St Bernards, A Whole Lotta Love

I love dogs, but I especially love big dogs.   The St. Bernard (also known as St. Barnhardshund, Alpine Mastiff and Bernhardiner) is one of the world’s largest.    They range from 25.5-27.5 inches ( 61-70 cm) and weigh 110-200 pounds (50-91 kg).   The are most likely a cross between Tibetan Mastiffs with Great DanesGreater Swiss Mountain Dog and Great Pyrenees. Initially, they had short hair; long hair coats collect icicles.

Augustinian Monks living in the treacherous St. Bernard Pass (the western route through the alps between Italy and Switzerland) bread the dogs.  8,000 feet above sea level, the pass is 49-miles long and is notorious for its changeable weather and high winds.

The St. Bernard pass was well travelled before St. Bernard de Menthon founded the famous hospice in the Swiss Alps as a refuge for travelers crossing the treacherous passes between Switzerland and Italy around 1050.  There are even remains of a Roman road there.  If you were a pilgrim headed to Rome, this is a likely route you would have taken.  You wouldn’t have been the only one.  Napoleon famously used the pass to cross the alps to invade Italy in 1800.

Image from Stories About Animals on http://www.zookingdoms.com

In the 17th century, St. Bernards were used to rescue people from avalanches and other dangers in snowy alpine passes.    Saint Bernards have many features that make them well adapted to this task.   They can smell a person under many feet of snow.  They can hear low-frequency sounds humans cannot, possibly alerting people to avalanches.   Their broad chests helped clear paths through the snow.  Their large paws helped spread out the weight and worked like snowshoes to keep them on top of the snow.  Their large paws helped them dig through the snow.  Upon finding someone, they lie on top them to provide warmth.

The most famous rescuer was Barry (1800-1812).  He is credited with saving the lives of more than 40 people.  Today, Foundation Barry (named after the famous pooch) works to educate people about and preserve the breed.  They also do alpine hikes with the pups!  Both Foundation Barry and the St. Bernard Museum are located in in Martingy, a village down the mountain from the pass.  Both have the adorable pups on site.

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The Cutest Post Yet (Or At Least The Furriest)

Here, people take their dogs everywhere: into restaurants (you’ll see them sitting under the table), on buses/trains, etc.  They go everywhere, but there are rules.  Dogs must be registered, chipped and in some cantons, you pay taxed on them.

I have heard that you can make it a condition of your work contract to be allowed to keep dogs in your office!  It is not unusual to see dogs quietly resting under a desk at offices or shops.  They are welcome on the tram.  Usually they are extremely well-behaved.  Once, a friend did see two dogs scuffle on the tram.  Naughty puppies.

I guess it’s cooler to have your dog in the back of your 4-wheeler than carrying it because it can’t walk anymore.  We see this embarrassing sight frequently on the streets of Geneva.

You see dogs in bars and casual restaurants.  Dogs here have to go to obedience classes and pass a test, so most are incredibly well-behaved.  Often, I won’t even realize there was a dog lying under the table until its owners get up to leave.

As I said, there are rules.  Many places, dogs must be leashed.  There are places where dogs are prohibited from doing their business.  If your dog poops, you are supposed to pick it up.  Too many people in Geneva have problems with this last one.  If you visit, watch your step.    Someone let their dog do this right by the exit from baggage claim in the airport.   You cannot be serious!

Runners Who Eat Raw Meat, Run Naked And Sleep In The Snow…Dog Sledding

When you think of Switzerland’s winter sports, you probably think of skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, ice skating, hockey or maybe even Telemark.  When you think of dog sled racing, mushing, you probably think of places like Finland, Canada, Alaska, Colorado or even Minnesota.  Chances are, Switzerland isn’t your first thought.  In the 1950’s Switzerland encountered sled dog racing.  It didn’t take long for it to become popular.

While they don’t host the Iditarod, Switzerland hosts many large races.  Les Mosses, near Chateau d’Oex, hosted the Mara Cross-Country Dog Sled Race, one of the most important of the season, this past weekend.

The race was 16 kilometers long and the dogs traveled of speeds averaging around 20 mph (32 kph).  In the competition there was no limit on the number of dogs that could pull the sled. Generally, the number ranged from 5 to 10.

The dogs can be any breed, although most were some type of husky.  There were also Malamutes, Labrador Retriever, Samoyeds and Greenland Dogs.

The level of cooperation between the dogs and the mushers was astounding.  The musher would say “left” or “right” and the dogs would turn accordingly.  When they crossed the finish line, the musher would stay stop and immediately the dogs obeyed.

Speaking with some of the participants, they said that the hardest part is training the dogs.  They said that it was in their blood so, most of the dogs picked it up quickly, but there is always an occasional dog who is never able to master the necessary commands.

They said that the next most difficult part is choosing which dogs to put where in the harness (the lineup).  The smartest, most obedient and most dominant go up front.  The strongest go in the back.  The dogs must be arranged so they can work together and maintain the same speed.

The dogs get extremely excited when they are hitched up to the sled as they know they are going to get to run.  They bark and jump.  People hang on to the dogs to ensure (along with the brake), that the dogs don’t take off too early and things stay under control.  When the officials count down to the start, the assistants let go and the musher gives the start command, the dogs sprint off the line.

When the dogs finish, they are scanned to ensure that the dogs that finished were the same ones that started and no dogs were swapped for fresh ones while out of sight on the course.

It looked like tons of fun.  We are dog lovers.  Watching the race made us want to try a lesson, a dog sled tour, or even a trip.  It looked like so much fun.  Although I don’t think you will see us participating in the Iditarod anytime soon, dog sledding has definitely been added to the list of things we would like to do next year.

Jailbreak! What? Who? Me?

While we were home over the holidays, we got to see one of our dogs.  He is doing well and clearly loves his new family.  Being sweet, affectionate and very attached, he wants to be near people all the time.  He isn’t, however, the most trustworthy when left unsupervised. When no one around his new home, he gets to stay in the bathroom. He doesn’t seem to mind and willingly trots inside.
 
His new parents painted the bathroom before hosting Thanksgiving.  Since they couldn’t put him in the bathroom with wet paint, they put him in a crate.  He’d never really been crated before.  Let’s just say he wasn’t a fan.  The crate was a plastic one with a metal closure that you have to pinch.  When they returned home, he was bashful… and outside the crate.  He ate through the metal closure to get out!  Jailbreak.  No more cute bandanas, it’s orange jumpsuits for you.  No shoelaces either.
Unfortunately, in busting out, he broke one of his incisors.  The vet said it would continue to get infected and recommended removing it.  He made it out, but it is now down a tooth.  We’re trying to get his new parents to replace it with a gold grill.
 

We Fit Almost Every Swiss Cliche Into One Day

My mom has been visiting.  We wanted her to see as much Swissness as possible during her visit so we took her to Brig to see the Cow Festival.*  It was perfect.  I’m sure that if we brainstormed, we could fit a few more Swiss clichés into the day, but they hit all the big ones.

It was interesting to watch them try to move something so big that did not want to move.

We arrived in Brig a bit early and got to see the cows arriving.  They may walk down from alpine pastures, but they take trailers to the parade.  The cows are a special kind of Swiss cow that is raised almost exclusively in the Valais region, Herens.  These cows are known for being particularly aggressive.  In the spring, this area has cow fighting contests.  Here’s a YouTube clip for inquiring minds.

Do I look like I want to wear a flower hat?
I’m in love.  Again.  We had a connection.
My favorite part of the parade
Traditional costumes

This is the capital of raclette.  When in Rome…

What’s a parade without someone handing out samples of local wine? 
They also baptise the crowd with wine. Yes, they really do. Check out the guy in the plaid shirt’s face.
Alphorns!  They sounded great echoing through the valley.
They handed out the apples decorating this float to the crowd.  They did not hand out the cauliflower.
I’m not sure if this is traditionally Swiss.
Carved woods signs announcing the top cows = uber Swiss
Note the ribbons.  That cow is all done up for a night on the town.

Mountain Reine National translates to National Mountain Queen.  She is the prize cow so to speak.  Do you think she won the smack down? 

Sometimes, the cows got really excited about hitting the grass at the end of the parade.
They were lined up according to number and set about eating (and, ahem,  answering nature’s call).
Another cute parade participant
Sorry I didn’t get any decent pictures of the goats.  They were unruly to say the least.
Other parade participants. It said “Heidi” across the back of the cart!
*In the end of September and beginning of October, Switzerland has festivals all over the country to celebrate cow’s descent from alpine pastures.  This was one such affair.

 

Dogless

Old habits die hard.  Both of our dogs are living at our new homes.   Even though I know this, I still find myself heading straight to the back door to let the dogs out as soon as I wake, wondering whether I can take them with me when I run an errand and checking the waterbowl to make sure they have water.

We have spoken with their new mommies and daddies.  It sounds like they are both doing well.  Here is a cute picture of them out and about with their friend Dixie.  Whenever we walked the three of them together, we got lots of attention and more than a few stares.

 

 

The Worst Part of the Move – Taking the Dogs to Their New Homes

We just returned from seeing family in Michigan.  It was great to see so many loved ones.  We saw both of our fathers, four siblings and their families.  We also got to see YaYa and her son (not her real name, but she is a real Greek YaYa and our adopted family).  It made us really happy to be able to spend some quality time with people we love.  It was a little sad as well.  Our visit was tinged with the knowledge that we won’t get to see them again until we come for a visit in December.  Our nieces and nephews will have grown and we will have missed a lot of the everyday things in their lives.

Another reason for the trip was to take Jud to his new home.  This meant separating Jud and Iz.  I took her to the neighbors so that she wouldn’t see him leave.  He jumped our fence trying to go with his sister.  It was heartbreaking.

We took him to his new home in Michigan.  He will live on a farm and he seemed to like it there.  He met chickens for the first time.  I’m not going to lie.  I was a bit worried about how he would do with them and whether he would want to eat them (he is not a fan of Mr. Squirrel). He was really excited (charged the fencing to investigate) and then got over his excitement (thank goodness).  When he tried to follow us out the door of our new home, both of us got misty.  Well, he got misty.  I cried like a baby.

The silver lining is that we have found them the best possible homes with good mommies and daddies.  Jud’s new family reports that he is doing okay and seems to be up to his old tricks (gazing admiringly at you while you sleep, following people around the house, getting very excited for a bite of cheese, etc).

Iz is smart, observant and seems to understand too much of what is happening.  I wanted to take her to her new home as soon as possible to end her uneasiness.  Tomorrow, I will leave to take her there.  It a great home and I am sure she will be happy there.

We returned an hour ago and have already recommenced with moving preparations.  I have been making telephone calls and am off to run some errands.  He is studying French.