The Dog Suicide Bridge

For at least 70 years, dogs crossing the Overtoun Bridge in West Dumbartonshire, Scotland have been strangely compelled to jump from the bridge, often to their deaths. Many witnesses have reported that the dogs invariably jump off the bridge at the same spot.

Built in 1895, the Overtoun Bridge provided access to Overtoun House. The bridge comprises three arches, with a central arch spanning a deep ravine and the Overtoun Burn that flows beneath it, with two smaller arches on either side. Locals reportedly began referring to Overtoun Bridge as the ‘bridge of death’ or the ‘dog suicide bridge’ in the 1950s. At least 50 dogs have jumped to their death from the bridge, with between 300 and 600 having jumped but survived the fall. In at least one incident, a dog that survived the jump circled back up to the bridge and leapt off again. Many owners described their dog initially freezing or staring at something the owner is unable to see, then jumping up onto the parapet of the bridge before either jumping or falling off.

Overtoun Bridge and House. Image: David Souza

Some locals attribute a supernatural cause to the phenomenon. Many believe that the bridge is what is known as a ‘thin place’ in Celtic mythology, spots where the heavens and the earth overlap a little, allowing supernatural influences to seep through. Others state that the grounds of Overtoun house are haunted by ‘the white lady of Overtoun’. The house was first built by James White, a Scottish lawyer and businessman who is memorialised with a statue in Glasgow’s Cathedral Square. The house was then inherited by his son, John White, and his wife. When John died in 1884, his wife lived in the house as a widow for some 30 years, and her long grief is said to have caused her spirit to linger on. Sightings of her ghost have been reported peering out of windows or walking the grounds, and some locals believe it is her presence that causes dogs to jump from the bridge. Paul Owens, a religion and philosophy teacher from nearby Glasgow, has studied the site for 11 years and believes that a ghost that dogs are able to perceive, while humans cannot, is responsible for them jumping from the bridge.

Several studies have been carried out to find the cause of the phenomenon. An SSPCA investigation was inconclusive, but a similar investigation by the RSPB found that the area of the bridge where dogs tend to jump from contains nests of mice, squirrel and mink. Further tests found that when presented with canisters of mouse, squirrel and mink scent, 70% of dogs were attracted to the mink sample, sometimes dramatically so.

An American mink. Image: Patrick Reijnders

A 2014 investigation by canine psychologist David Sands drew a similar conclusion, adding that the foliage to either side of the bridge also disguises the distance to the bottom of the ravine. From a dog’s limited perspective, it is likely not apparent that there is a drop on the other side of the parapet at all until it is too late. Overtoun House is now owned by American couple Bob and Melissa Hill, who have witnessed several dogs jumping from the bridge and generally agree with the theory that they are attracted to the scent of mink. However Bob, a former Texas pastor, believes that there is a ‘spiritual quality’ to the bridge and grounds of his home. Some locals have rubbished the findings, stating that there are no wild mink in that area of Scotland.

In October 1994, a further tragedy unfolded on Overtoun Bridge. Former lab technician David Moy and his wife took their newborn son, Eoghan, for a walk across the bridge. David, who had been suffering from depression, suddenly flung his son over the parapet, who fell 42ft to the ravine below. He then attempted to jump himself, but was dragged back by his wife. After being taken into Overtoun House to await police, he attempted suicide again by slashing his wrists with a kitchen knife, but survived. Bystanders climbed down to rescue Eoghan, but the infant died the following day in hospital.

Moy later told police that a birthmark on his son’s forehead was the mark of the devil, and that he had to kill both his son and himself in order to save the world. Moy was found not guilty by reason of insanity at his trial, and confined indefinitely at the State Hospital, a high security psychiatric hospital in Lanarkshire, Scotland. Some locals claim that the spot dogs tend to jump from is the same location that Moy threw his young son to his death.

Overtoun Bridge remains open to the public, and is still a popular dog-walking site. Some owners whose dogs have been killed or injured later stated that they didn’t believe the phenomenon was real, or that it wouldn’t happen to their dog. A sign on the approach to the bridge warns of the danger and that dogs should be kept on a lead.

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