Mia Leimberg, 17, one of the hostages freed by Hamas in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners during ain Israel's war with the Palestinian militant group, emerged from captivity on Nov. 28 holding her small white dog Bella. The Israeli teenager told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday that Bella helped get her through the ordeal.
"Luckily for me, Bella is unlike all the other small dogs that I personally know; She is rather quiet, unless when she's playing or mad, and so they didn't notice her," Leimberg said in the interview back at home with her parents, and Bella.
Leimberg's father said that when his daughter was taken hostage, she grabbed her Shih Tzu and hid her under her pajama shirt.
"It was difficult because, you know, all the journey to get there with her, it was an extra four kilos of this small cute puppy," Leimberg said. "We gave her our leftovers so she'll eat, and she tried to walk around the place where we were kept and we had to make sure she doesn't start exploring too much."
Leimberg's father said Mia had told him that it was only after Hamas brought her and other hostages into their labyrinth of caves under Gaza and instructed her to climb up a ladder that her captors realized she wasn't carrying a doll, but a living pet. Leimberg said the Hamas militants decided to let her keep Bella in a birdcage.
"She was a huge help to me," Leimberg said. "She kept me busy. She was moral support, even though she didn't want to be."
Leimberg said while her captivity was a difficult experience, she didn't feel traumatized and was physically healthy. She said the fight must continue to free the roughly 140 other hostages taken during Hamas' Oct. 7 terror attack believed to still be in captivity in Gaza.
"It is so important that we bring back everybody. As much as I am happy to be back, we're still not done," Leimberg said. "Everybody needs to do their part to bring everybody back. Everybody needs to be here so we can celebrate properly."
Leimberg's father said it was his daughter's determination to protect Bella that ensured she also made it home safely.
"One of the expressions that she has now about the dog is that, 'I love you, to Gaza and back,'" he said.
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