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?
“I’ve walked the bridge,” says Jenna, 20, from Glasgow. “The first time I reached a point, and it was as if the air got thinner and my stomach jumped, a bit like when you miss a step going down a flight of stairs. The second time, I just couldn’t stop feeling like something bad was going to happen. There was a woman with a dog at the edge of the bridge, and the dog would not take a step forward. Later, I found out that a couple of dogs had jumped to their death from the bridge that weekend.”
The bridge in question, Overtoun Bridge, spans the Overtoun Burn, in the village of Milton, near Dumbarton in West Dunbartonshire, Scotland. Designed by the acclaimed landscape architect HE Milner, with stone parapets 18 inches thick, it was completed in 1895 and sits on the approach road to Overtoun House, a Scot’s Baronial country house and estate built 33 years prior. The house itself sits on a hill, overlooking the River Clyde. If you’ve never been there, you might know it from its use in 2012’s baffling sci-fi epic, Cloud Atlas.
The house is said to be haunted, obviously. In Scotland, everything old and Scottish is said to be haunted. But the bridge? There’s supposedly much more to it than just a garden-variety haunting.
“Local people have mixed feelings about the bridge. There are some who are too frightened to walk their dog over and it and avoid it completely. I’ve never wanted to go back after the experience I had. They need to put up a fence or something, they really do.”Jenna, 20yrs from Glasgow
The Sweet Smell of Wild Animals
In 2010, animal behaviorist David Sands visited the bridge and theorised 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 unwell 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.
Yet, whatever is going on in Milton, it’s not humans who are at risk so much as dogs, which has brought the area notoriety in Weird News circles around the globe. Since the 1950s, around 50 dogs have died after leaping off the 50-foot-tall bridge. During the same period, some 600 dogs have made the same jump and survived. Sometimes the dogs have made the jump, survived, come back up and jumped again as soon as they could.
Until the mystery is solved, perhaps local dog walkers should consider mandatory leash laws for anyone who approaches the bridge.