THEY are the breed that became famous for rescuing stricken climbers, and now a dog lover has repaid some of that debt by going to the aid of a St Bernard called Basil.
The two-year-old had been languishing in appalling conditions in a pound in Cyprus but is now recovering well after barmaid Natalie Luckhurst raised more than £1,000 to fly him to the UK.
Basil tipped the scales at just 49kg – a healthy St Bernard should weigh 70kg – and could not sit down because of severe muscle wastage caused by a lack of exercise.
For eight months he was put into a 3x1 metre cage after becoming aggressive with other dogs at the pound in Nicosia, but this was only because he was hungry and trying to take their food.
But salvation was at hand when Miss Luckhurst, from Grimsby, saw a photograph of Basil on Facebook after the Cyprus Animal Liberation Front was alerted to his plight and began campaigning for his freedom.
After three months of wrangling with his “owners” and authorities in Cyprus, the pair finally met when Basil was flown into Manchester Airport two weeks ago.
Miss Luckhurst, 21, who received help from family, friends and the St Bernard Trust in raising the money, said: “It was so strange when I met him at the airport. I wasn’t sure what his behaviour or temperament would be like.
“But I’m so lucky because he’s the best dog I’ve ever met. He’s so friendly. He loves people, and I was worried he would be afraid of them.
“He’s loving and happy. He can push the boundaries a bit but you can tell someone’s hit him before because he does cower sometimes.”
It is thought Basil had been picked up by a dog warden after escaping from his home, and that the owner of the pound wanted to keep him as a guard dog.
He was treated for bacteria transmitted by ticks before being flown to the UK.