An example to be followed. A writing contest for children and teenagers.
An interview with Sergio Marchese.
Sometimes, despite the simplicity of our nature and existence, despite the biological material of our flesh and in spite of death, we leave a trace of ourselves on this planet, no matter how insignificant we could have been judged.
We are able to leave a strong and permanent memory of our story. Through our actions and our way of dealing with everyday life and with people around us and by our side, we are able to change the world, even if just a little bit, even if just for one person, but we can change it.
This is precisely the story of FELICE, a little black puppy that was abandoned to his fate in one of the worst dog shelters in Northern Italy along with his brothers. His brothers were luckier than him and were adopted when they were still puppies, whereas he endured eight years of bad weather, neglect, malnutrition and illness under the eyes of the person who managed the dog shelter, the same person who named him “Iena” (hyena) to make fun of his bad state.
It is not easy to be adopted from a dog shelter—explains Sergio, the man who told me the story of FELICE—if you are not a puppy anymore, if you are in a bad state and furthermore you are black. There are aesthetic standards even for dogs, not only for people. Have you ever seen any commercial with a black dog in it? In the commercial for the Regina toilet rolls, for example, there is a honey-coloured Labrador Retriever and people feel encouraged to take a dog resembling this one... My family and I, my wife, my daughter and I have always been animal activists. We love all the animals—not just dogs—and the themes related with animals are very important to us. We wanted another dog and when we decided to adopt it, we asked our acquaintances to inform us about some basket case, a dog that nobody would have ever adopted. We wanted to give a chance to a dog who would certainly have never had one. This is how we met Felice. The manager of the dog shelter even tried to discourage us from taking him, because he was really in a bad state, but we had made up our mind. It was my daughter who chose his name, because she wanted a name which could represent his life from that day onwards: a happy life. And he was really happy, and also very special. He passed his joy of living to anybody he met, and he made us understand that life and happiness consist of small things. Felice has changed me, has changed my way of seeing and living my life. Our relationship was made of daily routines, he took me by the hand and made me see life the way he saw it.
At the beginning of 2015, Felice was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and, although he would miraculously survive for three years more, at that time he looked like he was going to die very soon. I have always had an incredible, visceral and brotherly relationship with Felice—a touched Sergio tells me—and then I wondered what we might do to leave a trace of him after he was gone. It had to be something that not only reminded people of him but somehow told his story because he deserved it, for what he was able to give me, for how he changed me for the better.
So the PREMIO FELICE was born, an award to remember him every year. A writing contest for children and teenagers, rewarding the authors of real or fiction stories about animals—not only pets but also wild animals or the so-called productive livestock such as cows and pigs.
This award is in its fourth edition today and is promoted through the facebook page Rete dei Santuari di Animali Liberi. The awards ceremony takes place in turn in one of the sanctuaries for animals belonging to the network, throughout Italy. These are real shelters for all animals—not only dogs—and we have chosen to organize the awards ceremony in these shelters in order to make families get acquainted with these little-known places. It may happen for example that animals destined to be butchered are sequestered because of some non-feasance, and these shelters can ransom these animals and take care of them until they die of old age or illness, giving them a worthy—and even longer than usual!—life which is respectful of their nature. Many people don’t know that the life of a dairy cow, for example, normally lasts five years, but if she isn’t exploited she can also live up to thirty years. The prize for the winner of the PREMIO FELICE consists in books about animals I have chosen myself, such as SENZAPAROLE by Roger Olmos, and some T-shirts, but we also pay the travel expenses for the winner and his/her family. Moreover, on the occasion of the awards ceremony, my family makes a donation to the shelter, with the sole purpose of leading the way and showing that these shelters need to be supported.
Our idea is to make children think about their relationship with animals, reflect about their feelings and practise a very important ability which is called EMPATHY.
Felice has lived eight years in hell and eight years of freedom... the final word is never said in life, there is always an opportunity for hope and freedom. And his story should be an example and a positive principle for all those animals that today are imprisoned and sentenced to death.
If Felice had a chance, we hope everybody could have one!
Unfortunately, Felice is gone, but he has been happy until the end, probably because he was aware of what it is like to feel bad and was grateful to life. He was happy with what he had and this is not something trivial but something we all should think about today.