Thursday, April 5, 2012


Bridge draws dogs to jump to death

The Dallas Morning News

MILTON, Scotland - (KRT) - Donna Cooper still has no idea why her normally obedient border collie, Ben, leaped to his death this spring off a tall rural bridge in Milton without any warning or apparent rationale. "Ben's feet never touched the wall," she said, referring to the waist-high, 18-inch-thick barrier that has been hurdled - inexplicably and with a near certainty of death - by scores of dogs during the past three decades. "He just went straight over."

Maybe it's the whistle of the wind from distant Loch Lomond, or the fabled "white lady" who is said to haunt an adjacent mansion or the rustle of tree branches next to a nearby waterfall.
Nobody knows for sure, but something strange is causing dogs to jump off the Overtoun Estate bridge, west of Glasgow, at an alarming rate. Most are killed by the 60-foot fall or are so severely injured that veterinarians must put them to sleep. Others have survived, only to come back and try again.

The mystery has prompted investigations by an animal behaviorist and the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Even a group of paranormal researchers visited recently. None has found a plausible explanation.

"Dogs don't commit suicide. People do," said Joyce Stuart, a professional animal behaviorist with 16 years of experience. "Dogs are survivors, born survivors. Everything dogs do is for a reason. ... They're not stupid like we are."

So why, she asks, have dogs been leaping off the bridge at rates reportedly as high as one per month during the past 20 or 30 years?

The bridge itself provides precious few clues. Built in the 1890s, the one-lane span arches over a leafy ravine and waterfall. Several semicircular alcoves jut outward from the walls at 20-foot intervals.

An athletic dog might be tempted to jump onto the wall to view surrounding woodlands. Cooper said she thinks maybe Ben was searching for her toddler daughter, who was hiding in one of the alcoves at the time.

The bridge lies within the grounds of the 85-acre Overtoun Estate. The name has been traced back to the 14th century in reference to a large tract of pastureland near Loch Lomond.

Built in the 1860s by industrialist James White, the mansion fell into disrepair during the Depression. For 22 years, it was a maternity hospital. Then it was occupied by a succession of Christian missionary groups.

Bob Hill, a Christian missionary from Fort Worth, Texas, is renovating the mansion to provide a retreat for inner-city youth. He said at least three frantic dog owners have knocked on his door asking for help after their dogs jumped off the bridge. Nevertheless, he contends that such incidents are being exaggerated by the news media.

Hill thinks the dogs are distracted by the waterfall or by the many gray squirrels that frolic along the bridge. His own two dogs have never been tempted to jump, he said.

As proprietor of the estate, Hill said he has become acutely aware of the international attention surrounding his bridge.

"I got a call from a friend of mine in Alabama a while back," Hill recalled. "He said: 'Bob, you're not going to believe this. You've got dogs jumping off your bridge committing suicide.' " He smiled broadly, then frowned as he noticed that none of the other investigators appreciated his attempt at humor.

Stuart ignored his remarks, continuing to peer into the abyss below in search of an answer.
Just as animal behaviorists reject the notion that dogs would commit suicide, they also discount the suicide myths surrounding whale beachings or lemmings plunging enmasse off a cliff.Whale beaching, experts say, could be explained by the tendency of some whales to travel in groups and follow their pod leader. If the leader becomes ill and disoriented, he could become beached at low tide. Other whales following him would suffer a similar fate.

Marine biologists also suggest that whales can become disoriented by sonar from military vessels. The theory arose in 2000 when seven whales beached themselves in the Bahamas immediately after the U.S. Navy had conducted a sonar operation in the area.

Similarly, experts dismiss the "lemming suicide plunge" as pure fiction created by none other than Walt Disney in a 1958 film, "White Wilderness." The lemmings' "cliff death-plunge" was created by placing the rodents atop a snow-covered, spinning turntable. The centrifugal force pushed the lemmings toward the edge of an artificial cliff, making them appear to jump.

"It's easy to understand why the filmmakers did this," wrote Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki, a scientist and commentator for the Australian Broadcasting Corp. "Wild animals are notoriously uncooperative, and a migration of doom followed by a cliff-of-death sequence is far more dramatic to show" than the lemmings' relatively boring - but real - migration pattern.

450 Sheep Jump to Their Deaths in Turkey

Turkish Shepherds Stunned As 450 Sheep Jump to Their Deaths
The Associated Press Jul. 9, 2005 - First one sheep jumped to its death. Then stunned Turkish shepherds, who had left the herd to graze while they had breakfast, watched as nearly 1,500 others followed, each leaping off the same cliff, Turkish media reported.

In the end, 450 dead animals lay on top of one another in a billowy white pile, the Aksam newspaper said. Those who jumped later were saved as the pile got higher and the fall more cushioned, Aksam reported.

Nevzat Bayhan, a member of one of 26 families whose sheep were grazing together in the herd, was quoted as saying by Aksam.

The estimated loss to families in the town of Gevas, located in Van province in eastern Turkey, tops $100,000, a significant amount of money in a country where average GDP per head is around $2,700.

"Every family had an average of 20 sheep," Aksam quoted another villager, Abdullah Hazar as saying. "But now only a few families have sheep left. It's going to be hard for us."

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