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Last Updated: Friday, 8 October, 2004, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
Monks seek homes for St Bernards
St Bernard dog
Stories of the dogs rescuing travellers are now legend
Wanted: Home for 64kg-worth of shaggy, doe-eyed dog, used to long walks in the Swiss Alps, brandy keg optional.

Monks at the St Bernard's Hospice in the Swiss Alps are planning to sell the world-famous rescue dogs to devote more time to needy people.

The skills of the 18 dogs, renowned for saving avalanche victims from snowy graves, have long been overtaken by helicopters and heat-seeking equipment.

But the new owners must promise to bring the dogs back each year.

The hospice, run by Augustine monks, stands at 2,438 metres (8,000 ft) - the highest point of the pass where the Swiss Entremont and the Italian Buthier valleys meet.

The monastery was founded in 1050 by Saint Bernard of Montjou. The first record of dogs being used there dates back to 1703, with stories of dogs being involved in rescues from then on.

The famous barrel of brandy attached to the collar of a St Bernard is said to be a legend invented by storytellers.


The huge, shaggy dogs are said to have saved the lives of about 2,500 travellers over the past few hundred years - but they have not performed that role for the last 50 years.

Instead, the legendary dogs remain a symbol of the hospice and are popular among tourists visiting in the summer months.

But Brother Frederic, from the hospice, said the dogs required a lot of time and energy.

"There are only four of us monks now," he told Reuters news agency. "Maybe we need to spend more time with people who ask for it."

The dogs, which can weigh up to 64kg, no longer spend the winter on the mountain and are looked after in a nearby town by an employee of the monks.

The Swiss St Bernard Association says the sale of the dogs will only mean ownership of them changes.

One of the conditions set by the monks is that the dogs' new owners bring them back in summertime.

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