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Tuesday, 6 February, 2001, 12:36 GMT
Swiss SOS for St Bernards
St Bernard dog
St Bernards: Friendly, quick growing and large
By Elizabeth Blunt

Swiss dog lovers have petitioned their government to intervene with the Chinese authorities to prevent St Bernard Mountain dogs - one of Switzerland's national symbols - being bred in China for food.

Dog meat is considered a delicacy in China and some other parts of East Asia, and commercial producers are starting to breed St Bernards for the table.

Italian rescue team
Rescuers still use dogs to sniff out avalanche victims
But the huge, shaggy-coated St Bernard is a Swiss national legend - appearing out of a blizzard to rescue benighted travellers, with a welcome little barrel of brandy hanging round its neck.

And although mountain rescue these days is more likely to come by helicopter, every Swiss child has been raised on stories of this gallant and heroic breed.

Swiss anguish

So imagine the dismay in Switzerland when the Chinese press started carrying articles recommending the St Bernard to those breeding dogs for food.

The dogs are large and meaty, they grow fast, breed well and have friendly temperaments - so they don't bite their handlers.

In vain the manager of China's largest St Bernard breeding centre tried to make things better by explaining that the point wasn't to eat the St Bernards - they were far too valuable, and were only being used to cross breed with local dogs.

In vain too to protest that the St Bernards he imported were not even from Switzerland - the mountain dogs were much cheaper in Russia and Kazakhstan.

The cultural gulf is unbridgeable; the Swiss do not eat dog, and they won't countenance anyone eating St Bernards.

Eleven thousand people signed the petition which SOS St Bernard presented to the government in Berne, saying it couldn't remain indifferent to the animals' fate.

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