When a 6.2-magnitude earthquake hit the central Italian town of Amatrice two years ago, Fabiano Ettore and his German shepherd, Kaos, were among the first to join in the rescue efforts. Kaos, who was just over a year old at the time, worked for days with other dogs and people to find survivors of the quake, which killed 241 and destroyed most of the town, the New York Times reported.

Months after the Amatrice earthquake in August 2016, Kaos helped with rescue efforts after an earthquake in the town of Norcia, and he took part in other missing-person searches, the Associated Press reported.

On Saturday, Kaos, hailed as a “hero dog” by Italians, was found dead. Ettore, who found the dog's body in the garden of his home in Sant’Eusanio Forconese, said in a Facebook post that Kaos has been poisoned.

“I have no words,” he wrote. “I can’t understand such a horrible act.”

Ciao amico mio !!!!! Hai lasciato un vuoto incolmabile per mano di una persona meschina .. continua il tuo lavoro lassù ...

Posted by Fabiano Ettorre on Saturday, July 28, 2018

Ettore, who is an animal trainer, added that he was sure Kaos had been alive the previous night because he had heard him barking as late as 2 a.m. It was not immediately clear how Kaos was poisoned or whether it was intentional, but police have opened an investigation, the Guardian reported. Animal rights activists have condemned the incident, describing Kaos's alleged killer as a “dangerous criminal.”

“They killed the hero who, together with rescuers, dug with his four paws during those dramatic hours to find survivors of that massacre,” Rinaldo Sidoli, a spokesman for Animalisti Italiani, a Rome-based animal rights group, told the Guardian. “Kaos saved humans, and those same humans poisoned him.” Sidoli called for laws that would impose harsher penalties for animal cruelty.

Italian lawmaker and business executive Michela Brambilla told the Associated Press that she hoped Kaos's death would encourage members of Parliament to pass a bill against animal cruelty that she proposed earlier this year. Giulia Grillo, Italy's health minister, expressed condolences online, writing that she was working with Environment Minister Sergio Costa and Justice Minister Alfonso Bonafede to expand penalties for the “heartless criminals” behind animal poisonings.

According to a 2012 study that looked at data from the Poison Control Center of Milan, a majority of animal poisonings in Italy involve dogs. A 2014 study by Italian researchers examined diagnostic data of 870 dogs in Rome and found that poisoning was the second-most-common cause of death for dogs, with more than 17 percent of them dying from consuming toxic materials. The report said that in urban environments, there can be a “low level of social tolerance to neighbors’ dogs,” and “intentionally located poisoned baits” are common.

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