Diagnosing doggy depression is tough. It’s not as though they’re capable of telling you they’re down in the dumps. What would canine counselling look like? After all, once you’ve fed them and scratched behind their ears you’ve really exhausted all your options.
But we had noticed some subtle signs: Pawpy, formerly a fat, frisky terrier, was now sluggish and sulky. Distrustful of strangers and apathetic towards walkies, each day she’d settle into her basket with a long sigh, only trudging out when she needed to pee. Her ears drooped. Her tail wagged no longer. She just didn’t care.
There was only one way to determine whether or not Pawpy’s depression was irreversible: visit the infamous Overtoun Bridge.
Twenty minutes’ drive from Glasgow, Scotland, Overtoun Bridge is entirely unremarkable… apart from one important detail. Over the last few decades, dogs have been leaping off the bridge to meet a violent, painful end on the rocks 50 feet below. Nobody knows why. We’re not just talking about the occasional falling pooch here; over 50 dogs have vaulted Overtoun Bridge and plummeted to their deaths since the 1950s. At least one dog dies here every year.
Nothing connects these suicidal animals apart from the fact that they’re all long-snouted breeds that bound off the North side. In one case, a dog survived the fall, only to climb back up and jump again. Various explanations, including the smell of mink urine, have been provided for these inexplicable pet fatalities, but none are conclusive. The bridge remains a perplexing, unaccountable phenomenon.
If Pawpy really was depressed, I reasoned, then the surest way to find out would be to take her to the bridge, let her off the leash, and see if she jumped. If she didn’t want to live anymore then this would give her a chance to take the fatal plunge. The only problem was that my other dog, Mac, who is demonstrably stupid, would have to tag along too.
I drove two hours from my family home to the gothic-looking manor on a grey, drizzly afternoon. The closer we got to the bridge the more worried I became. My palms felt clammy, the two dogs sat in the back seat, panting and docile. Pawpy didn’t seem bothered.
By the time we arrived at the bridge my anxiety was out of control. I pulled into the car park, leaving Mac and Pawpy for a moment to read a little pamphlet provided by the tourism board. As I flicked through it, a woman walking two collies crossed the road. This cheered me up as she didn’t seem worried at all.
“Do you think they’ll jump” I asked, grinning.
“What?” She asked.
“You taking them to the suicide bridge?” I asked, my smile slipping.
She shot me an angry look. Obviously she didn’t know what I was talking about. I stared at my shoes until she was gone. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” I thought.
I was feeling really worried now. I had a horrible feeling I’d made a terrible mistake coming here. Trembling, I took the dogs out the car and led them down the little gravel path to the eerie bridge of weathered sandstone where so many pets had died.
We walked halfway across. Far below me, I could hear the sound of running water. Shaking, I stooped down to fumble at Pawpy’s collar. I stroked her head as she stared intently, wearing an expression I’d never seen a dog wear before. My heart was hammering. I was afraid. Gritting my teeth I said goodbye, slipped off the leash and let her go free…
… and nothing happened. Nothing. Pawpy sniffed around the alcoves for a moment or so, and then promptly trotted across to the other side. Mac, the idiot dog, didn’t even seem to notice he was on a bridge. If Pawpy was suicidal, she had a funny way of showing it.
I was relieved; happy Pawpy had decided to choose life. I took her for a long walk in the woods, throwing sticks into the bushes, before heading back to the tea room to feed them both scones. Pawpy looked quite content and so was I.
On the way back to the car I spotted the other dog owner. I waved. She didn’t wave back. “Ah, go jump off a bridge,” I thought.