The Dog Suicide Bridge
Residents of Dumbarton, which is northwest of Glasgow began calling Overtoun, a century-old bridge that stretches across a 50 ft gorge, the “dog suicide bridge” since the 1960s.
In a country filled with superstitions, myths, and monsters – residents of the area are asking why do so many dogs jump off the bridge. Local researchers estimate more than 300 dogs have jumped off the bridge; at least 50 dogs are said to have died.
Some say there are rational explanations involving the terrain and the scent of other mammals in the gorge that may drive the dogs into a frenzy. Other explanations take on a more paranormal explanation.
The bridge’s location fits the description of what the pagan Celts called a “thin place”, a mesmerizing spot where heaven and earth overlap.
The dog suicide leaps inspired an episode of the Science Channel's, THE UNEXPLAINED FILES, Scottish bridge leads dogs to their death in 2014.
From a distance, it seems as if the ornate Victorian bridge, 1895, is an extension of the driveway of an adjoining 19th-century manor built in Dumbarton by a wealthy industrialist, James White. The bridge’s three archways span a small river, the Overtoun Burn. Standing in the middle, on the bridge’s blackened granite parapets, it is easy to forget that space beneath falls away into the deep gorge.
Bob Hill, the current tenant in the manor said for the last 17 years he and his wife had seen several dogs suddenly dive off the bridge since they moved into the property, now called Overtoun House.
But Hill, a pastor from Texas who runs a local crisis center for women, has an earthbound explanation: the smell of small animals scurrying around in the gorge below the bridge drives the dogs into a frenzy, then they break free of leashes – if they’re on any – and jump. “The dogs catch the scent of mink, pine martens or some other mammal, and then they will jump up on the wall of the bridge,” Hill says. “And because the wall is tapered, they will just topple over.” He feels, the Overtoun grounds are...“more spiritual than other parts”.
Paul Owens, a teacher of religion and philosophy in Glasgow, grew up in a town close to the bridge and recently published a book about the mystery. When it comes to an explanation for the leaping dogs, he is firmly in the supernatural camp. “After 11 years of research, I’m convinced it’s a ghost that is behind all of this,” he said while sitting outside a pub on a drizzly day in Glasgow.
Owens’ theory is popular among some local residents, who grew up hearing stories about the “White Lady of Overtoun”, also known as the grieving widow of John White.
In 2010, animal behaviorist David Sands investigated the phenomenon and ruled out the possibility that the animals were deliberately killing themselves. His experiments at the bridge found that dogs – especially long-nosed breeds – were drawn to the scent of mammals below. Sands theorized that the dogs’ limited perspective, their ignorance that the path changes from level ground to a bridge spanning a deep gorge, and the smells wafting through the air probably enticed the dogs to jump. But even he acknowledged that the bridge has a “strange feeling”.
Some residents found his theory plausible, but many people question why the phenomenon does not occur at the same rate at other bridges in Britain where mammals roam below. Despite the macabre reputation, the Overtoun grounds remain a popular dog-walking area, and many of the animals are off-leash. “Many people don’t believe in the story until they see it for themselves, and even then they don’t think it will happen to them,” says Hill.
One day, Emma Dunlop, who says she had heard “the horror stories”, took her Labrador retriever Ginger for a walk to Overtoun anyway. She did not let him out of her station wagon until he was on a leash. “He’s never tried to jump,” she says, “but sometimes he freezes or hesitates when he gets on the bridge, so I’m always careful.”
Ginger jumped from the car, raced around his owner, and headed straight towards Overtoun Bridge, crossing it without any hesitation. But then Ginger froze, looking back intently at something on the bridge, but there was nothing or no one to be seen by human eyes.