GENEVA – Swiss philanthropists are giving $4.15 million to keep the famed Saint Bernard rescue dogs on the mountain pass that gave them their name, a key advocate said Friday.
Rudolf Thomann, president of the Swiss Saint Bernard Club, said two foundations were being created to buy and care for the dogs and build a museum dedicated to their exploits in saving some 2,000 travelers over the past 200 years on the Saint Bernard Pass on the border with Italy.
The brothers of the religious order that has kept the dogs on mountain pass since the late 1600s said earlier this year that maintaining the kennels had become too much of a financial burden.
Thomann said in a telephone interview that the would run one organization, the Barry of the Great Saint Bernard Foundation, which will buy nearly 20 dogs from the religious order, the Congregation of Canons of the Great Saint Bernard.
He said the foundation would buy the dogs probably at the end of January, but that they would continue to spend winters in a kennel in the city of Martigny in the valley below the pass and take turns at the monastery during the summer.
“That was a condition of the monks,” said Thomann. “They would sell only under the condition that during the summer months when the pass road is open the dogs would continue to be up there.”
He said the foundation would work in partnership with a second foundation, which was created Thursday by former Geneva private banker Bernard de Watteville and his wife, Caroline. De Watteville said he would give at least $3.5 million.
The De Watteville foundation is building a museum in Martigny that will provide a place for visitors to see – but not touch – the dogs, which will be visible below a walkway outdoors or behind glass indoors, Thomann said.