Italy, Earthquake: When Animals Are Heroes Too

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Pescara del Tronto (Italy) August 24th 2016, 3.36 a.m. - three meters of rubble and debris collapse and cover Giorgia. The eight year old girl is fast asleep when the devastating earthquake that shook central Italy hit.

Leo, a labrador retriever is at work with Police, searching for injured people and survivors. The dog identifies a spot and rescuers begin digging. Giorgia's parents are hurt, but alive. Shortly after, her little sister's lifeless body is brought to the surface. Desperation. Leo continues to indicate the same site. One broken brick, one lacerated piece of cement after another, the search continues. Then, a little foot emerges. It moves. After 16 hours Giorgia is alive. Tears of joy overwhelm Italy from north to south. Tears are falling as I write. Leo's job is far from over.

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Leo and Police Officer Search For Survivors

Ascoli Piceno (Italy) August 27th 2016 - the first funerals of some of the victims of the earthquake are held. Andrea and his precious cocker spaniel were "inseparable". As family and friends say goodbye for the last time, Andrea's dog is given the chance to do the same. A piece of the man's heart remains, it lives through the pup and consoles the tears of a mother sentenced to outlive her son. The common pain for the loss of a loved one bonds the little dog and the woman. Together they crouch close to Andrea's casket. Together they mourn. Together they will find a way to go on.

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Andrea's Family With His "Inseperable" Spaniel

Porto San Giorgio, region of Marche (Italy) August 24th 1.30 a.m. - My family and I are are in bed, asleep. Our own cocker spaniel, Stella, is whimpering. I open my eyes. She's staring at me from the side of the bed. She jumps up and licks my hand and arm: "Ok, I'm up. Do you need out?". I open the window that leads to the garden. She runs out but half way down the steps she stops and turns to see if I'm following. Then, she scampers back inside: "Are you hungry? In the middle of the night?" No, it's not that either, she goes nowhere near her food bowl. I pull up a chair to sit outside. The dog sits beside me, right by my legs, as though she's waiting for someone or something. After about 20 minutes I decide to go back to bed. Stella continues to roam around the house, back and forth, from the kid's bedroom to ours. The next time I open my eyes the bed is shaking, bouncing up and down. My husband and I jump to our feet. It's dark. What's happening? Oh my God, an earthquake! Get the kids! Get dressed! We can hear rumbling. It's like being dizzy. Glass is rattling, wood is cracking, we have to get out! Why isn't it stopping? Stella howls. She howled pretty much non stop between the first shock and the following two aftershocks.

As I go over the peculiar experience in my mind, I can't help but wonder; could it be that our dog sensed the danger? Could it be that she felt the earth moving below us before any human being, before any instrument ever could? Given that I don't believe Stella has superpowers I did read that certain animals may be able to pick up "infrasonic" sound pulses like those related, for example, to an earthquake. Animal's senses are more developed than ours. There may be a logic to this, even if real scientific evidence does not seem to exist and it is not possible to prove the nudge many people who have lived similar experiences have. After the horrific moment we all went through here in Italy I truly believe it would be worth the while to investigate further into the matter.

Now, the country struggles to overcome. A feeling of deep gratitude floods me. I feel moved, I feel the desire to reach out and help those in need, whether they be people or animals. I feel love in a time of overwhelming grief. It seems that wherever there are animals, human beings shine. The inner beauty we all posses thrives. Dogs, cats, birds... bring out empathy. They bring us back to the values that really matter in life: kindness, a smile, being there for one another as brothers and sisters, without boundaries and walls, rather with unity and mutual respect.

Animals do all this, unaware of the great deed they accomplish by honoring us of their friendship. Since the earthquake struck dogs alone rescued 60 people.They save lives and in return are happy to receive nothing more than our caress.

My deepest thanks to all the volunteers whom are working hard to rescue pets and other animals left without or in search of their families and homes. Your work is inestimable and deserves the support of the entire community.

In loving memory of all the living beings (humans and animals alike) who lost their lives during the earthquake that struck central Italy on August 24th, 2016.