Monday, October 19, 2015

Urban Legends – The Suicidal Dogs of Overtoun Bridge

There’s a lone bridge in Minton, near Dumbarton (Scotland), where something mysterious and heartbreaking happened. Without any explanation, in the past 50 years, about 600 dogs have jumped off of this secular structure, and almost 50 of them unfortunately died. But the most puzzling thing is that these poor animals have all taken the fatal jump from the exact same spot, located between the last two parapets on the right-hand side of the bridge. But why this mass suicide took place?

“This is an heartbreaking mystery. There are lots of owners whose dogs have died and who are trying to find out why they jumped.”

This is what the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said about this tragedy, and if you have a look on the internet you’ll find lots of sadly detailed witnesses of poor dogs who slipped away from the hands of shocked owners. But another strangeness was common to all of this dogs: almost all the incidents have taken place on clear sunny days and all the dogs were long-nosed breeds, like Collies, Retrievers and Labradors. So maybe the high sense of smell was responsible for the tragedy.

Several theories have been advanced to explain the bizarre effect the bridge has on dogs. Of course the first one who came out was: “Isn’t that obvious? The place is haunted”. If you’re a fan of paranormal places, the Overtoun Bridge is surely the place for you. The Victorian structure, 50 ft. (15 mt) in height, was built in 1895 by Calvinist Lord Overtoun. The whole structure runs over the Overtoun Burn stream below. Some creepy rumors said that in 1994 a local called Kevin Moy threw his baby boy from the bridge, calling him the Son of the Devil. Then he tried to commit suicide at the same spot. After his unsuccessful attempt, He yelled  the bridge was haunted.

Now a lighter explanation that could help supporting the theory of the haunted bridge. This has to deal with Celtic mythology. In fact, Celts believed that The Overtoun Bridge was a spot called “a thin place”, which is an area where heaven and Earth are at their closest. According to the commonly known fact that dogs are way more sensitive than humans, maybe they have seen or heard something strange caused by non-corporeal entities.

Strangely, this theory was completely discarded by Psychic Mary Armour, who decided to took her own Labrador for a walk on the bridge to test the ”haunting”  theory. Nothing unusual happened in her case. After the walk she said:

“Animals are hyper-sensitive to the spirit-world, but I didn’t feel any adverse energy.”

She felt “pure calmness and serenity”, but she did admit her dog pulled a little towards the incriminated spot.

Let’s now analyze the psychological theory. The question we need to answer is “If there is nothing supernatural propelling animals to their deaths, could they be picking up on suicidal or depressed feelings of their owners?" Of course, dogs are called man’s best friend for a reason. They sure have superpowers, and one of the most common is the great empathy with the owner.  And the Austrian Dr. Rupert Sheldrake’s experiments are quite useful explaining this behavior. His studies have proved that dogs do pick up on their owner’s thoughts and intentions, even from a great distance. So they could have picked up on their owners’ suicidal thoughts and then jumped to their death. But the detail that ruled out the theory is that none of the owners whose dogs jumped from Overtoun Bridge had any suicidal feelings. After knowing that Dr. Sheldrake concluded:

“Human suicide is usually precipitated by a feeling that tomorrow will not be any better than today. But there is no evidence to suggest dogs have a sense of now and tomorrow.”

Finally the scientific theory. A canine psychologist, Dr. David Sands, was sent to Dumbarton to unsolved the mystery . He conducted a series of experiments, the first of which was to cross the bridge with the only canine known to have survived the fall, a 19 years old female dog called Hendrix. Once the deadly spot was reached, the dog began to tense. Something clearly caught her attention, but because of her advanced age she didn’t attempt to jump. After the experiment, Dr. Sands concluded that one of her senses – sight, sound, or smell – must have been stimulated. Sight was eliminated since the only thing visible from dog’s eye view at that point is the parapet. So it had to be either sound or smell, and to determine which one was guilty, a team of experts from a Glasgow acoustics company and an animal expert, David Sexton, were called for researches. After careful investigations, the acoustic experts found nothing unusual at all.

But Dr. Sands found something quite interesting. Hiding in the vegetation beneath the bridge he found mice, mink and squirrels. So the smell emitted by any one of them could have been the cause. To determine which one, he conducted another experiment. He tested the three scents on 10 different dogs and 70% made straight for the mink scent. And so far this has been the most plausible explanation. The strong musty smell emitted by minks, exaggerated on dry and sunny days, must have proved irresistible to dogs. Actually, minks are very common in Scotland (almost 26,000 in total). So there are other safer places to look for them. Why attacking them under this particular bridge? Dr. Sands said:

“Simple, 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.”

Sadly this sense overdrive caused lots of pain and suffering because losing a dog is losing a part of your family. And now if you go for a walk with your loyal friend on the Overtoun Bridge, you’ll find a sign left by one of the unfortunate owners who lost their dogs. On the sign is written:

Dangerous Bridge – Please keep your dog on a lead.

I don’t know which one of these theories is the most accurate, but one thing I know for sure is that these dogs will have a special place in my heart.


  1. Praticamente dei lemming... :)
    No, strana storia, mai sentita. Interessante l'ipotesi scientifica avanzata, anche se non mi soddisfa al 100%...

    1. Credo sia proprio la dimostrazione scientifica poco soddisfacente che ne fa un mistero ancora più strano ;)

  2. Great read. Fascinating story I'm glad I stumbled upon.


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