Leo, the dog from the Cinque Terre hotel who saved his master’s life

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(CNN) – Ten years ago, the Italian region of Cinque Terre was hit by a deadly flood.

On October 25, 2011, the five small fishing villages – which have long attracted tourists from all over the world – were hit by one of the worst floods the region has ever seen. Thirteen people were killed and many more lost their property and possessions. The streets of Vernazza, perhaps the most famous of the villages, were in mud right down to their feet.

Everyone in Cinque Terre has a story to tell about this terrible day. One of the most extraordinary comes from a local hotelier, Pierpaolo Paradisi. He says that on that fateful day his life was saved by his dog – the dog after which he has now named his hotel.

Today, Vernazza is back to its sparkling best, loved by tourists from all over the world.

Benard E / Andia / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

Leo’s Lodge is perched on the cliffs above Vernazza. It is part of Prevo – a small hamlet that sits directly on the Sentiero Azzurro – the famous “blue path” that tourists love to walk. It is said that three million visitors a year visit the five small villages that make up the Cinque Terre.

But ten years ago, Prevo and the Sentiero Azzuro were all but destroyed when mudslides rolled down the cliff, sweeping everything in their path and burying the streets below in mud and debris.

Paradisi – at the time an aspiring hotelier – worked in La Spezia, the gateway town to the Cinque Terre. Originally from Sardinia, he moved to Liguria 15 years ago. He was on a hiking vacation when, walking on Sentiero Azzuro, he came across Prevo. At that point it was ditched – and Paradisi immediately thought that could make a great hotel. He launched a massive renovation project – but, five years later, the flood arrived.

The cutie encounter

Pierpaolo and Leo have been inseparable since their first meeting.

Pierpaolo and Leo have been inseparable since their first meeting.

Julia Buckley / CNN

A month earlier he had had a dog, Leo, a puppy rescued from Serbia. While looking at Facebook over the summer, he had heard about a group of animal rights activists – Serbian models who brought stray cats and dogs to Italy every time they came to work.

“In the [Yugoslav] war, people had to give up their pets – dogs, cats, turtles – so they multiplied, ”explains Paradisi. “So at that point there was a problem with stray dogs.

The stray would be rounded up and taken to kennels, where, Paradisi says, they risked being euthanized if they had not been claimed within 48 hours.

Models would pay € 100 for each dog, but at the time, the average salary for Serbs was only € 250 per month, he says. Wanting to help the animals, he messaged the group, asking them to choose a dog for him.

“I said I just need a little one, because I use the train a lot,” he recalls.

They chose a small beige dog from Belgrade.

“Its story was special,” says Paradisi. “He was captured with his mother and sister, and they were killed in front of him.

“I have a photo of the cage he was in. Out of 48 dogs, this is the only one they saved.”

Leo, as Paradisi would call him, arrived in Liguria on September 25, 2011.

The day of the storm

Abnormal weather devastated the village of Vernazza, with mudslides drowning the streets.

Abnormal weather devastated the village of Vernazza, with mudslides drowning the streets.

Document / Italian Financial Police / AP

A month later, although dogs were banned from his office, he decided to take his new pet to work. A storm was already brewing in the area and he was uncomfortable leaving the dog at home.

“It was a transgression that saved my life,” he says.

By the time the couple arrived in La Spezia, the storm had already started – heavy rain, thunder and hail. Paradisi decided to leave early, fearing the weather would only get worse.

“Even in the first mile it changed – I’ve never seen it get worse like this before,” he says.

“There was a water tornado hitting the mountains, and I couldn’t even see a yard ahead. I had about a foot vision, so I was driving extremely slowly.”

Paradisi had put Leo in the back of his car for the 17 mile drive, and for the most part the dog had sat there in silence. Until, getting closer and closer to Prevo, as the car rounded the cliff, Leo made his move.

“He jumped in front and on my knees, so I had to stop,” says Paradisi.

“I was angry, I said, ‘Leo, I’m driving.'”

At that moment – just as he was trying to move the dog off his knees and start again – the cliff collapsed in front of them.

Thirteen people were killed in the 2011 disaster.

Thirteen people were killed in the 2011 disaster.

Marco Vasini / AP

“The mountain just collapsed, and the landslide even took away the asphalt and the guardrail. It almost hit the car. A meter down, and we would be gone,” he said.

Paradisi is convinced that Leo saved their lives.

Not that he realized it at the time. In shock, he said, he managed to turn around and make his way to Manarola, another of the Cinque Terre villages.

“It wasn’t until then that I realized what was going on,” he says.

“I called the police and they said, ‘You have to take care of yourself because there is nothing we can do, we are completely isolated, you have to try to find help.”

The couple slept in their car that night. The next day, with the road still destroyed, they tried to reach their home on foot – via the Sentiero Azzuro path which is today an idyllic walk for tourists. That day was far from idyllic.

“It was like a war zone,” Paradisi says. “There were five helicopters going around looking for the lost people. There was an overturned sailboat, and people were screaming, looking for more missing.

“Our house was okay but we couldn’t get there because a landslide cut it off.”

Not knowing what else to do, Paradisi called friends to tell them what had happened.

“They said, ‘It’s thanks to Leo that you’re alive.’ I hadn’t figured it out yet. “

Manage the hotel together

Prevo is located on the famous Sentiero Azzuro hiking trail, between Corniglia (photo) and Vernazza.

Prevo is located on the famous Sentiero Azzuro hiking trail, between Corniglia (photo) and Vernazza.

Giovanna Dell’Orto / AP

Today their home is a cliffside hotel with self-catering apartments, and the couple are inseparable.

Paradisi named the property Leo’s Lodge, and a dog tile is proudly attached to the door.

Leo plays the part of the accomplished host, greeting guests, escorting them to their rooms, and conducting regular security patrols of the property, which sits right on the main trail, and passing tourists by every minute.

He accompanies Paradisi every afternoon to collect the guests from the neighboring town of Corniglia in their Jeep.

“We’re together 24/7. I take her wherever I go, even to the dentist. The only place I can’t take her is in court,” explains Paradisi.

During this time, Leo’s fame spread widely. In 2012, the year following the flood, he received the first prize from the Premio Internazionale Fedeltà del Cane, or the International Dog Loyalty Award – he was chosen as “first among his peers” among 10 equally exceptional dogs.

Leo is co-manager of the lodge with Pierpaolo.

Leo is co-manager of the lodge with Pierpaolo.

Julia Buckley / CNN

Paradisi thinks it’s no coincidence that Leo stopped him from driving further that day.

He says that although he initially attributed it to fear on the part of the dog, experts believe there could be more than that.

“They can’t explain it scientifically, but they think some dogs have this ability – that dogs in pain [trauma] develop a seventh sense, ”says Paradisi.

“Dogs have 150 million scent receptors in their noses, humans have five million. They think it gives them the ability to sense danger, one way or another. They know it’s happening. something, even if we can not understand.

“They think in certain weather conditions they can smell something. The ozone that I use to sanitize rooms these days – that’s what you smell after thunder and lightning. So dogs probably can. smell smells that we can’t smell in such strong weather The smell, combined with the hail and thunder, must have made him realize that he had to stop.

“If he had just been scared he could have stayed in the back and cry. But he was completely silent – almost like he was listening to something. And at one point he was like,”Basta – that’s enough, we must stop. This is the feeling I had. “

In fact, he said, there was a balcony in his old office in La Spezia, which humans all knew to be dangerous. Instinctively, Leo too – he wouldn’t even go inside the room.

The future of the Cinque Terre

Experts told Paradisi that dogs that have suffered trauma may be developing a

Experts told Paradisi that dogs that have suffered trauma may be developing a “seventh sense.”

Courtesy of Pierpaolo Paradisi

The tragedy of 10 years ago has had a permanent effect on Paradisi.

Although he remained in the area, fulfilling his dream of turning the abandoned village of Prevo into a hotel – he now has room for 40 people, between Leo’s Lodge, a few apartments and a villa – he is on permanent alert. .

“The flood made me realize that the Cinque Terre are a very dangerous area,” he says. “Geologists believe this will be the first area of ​​Italy to disappear.”

And if he receives a weather warning message, he goes straight home. “I lock myself in the house because it’s a lot safer to be inside – but I’m not going to bed, I’m staying on the couch with Leo and the cats,” he says. He can sleep there as long as needed – ready to run, fully clothed, with medicine and a torch handy.

In fact, her seven cats disappeared in the landslide – but, miraculously, they all returned over the next few months.

Leo is around 14 now and Paradisi thinks “often” about the day he will be left alone.

“It will be impossible to replace him, but I will take another one, because I want to help another dog. I will continue to take them from Serbia,” he said.

“I’m going to have to mourn him a little bit, but after a few months I will ask for a dog from the same breeding in Belgrade. In honor and in memory of Leo.”

But for now, Leo isn’t going anywhere, and they happily run the lodge together.

And this week, as the Cinque Terre prepare to commemorate the terrible events of 10 years ago, Paradisi will think back to this afternoon on the road to Vernazza – and the dog who saved him, and his dreams. of a hotel by the sea.


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