The future of St Bernard rescue dogs in the southwest of Switzerland has been secured.
A new foundation is to look after them and a former Geneva private banker is donating SFr4 million ($3.49 million) to build a museum for them in the town of Martigny.
Two months ago, Swiss monks announced that they would be selling their dogs because they did not have the resources to look after them.
The dogs have long been a fixture at the St Bernard Hospice, which is located at an altitude of almost 2,500 metres on a pass that leads to Italy.
It is estimated that they have rescued more than 2,000 travellers and avalanche victims over the years.
Since the announcement of the sale, several sponsors have come forward to secure the future of the descendants of Barry – the renowned rescue dog born in 1800 who saved 41 lives.
In future, a new foundation called “Barry” will breed the dogs. The president of the Swiss St Bernard club, Rudolf Thomann, will run the foundation, which will be created on January 1 thanks to a contribution from a Basel artist.
It will work closely with another foundation to be named after Bernard and Caroline de Wattewille, who are investing up to SFr5 million to build the museum.
They are also willing to cover any operating losses for the first ten years.
The “Barry” foundation intends to show six St Bernard dogs outside the museum every day.
Inside, the museum will provide families and children with an interactive and didactic look at the life of St Bernard dogs. Located in the former arsenal of Martigny, the museum is expected to open its doors in the spring of 2006.
A former private banker in Geneva, de Watteville told a news conference in Martigny on Thursday that he wanted to “preserve and bring to life” the history of the St Bernard dog.
The town of Martigny is also participating in the project, putting buildings at the disposal of the foundations and building access roads and a car park.
swissinfo with agencies
The first dogs were probably kept at the St Bernard Hospice between 1660 and 1670.
Their initial purpose was that of watchdog.
The dogs from the hospice are nearly always described as being exceptionally big. But they are probably considerably smaller than modern Saint Bernards.
They have never carried a small cask of brandy to help revive people in the snow. This was a detail added by 19th century artists and writers.