The Italian Almanac

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Naples Zoo is not only caring for real animals but also for their fluffy toy counterparts, with a new 'hospital' where kids can bring injured, much-loved friends for ''medical treatment''. The zoo's emergency room, houses white-clad doctors and runs appointments throughout the day for toys suffering problems such as missing ears, dangling arms or lost stuffing. Children accompany their toys to the appointments where the problem is diagnosed and, if possible, resolved immediately. If not, their friends remain at hospital for overnight treatment and can be picked up the following day in perfect health.

The emergency room was the brainchild of zoo administrator Cesare Falchero, and Francesco Emilio Borrelli, president of Watchdog, an association founded to ensure the physical and emotional wellbeing of the zoo's real animals. The primary objective, according to Borrelli, was to encourage children to understand the importance of loving and caring for animals. Kids whose toys have been restored to health receive a certificate recognizing them as an ''animal friend'', and a set of rules for young animal lovers. The first rule is: ''Always remember that anyone unable to love animals is unable to love people''.

The emergency room also seeks to combat attitudes underlying today's disposable consumer culture. ''Children nowadays are used to the idea of immediately throwing away any toy that breaks,'' explained Borrelli. ''We hope this hospital will help them realize that a broken toy can be easily fixed and then enjoy a long life''.

The emergency room is staffed by personnel from the long-established Ospedale delle Bambole (doll hospital) in the heart of Naples. Tiziana Grassi, who runs both services, is the fourth generation of her family to run the Ospedale. ''My father gave me his love for this trade,'' she explained in a recent interview. ''They used to call him the mender of souls in the neighbourhood, because he brought smiles with his art and helped make people happy''.