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What's Really Going on at the 'Dog Suicide Bridge'?

Overtoun Bridge on the approach to Overtoun House
People walk their dogs on Overtoun Bridge on the way to Overtoun House, in Dumbarton, Scotland. Dave Souza/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 4.0

In Dumbarton, Scotland, there's an ornate 19th-century bridge called the Overtoun Bridge. But its claim to fame is somewhat sinister. It's nicknamed the "dog suicide bridge."

For decades, dating at least back to the 1950s, dogs have been jumping from the Gothic-style bridge that crosses a 50-foot (15-meter) ravine. Many news outlets have reported on the bridge, and it's inspired at least one full-length book. Some reports set the number of flying furballs in the hundreds, while others cite fewer. Numbers aside, there's no disputing that a lot of dogs have died at this bridge, and no one knows exactly why.

Sometimes dogs survive the fall but suffer terrible injuries. Others perish soon after their plunges. In at least one instance, a dog allegedly jumped from the bridge, survived, ran up the slope and then jumped off once again. But what's inspiring this rash of jumps?

The Sweet Smell of Wild Animals

In 2010, animal behaviorist David Sands visited the bridge and concluded that dogs certainly weren't killing themselves on purpose. He figured that since most of the dogs that jump are long-nosed types with especially keen odor tracking skills, wild animal scent may be a trigger.

Perhaps the dogs can smell or see wild creatures scurrying below the bridge, noted Sands. And maybe the bridge's construction, which has tapered edges, might make it look like a safe, flat plane from a dog's point of view, also contributes to their confusion.

In his documentary about the bridge mystery, Sands says, "I think it's highly likely in all the cases here at Overtoun Bridge that it was curiosity that killed the dog."

Still, this part of the country is full of superstitious folks. Some of them believe that there are paranormal factors at work, driving the dogs to jump to their deaths.

One theory is that a grieving widow, the "White Lady of Overtoun" maintains a ghostly presence at the bridge, stirring the dogs into a death frenzy.

Another, even darker take, harkens to a terrible event that occurred in 1994. It was that year that a 32-year-old father threw his own baby – whom he was certain was the anti-Christ – into the gorge below. The baby died the following day, and the father was declared insane and committed to an institution.

Locals say that dogs, in almost every case, tend to jump from the same spot that the baby was thrown from. Perhaps, they say, the terrible ordeal left a supernatural rift of sorts that affects dog behavior.

Whatever the case, scientists don't seem to believe that dogs are intentionally offing themselves because their Prozac prescriptions ran out. Suicide is more of a creation of the human condition.

Until the mystery is solved, perhaps local dog walkers should consider mandatory leash laws for anyone who approaches the bridge.

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