Italian firefighters carry golden retriever Romeo after he was pulled from the rubble of a house in San Lorenzo a Flaviano on September 2, more than nine days after Italy's devastating earthquake
Rome (AFP) - A golden retriever called Romeo has been pulled from the rubble of Italy's earthquake, more than nine days after he was given up for dead.
Touching footage filmed by the firemen who saved him shows the shaggy dog being lifted out from under a pile of masonry that is all that remains of his owners' house.
Appearing completely relaxed, Romeo slurps his first drops of water in more than 230 hours from a bottle held by one of the firemen.
As it becomes clear he is unscathed, the fireman holding him puts him down. Romeo then tiptoes gracefully down the pile of rubble to be reunited with tearful owners who had given up hope of finding him alive.
"He's in great shape," says one of the firemen as others whoop in delight while Romeo trots around what remains of his yard.
As he sniffs out familiar smells with trademark retriever insouciance, he looks for all the world as if he has just woken from a short nap.
- Woof, woof, I'm here -
Romeo's owners were sleeping on the second floor of their house in the tiny village of San Lorenzo a Flaviano when the earthquake struck before dawn on August 24.
They managed to get out, but Romeo, who was sleeping on the first floor, was trapped inside. After searching for him for hours, they were eventually evacuated from the devastated village for their own safety.
All hope of finding Romeo alive appeared to have disappeared until Friday evening, when the couple returned to their home in the company of a group of firemen assigned to help them recover key belongings from the rubble.
Almost as soon as they came into the tiny medieval village, Romeo heard their voices and began barking.
"We immediately began moving masonry from where the barking was coming from and incredibly we got to him and he was in pretty good condition," one of the firemen told the ANSA news agency.
"Luckily some beams had fallen in a way that they were holding up the weight of everything above them leaving Romeo with a little niche that he was able to survive in."
No human survivors of the quake have been found since the evening of August 24th, when four-year-old Giorgia was pulled out alive after being located by another canine hero of the disaster, Leo.
A labrador who works as a police sniffer dog, Leo was granted an audience with Pope Francis on Saturday, two days after he was guest of honour at a summit between Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
- Cows milked -
The toll from the deadliest quake to hit Italy since the 2009 L'Aquila disaster now stands at 294 confirmed dead following the discovery of another body on Friday evening at Casale, a small village near Amatrice, the tourist town where three quarters of the deaths occurred.
The final death count may yet top 300 with a handful of people unaccounted for and some hospitalised victims in a critical condition.
Vasco Errani, the government's reconstruction supremo, vowed Saturday that hundreds of people made homeless by the quake would be back in houses "in your own territory" within seven months.
Many are currently housed in tents in a region where freezing overnight temperatures are common from mid-October.
The clear-up operation was given a significant boost on Saturday with the reopening of a key roadbridge on the main road leading to Amatrice.
The centuries-old original "bridge of three eyes" was left structurally unsafe by the quake but army engineers have built a temporary by-pass next to it.
Farmers organisation Coldiretti meanwhile announced that all the surviving cows in the agricultural area hit by the quake were being fed and milked every day.
The milk is being used to make a "caciotta" cheese. The first samples were sold at a market in Rome Saturday with funds raised going to help farmers in the quake-hit area.