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Over the last 50 years, many dogs have jumped to death from Overtoun Bridge in Scotland for no apparent reason. There are many popular explanations for this weird phenomenon. According to one of them, dogs commit suicide because of depression. Could this ever be possible? Can dogs (or animals in general) commit suicide?

  • Your Wikipedia link points to this, which suggests the smell of minks is to blame. – Oliver_C May 9 '11 at 16:44
  • Unfortunately it appears that the experiment performed to investigate the phenomenon had no control group and is thus not meaningful. The experimenter "distributed odour from all three species [squirrel, mink, and mouse] in a field and unleashed ten dogs - of the varieties which have died at the bridge - to see which one most interested them." – Jason Plank May 9 '11 at 20:58
  • If they wanted to know whether dogs are attracted to squirrel, mouse or mink, yes, a control would be more important, but here their hypothesis is specifically about the mink. It'd be better with a control, certainly, but I don't think it's a deal-breaker. I'd be more worried about the unnecessary lack of blinding and the fact that they did not rearrange the poles between trials. – Joel Rein May 10 '11 at 10:57
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    @Jason Plank: fair point, I was focusing on the poles rather than the dogs. But you'd need a more refined experiment to properly test the difference between short- and long-nosed dogs, because short-nosed dogs may go for the mink if given a choice but not go for it enthusiastically enough to jump off a bridge chasing it. – Joel Rein May 10 '11 at 12:16
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    From that wikipedia resource: "The female owner went out for the day while the dog remained at home. The owner was instructed to return home at a time chosen by the researcher and to do so in a taxi so as not to provide any familiar car sounds. Just 11 seconds after she was told to go home, the dog moved to the window, where it could look out and await her arrival. It remained there the entire 15 minutes it took the woman to travel home, proving, says Dr Sheldrake, that thoughts and intentions can be transmitted to dogs." What a joke. – Alain Jul 4 '11 at 13:42
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There is only one documented case of a dog who had to be euthanised after jumping from the bridge due to injuries sustained.

There is no other documented evidence to suggest many or even a few dogs have leapt to their deaths from the bridge. So there is nothing to investigate. No dog deaths = no phenomenon. It's an interesting story, but not founded on fact.

Brian Dunning from the Skeptoid Podcast actually made the effort to ask around, including the owners of Overtoun House and a local vet who has only treated four dogs after leaping from the bridge.

In many of the stories I cover here on Skeptoid, it turns out that there's a person somewhere who obsessively collects every piece of data pertaining to their particular mystery: every newspaper clipping, every photograph, everything that anyone knows. When I find such a person, I often learn something new that's never made it into the popular telling of the story. And so, since every version of the Overtoun Bridge story I came across simply retold the same old vague facts, I tried to find the Overtoun Bridge guru. Professor Google did not seem to know of one. I spoke with the Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce; they did not know of either a local historian or of any records of dog jumps. I spoke with the Dog Warden for West Dunbartonshire Council; nothing. I even spoke with the Community Sergeant at the Dumbarton Police Office; she did not know of any such records. Finally, I went straight to the source.

Overtoun House is now a bed and breakfast that supports a Christian shelter for local young women down on their luck. It's run by Bob and Melissa Hill, missionaries from Fort Worth, Texas. At the time I contacted them, they'd been there for over ten years, and I found them happy to share what they know of Rover's Leap. Turns out, it's not much. In those ten years, they've heard of three dogs who jumped, two of which walked away, and one of which was later euthanized due to his injuries. Those three include Ben the border collie and one other, Kenneth Meikle's golden retriever Hendrix, who jumped but survived uninjured. This number dovetails pretty well with that given by a doctor at the local Glenbrae Veterinary Clinic, who has treated four dogs who were injured in falls from the bridge over the past thirteen years.

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