds. They detect nothing unusual.

David Sexton, an authority on Scottish Wildlife, determines that there are three main species active in the area; mice, squirrel and mink. Canine psychologist, David Sands conducts an experiment to see which of these scents excite the dogs most. Out of ten dogs, seven went directly to the mink scent.

Mink are not native to Britain, have no natural predators and have a very powerful, musky scent. Single animals have been on the loose since the 1920's but mink have only been breeding in large numbers since the 1950's. The same time as the first reported dog death at Overtoun Bridge.

Why Overtoun Bridge and not any other bridge?

Overtoun Bridge spans a deep-sided valley. The parapets of the bridge are eighteen inches thick and there is a fifty foot fall to the rocky bed of the Overtoun Burn.

To understand what may be unique about this bridge, it is necessary to view the structure from the dog's perspective. From a position on the bridge, all the dog will see are the stone walls and if it becomes excited by the scent of the mink, it's natural curiosity will impel it to investigate.

Te Bridge Wall
The Dog's-eye View

The dog's sense of smell tells it the scent is over the wall, so if it becomes over-excited it will leap the wall to give chase, oblivious to the fact that there is a fifty foot drop on the other side.