A deadly flood ravaged small fishing villages in Cinque Terre, Italy, on October 25, 2011.
Thirteen people perished and many others lost their homes and property in the catastrophe. Vernazza’s streets, the most famous of the villages, were feet-deep in mud.
Pierpaolo Paradisi is a local hotelier who has a remarkable story to share about that horrible day. According to Paradisi, he wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for his dog, Leo, who saved his life during the flood.
And in honor of the heroic pup, he has named his hotel after him—”Leo’s Lodge.”
The lodge sits high on the cliffs of Vernazza, part of Prevo, a tiny hamlet located directly above the Sentiero Azzurro, the “blue path” that tourists love to walk.
However, the area was destroyed by mudslides a decade ago. They swept to the cliffside and destroyed everything along the way, burying the streets below in mud and debris.
Paradisi was an aspirant hotelier at the time and worked at La Spezia. Prevo came to his attention while he was on a hike in Sentiero Azzuro.
Paradisi saw a potential for a great hotel and decided to abandon it. Paradisi began a major renovation of the area. Unfortunately, the flood struck five years later.
A month prior, Paradisi had adopted Leo from Serbia, a rescue dog. Paradisi rescued him from a group that brought stray animals to Italy each time they visited Serbian models-cum animal rights activists. They would pay €100 ($116) for every dog.
Paradisi wanted the animals to be helped so he sent the group an email asking them to select a dog. Paradisi said that he only needed a small dog because he uses the train so much. They chose a small, tan-colored dog in Belgrade.
Leo came to Paradisi’s hometown Liguria on September 25, 2011.
A month later, Paradisi took Leo with him to work even if his office didn’t allow it. A storm had already been forming in the area, and he didn’t want to leave the pup at home. Little did he know that this “transgression” would end up saving his life.
At La Spezia, it was raining heavily, hailing, and thunder by the time they arrived. Paradisi fled early because they feared that the weather would get worse.
“There was a tornado of water that hit the mountains, and I couldn’t even see a meter ahead. I had vision of about 30 centimeters, so was driving extremely slowly,” he recalled.
Leo was at the back of Paradisi’s car for the 17-mile journey, and the dog sat there in silence for most of it. Leo made a sudden movement as they approached Prevo.
“He leapt into the front and onto my knees, so I had to stop,” Paradisi said. “I was angry — I said, ‘Leo, I’m driving.’”
Paradisi tried getting the dog off his lap in order to make him drive again, but it fell right in front of him. They would have been gone had Paradisi moved a meter forward.
Leo has just saved both of their lives, even though he didn’t realize it at the time.
Paradisi, in shock, turned his car around, and drove away to Manarola (one of the Cinque Terre villages). It was only when he called some of his friends to tell them what happened that Paradisi realized the gravity of Leo’s actions.
“They said, ‘It was thanks to Leo that you’re alive.’ I hadn’t understood that yet,” he said.
The couple now live together at a cliffside resort with self-catering apartments. And in honor of the dog who saved his life, Paradisi named the property “Leo’s Lodge.”
Leo is about 14 years old now, and he’s a fixture at the hotel. He greets guests and follows them to their rooms. Paradisi takes the dog to Corniglia every afternoon in their Jeep.
The pair are together 24/7—Paradisi even takes the dog with him to the dentist.
“The only place I can’t take him is into court,” he said.
Paradisi knew Leo would eventually leave him, but he also knew he was irreplaceable.
“It’ll be impossible to substitute him, but I’ll take another, because I want to help another dog. I’ll keep taking them from Serbia,” he said.
Paradisi said that when that day comes, he would take another dog from the same kennel in Belgrade in honor of Leo’s memory. But for now, the dog isn’t going anywhere as they happily run the lodge together!
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