Swiss ski resort bans selfies with iconic Saint Bernard dogs

GENEVA (AFP) - If there is one photo to take home from Switzerland, it is probably a selfie featuring iconic Saint Bernard dogs against the snow-covered backdrop of the Matterhorn peak.

But such photo-ops are now over.

The popular ski resort of Zermatt has banned tourists from posing for photos with the famed search and rescue dog, following complaints that some of the Saint Bernards were kept in miserable conditions.

Swiss animal protection group PSA had called for the ban, saying that some dogs used in Zermatt were not taken for walks and were left "for long periods without food or water".

"They are made to wait long hours in the cold outdoors for photographs," said PSA in a report.

Five of the Saint Bernards were also kept in a decrepit house "in miserable conditions and against animal protection laws," added PSA, which filed a formal complaint against the owners of one such business offering photo-ops with the emblematic animals.

The head of Zermatt commune Christoph Burgin, told AFP that the ban took immediate effect, although some contracts with Japanese visitors "may involve one or more photo shoots this summer".

PSA has volunteered to take in any ill-treated dogs and a foundation which breeds Saint Bernards in a nearby monastery too has made a similar offer.

Saint Bernards, which are often depicted with a barrel of rum under the neck, were bred for mountain rescue.

Even though lighter and nimbler dogs like Alsatians are now used more often in search and rescue missions, Saint Bernards, which can weigh up to 85kg, are still regularly given avalanche rescue training.

Switzerland has one of the world's toughest animal protection laws.

Social animals such as budgies have to be kept in pairs and those wanting to get rid of a goldfish cannot simply flush it down the toilet - it must be knocked out, killed and then properly disposed of.

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