At the front of the cemetery is a cenotaph dedicated to the memory of Barry the St. Bernard. There is a certain amount of confusion about the monument, which is only compounded by the inscription. The monument depicts a husky St. Bernard with a child on its back. The inscription reads: He saved the lives of 40 people and was killed by the 41st.
In fact, the real Barry was a Kuherhund, quite a large dog (about 90-100 pounds), but a Kuherhund doesn’t have the bulk of a modern-day St. Bernard (140-190 pounds). The real Barry died of old age after being retired around 1812. However, the story of Barry is certainly worthy of a monument.
Around the end of the seventeenth century, the Great St. Bernard Hospice in southern Switzerland (about halfway between Turin, Italy, and Bern, Switzerland) began using a breed of dog known at the time as a Kuherhund, or cowherd’s dog. The Kuherhunds were used as rescue dogs at the monastery and were specially trained to find people trapped or injured in the snow, lick them until they woke up, and provide warmth. Barry is credited with saving 40 lives. His most famous rescue was a boy he had found asleep in a cavern of ice. Barry licked the boy awake and somehow maneuvered the boy onto his back and brought him back to safety. That image is the one represented by the statue at Le Cimetiere des Chiens, and has also been used on countless drawings, souvenir sculptures and books.
After a dozen years of service at the Great St. Bernard Hospice, Barry was retired and brought by a monk to Bern, Switzerland. When Barry died in 1814, his skin was removed by a taxidermist and a model of him was placed in the Natural History Museum of Bern. During the ensuing decades,
Barry’s skin lost some of its vigor and what became known as the St. Bernard breed got bigger and bigger and their heads became slightly stubbier. Barry was given a total makeover in 1923 (at this point his skin had essentially disintegrated). The new taxidermist gave Barry a look that is more in keeping with what St. Bernard’s look like today. He also added the famous barrel around his neck, which wasn’t used during Barry’s time. The barrel was removed in 1978 but reinstalled a few years later. Although the Great St. Bernard Hospice still has St. Bernards, they are now strictly for show, since their modern weight often causes them to sink into the snow rather than trudge through it.