For the last few days, a dog named Leao has refused to leave the grounds of makeshift cemetery for victims of the worst natural disaster ever to hit Brazil. There, beneath the moist, red mud, lies his owner, Cristina Maria Cesario Santana -- one of the estimated 630 souls claimed by the devastating wave of mudslides and floods that struck near Rio de Janeiro late last week. Leao in among perhaps thousands of animals displaced, orphaned, or killed in the disaster -- silent victims in need of rescue like so many others.
Many places throughout the mountains and hills that surround Rio de Janeiro are virtually unrecognizable amid the mud covered streets, collapsed houses, buildings, and washed out roads. The death toll has reached 630 and continues to climb, while the full extent of the damage has yet to be realized. Rescuers are taking advantage of a break in the weather to step-up their search for survivors as thousands remain stranded, injured, or homeless.
While those fortunate enough to have escaped the devastation with their lives are counting their blessings, the disaster has been particularly hard on a less vocal segment of the population -- the multitude of animals left behind as their owners fled with their families for safety. Many residents were forced to leave behind their pets, and most of those animals are likely dead, lost, or orphaned.
As emergency crews scour the flooded streets and mud-covered hillsides in search of human survivors, they have reported a grim scene in many effected areas: many dead or dying dogs, cats and horses.
Other volunteer groups are getting involved as well, like the Animal Solidarity Campaign (SUIPA). Consisting of vets, nurses and volunteers, the organization says they are planning to assist in the area for a least a month, treating and caring for sick and injured animals.
Fortunately for some pets, their owners have managed to come back for them. When Alexander Alvarez and his wife fled their apartment building during the height of last week's rainstorms, they had to leave behind their dog and cat. When the worst of things had passed, Alexander returned for them, but they had fled. For the next five days, he went back and was lucky enough to find Olivia, the feline -- the dog, Paola, is still missing.
"We know that people's lives is very important, but would love to find our little dog alive," Alex told Globo.
During times of such chaos and devastation with so many killed, injured, or displaced, there is, of course, a priority to save human life over all others -- and so often their lesser status robs the salvaging of animals of the impetus it deserves. But it is apparent in the loyalty and love so clearly expressed by the heartbroken dog, Leao, still holding vigil at his dead owner's side, how much they really care about us.
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