The newest mystery of Dumberton is the Overtoun Bridge dog deaths. Overtoun Bridge is a romantic looking stone bridge close to Milton Bridge in Dumbarton, Scotland. It spans the Overtoun Burn off the River Clyde on the grounds of Overtoun House, which is a stunning Scottish Baronial estate house. With all of this going for the bridge and surrounding area, it is no surprise that people like to take walks there, often bringing along their pets. Sadly, some of the dogs that walk the area with their owners leap off the bridge to their deaths.
For some reason, Overtoun Bridge is a popular place for local dogs to commit suicide or accidental suicide. The statistics vary very greatly, with some saying as few as 50 dogs have died this way and others saying up to 600 have died there. The latter number is a bit extraordinary, if accurate, given that people would likely cease walking unleashed dogs in such a dangerous place well before 600 dogs died. Nonetheless, no matter how many dogs have died there, it all started in the 50s or 60s. If the highest estimates are true, dogs are killing themselves at roughly one per month at the bridge. Of course, it is likely fewer.
Beneath the Overtoun Bridge, the burn is shallow and rocky. As such, it is a deadly jump for even agile dogs, though a few have survived. Some of them even jump again after surviving, according to stories. So, we know why the dogs die when they make the jump, but the question really is why they make the jump in the first place.
Here are some of the facts:
- Long-nosed dogs commit most of the suicides at Overtoun Bridge
- Long-nosed breeds are bred for tracking or retrieving prey
- The weather is typically clear when a dog jumps
- The bulk of the dogs jump from the same side of the bridge
- The dogs have to climb the walls of the bridge to jump, which takes little, but at least some effort
The circumstances surrounding the Overtoun Bridge dog deaths may lead to an answer, combined with what little information is available on canine suicide. As most dog owners know, dogs can get sad, perhaps even depressed, which can lead to health and behavior problems. What it does not typically lead to is suicide. Suicide does occur in the animal kingdom, as far as we can tell, but our waggy-tailed friends are not among the usual suspects. In fact, it is likely that dogs never commit suicide on purpose. What seems more likely, given the above facts and the seeming lack of suicidal tendencies in dogs, is that we are dealing with accidental suicide. If dogs were inclined to commit suicide at this astounding rate, it would happen in other places too and it does not.
Let’s first look at the supernatural explanations for the Overtoun Bridge dog casualty rate. Some say that the bridge is haunted and these creatures are in tune with the ghosts who drive them to their deaths. Now, if ghosts were real, they would be real in more places than Overtoun Bridge, so, again, dog suicide would be more common. Another theory is that the bridge is just evil in and of itself. This is impossible to disprove. However, how likely is it that the bridge is the only place in the world that dogs find evil if any such place exists?
The answer to the Overtoun Bridge dog deaths may rest in their superior senses of smell. Dogs, particularly long-nosed breeds, are very attracted to the scent of prey and there is plenty of it below the bridge. Apparently, there are odiferous minks living on the burn. Minks have a powerful musk that they secrete with their anal glands, similarly to skunks. The dogs may simply be following their noses. Yes, it is strange that they would make a deadly jump, but the theory is that the dogs have to commit to the jump when they scale the walls of the bridge, so they do not get a chance to gauge the jump before making it. (Note the solid walls in the above left photograph. Dogs would be unable to see the burn below before making the jump.)
Now, for those who are not satisfied with the story of the minks, you are not alone. The dogs that survived the jump and came back up to do it again had the chance to catch their minks, yet they walked away from the minks to jump the bridge again.