EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WKBN) — First News has already covered stories of dead animals like fish, foxes and chickens, and now we’ve learned of a household pet that was inside during the derailment that has died.
Andrea Belden and Zack Cramer have been living with family in East Palestine since their house burned down two years ago. They were just days away from being able to move into their new home and were out to dinner when the train in East Palestine derailed. They rushed home to get their relatives and pets to evacuate. Later that night they noticed their cat Leo was sick.
“When we got here, I noticed that he was having a hard time breathing,” Belden said. “It was very fast. It was very labored. His heart rate was up. I thought that he was just having a panic attack.”
They gave Leo some food and water and let him rest, but when they checked on him in the morning he had not moved all night. They immediately took him to an emergency vet clinic in Pittsburgh.
“They thought he was having an asthma attack then they started to tell me, well, it seems to be a run-of-the-mill congestive heart failure,” Belden said.
Vets put Leo on medicine to remove fluid around his heart and lungs but it wasn’t working. Blood work tests found his liver enzymes were about seven times higher than normal.
“When a cat has congestive heart failure, as was explained to us by the vet, that doesn’t affect the liver whatsoever,” Belden said.
According to documentation from Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Clinic who treated Leo, they believe the cat’s condition “could be due to vinyl chloride gases” which are known to cause heart, respiratory and liver issues in humans.
“They said, well, it must have been vinyl chloride poisoning that exacerbated his heart condition because they think that he had a genetic heart condition beforehand that was underlying that may not have been triggered without the vinyl chloride,” Belden said.
When their vet bills climbed to more than $10,000, Belden and Cramer were forced to put down the cat rather than let it suffer. They asked for emergency aid from Norfolk Southern while the cat was still alive but said they were denied.
“Norfolk Southern told me that that was not an emergency and that was not something that they were going to look at right now or reimburse for right now. But they were going to go ahead and entertain that in the future if I file a damaged property claim,” Belden said.
Belden and Cramer told First News that since having to put their cat to sleep, they have been contacted by representatives from Norfolk Southern. They hope that anyone else who might have pets who were affected by the train derailment will come forward.