On October 25, 2011, the small fishing villages in Cinque Terre in Italy were hit by a deadly flood.
Thirteen people died, and many more victims lost their property and possessions during the disaster. Vernazza’s streets, the most famous of the villages, were feet-deep in mud.
A local hotel owner named Pierpaolo Paradisi has an extraordinary story to tell about that terrible 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.
But a decade ago, the area was destroyed when mudslides plummeted to the cliffside, demolishing everything on its way and burying the streets below with mud and debris.
At the time, Paradisi was an aspiring hotelier who worked at La Spezia. He had been on a hiking vacation exploring Sentiero Azzuro when he came across Prevo.
It was abandoned back then, but Paradisi saw an opportunity, thinking it could make a great hotel. So, he initiated a massive renovation of the area. Unfortunately, the flood came five years in.
A month earlier, he had adopted Leo, a rescue pup from Serbia. Paradisi got him from a group of Serbian models-cum-animal rights activists who brought stray dogs and cats to Italy every time they came over for work. They would pay €100 ($116) for every dog.
Wanting to help the animals, Paradisi sent the group a message to ask them to choose a dog for him. He said he just needed a small one because he uses the train a lot. They picked out a small, tan-colored dog from 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.
By the time they arrived at La Spezia, there was heavy rain, hail, and thunder. Paradisi left early, fearing that the weather would only 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. But as they got closer to Prevo and the car turned round the cliff, Leo made a sudden move.
“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 to get the dog off his lap so he could drive again, but the cliff fell away in front of them. If he had moved a meter further forward, they would have been gone.
Leo has just saved both of their lives, even though he didn’t realize it at the time.
In shock, Paradisi turned his car around and drove away from the scene to Manarola, one of the five 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.
Today, the pair live at a cliffside hotel 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, accompanies them to their rooms, and regularly patrols property like the good boy he is. Every afternoon, the dog goes with Paradisi to pick up guests from nearby Corniglia 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 that Leo would someday leave him, but he also knew he would be 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!