Mario Is Brought Back from Death's Door When His Silhouette Is Accidentally Spotted in a Window of Fire-Ravaged Lac-Mégantic
|The Amazing Mario|
"J' ai contacté le service des incendies de Lac-Mégantic. Le capitaine Denis Godin a accepté de m'accompagner dans le logement pour que j'y installe une cage-trappe avec une boite de nourriture."
-- Françoise Belle-Isle of Fourrière municipale de Lac-Mégantic
Cats are always the uncounted and seldom mourned casualties of war, civil unrest, natural disasters, and other assorted catastrophes. The benign neglect that so often characterizes their owners' treatment of them even during the best of times quickly morphs into unconscionable abandonments in emergencies. (See Cat Defender post of August 24, 2013 entitled "Gypsy Is Discovered Alive and Well Hiding in a Hole Underneath a Sink Three Weeks after an EF5 Tornado Destroys an Oklahoman City.")
Even worse, some unconscionable owners turn their backs on those that have saved their lives. (See Cat Defender post of April 3, 2010 entitled "Lumpi Is Unforgivably Left to Die in a Burning Apartment by the Ingrates Whose Lives He Saved.")
The situation is even far graver for homeless cats and that dire assessment applies also to those that reside in managed colonies. For example, Alley Cat Allies cruelly and unforgivably abandoned its cats in Atlantic City to fend for themselves during both hurricanes Irene and Sandy.
Considering man's profound selfishness and colossal mistreatment of them, it was anything but surprising that a handsome and sociable brown and black tom subsequently named Mario was cruelly condemned to spend an astonishing seventy-nine days trapped inside a deserted building without either food, water, or human companionship last summer in the small tourist town of Lac-Mégantic, two-hundred-fifty kilometers east of Montréal in the Eastern Townships of Province Québec. His hellish ordeal began on July 6th when a seventy-four-car unmanned and parked American-owned Montréal, Maine and Atlantic Railroad freight train carrying crude oil extracted from the Bakken Formation started rolling, apparently of its own volition, and derailed.
The resulting explosion and fireball was so intense that it not only destroyed thirty buildings in downtown Lac-Mégantic but it had a radius that extended outward for a kilometer. Forty-two bodies later were recovered from the rubble and five additional individuals were vaporized. So far, absolutely no one has had either the common decency or honesty to even so much as hazard a guess as to the total number of cats, dogs, and other animals that lost their lives as the direct result of both the capitalists' insatiable greed and consumers' unquenchable thirst for cheap fossil fuels.
Compounding Mario's already dire situation, the building in which he was trapped was located in a part of the city that had been sealed off to the public. With no hope anywhere in sight, he persevered by lapping up condensation and eating whatever he was able to either find or kill.
As horrific as all of that was, the psychological toll that his extended confinement took on him surely must have been even greater. In spite of all of that, he courageously soldiered on in a predicament so hopeless that it surely would have forced most humans to have thrown in the towel long ago.
Sooner or later he would have succumbed to either dehydration or malnourishment and at some time in the not too distant future his lifeless corpse would have been discovered and promptly tossed in the trash without so much as a second thought. All of his deprivations, suffering, and indomitable will to live not only would have been for nothing but the world never would have even known that he once had graced the face of the earth. Such is the cruel fate of the species that Leonardo da Vinci once called "nature's masterpiece" and whose members, for the most part, live and die in obscurity.
The Fates, however, had other plans in store for Mario. Specifically, they dispatched eagle-eyed and conscientious Mario Vachon to his rescue.
He therefore found himself in the devastation zone conducting survey work on September 21st when he accidentally spied Mario's silhouette in a window. He then promptly notified an unidentified female friend who in turn contacted Françoise Belle-Isle who operates Fourrière municipale de Lac-Mégantic.
This tireless and dedicated Animal Control officer, who in the aftermath of the derailment worked up to as many as fourteen hours a day rescuing abandoned and injured animals, immediately went into action. "J' ai contacté le service des incendies de Lac-Mégantic," she is quoted as saying according to a September 28th posting on the blog L'Espace Libre du Sami Chaiban. (See "Un chat survit soixante-dix-neuf jours seul à Lac-Mégantic.") "Le capitaine Denis Godin a accepté de m'accompagner dans le logement pour que j'y installe une cage-trappe avec une boite de nourriture."
That plan worked to perfection and on September 22nd Mario was pulled to safety. Sadly, he was so dehydrated, emaciated, anemic, and hollowed-eyed that the attending veterinarian's first inclination was to snuff out his life.
That in itself is a staggering indictment of the moral perversity that pervades the veterinary medical profession. After all that he had endured, killing Mario should have been the furthest thing from any halfway conscientious veterinarian's mind. If any cat ever deserved a second chance at life it most assuredly was him.
Press reports have not spelled out how the argument over his fate unfolded but it is likely that Belle-Isle interceded on Mario's behalf even though she had her own reservations about the wisdom of prolonging his life. "Une si longue disette peut avoir causé des dommage à des organs internes, particulièrment au foie," she is quoted by Sami Chaiban as saying at that time.
The important thing is, however, that it ultimately was decided by someone to at least grant him the opportunity to recover. In furtherance of that noble objective, Mario was fed a protein-rich diet and given iron-enhanced kibble at Belle-Isle's shelter.
|Mario and Françoise Belle-Isle|
It also is likely that he was administered intravenous fluids in order to help relieve his severe dehydration. Provided with only that very slim opportunity in order to reclaim his life from death's icy grip, Mario did the rest all by himself to the astonishment of both Belle-Isle and the attending veterinarian.
"Le Christian Lessard, de la Clinique vétérinaire du Lac Aylmer à Disraeli, s'est montré étonné des bons résultats, vu son long séjour en réclusion," Belle-Isle later confided to Le Journal de Montréal on September 25th. (See "Un chat survit soixante-dix-neuf jours seul à Lac-Mégantic.") "Le chat a plus d'energie. Il s'entend bien avec les chats et les chiens de la maison."
Mario was scheduled to have remained at la fourrière for several more weeks before being sterilized. An unidentified former resident of Lac-Mégantic who underwent a coup de foudre when she first saw him was scheduled to have provided him with a new home at her current address somewhere in the administrative region of Mauricie.
The press has long since forgotten all about this amazing cat with the beautiful yellow eyes so it has not been possible to determine how he is progressing. The damage conceivably done to his liver, which so worried Belle-Isle, remains a concern as does the proper functioning of his other internal organs. The good news is that he is still young and therefore has a good chance of bouncing back to his old self, provided that he has not suffered any permanent damage of any kind.
Best of all, hopefully his new guardian will take far better care of him than his previous owner who not only abandoned him but did not even bother to attempt to reclaim him once his plight was picked up by the media and he was transformed instantaneously into an international celebrity. Of course, it also is possible that either he or she perished in the inferno.
The specifics of his rescue have not been publicly disclosed but it has been theorized that the building in which he was found was not his regular residence. He accordingly could have fled there after his home was destroyed and then either gotten trapped inside or became too traumatized to venture outside. It is always difficult to tell with any degree of accuracy but his friendly demeanor makes it highly unlikely that he was homeless.
The nature of Mario's rescue also recalls to mind that way back in 1957 a vocal group known as The Rays had a major hit record with a song entitled "Silhouettes." The inspiration for that song had its genesis in, ironically, a train ride that songwriter Bob Crewe had taken in May of that year during which he accidentally had spied the silhouette of a couple embracing in a window.
With the assistance of his partner at XYZ Records in Philadelphia, Frank Slay, he sat down and penned the lyrics to "Silhouettes," which since then has been performed by such diverse artists as Herman's Hermits, Cliff Richard and, most notably, Sha Na Na at Woodstock. There accordingly is an old connection between trains and silhouettes. One led to the penning of a timeless popular music classic whereas another one proved to be the deliverance of a long-suffering cat.
This story did not have to turn out this way. If Vachon had not been attentive he never would have seen Mario's silhouette and that likely would have been the end of the latter. It truly is nothing short of stupefying just how many events in this world, both major and minor, have unfolded as they did solely because an individual was on the ball and paying close attention to details.
Furthermore, if either Vachon, Godin, or Belle-Isle had not been seized with an abiding respect for the sanctity of feline life the denouement of this story could have been far different. That makes all of them heroes.
In addition to that, Vachon is entitled to special praise for refusing to turn his back on a cat in extremis. Fittingly enough, the cat whose life he saved will forever bear his name.
Fire captain Godin also is to be commended for assisting Belle-Isle in the rescue. She, meanwhile, deserves all the praise in the world for not only sparing Mario's life but nursing him back to health and securing a new home for him.
The details are considerably more sketchy, but a sociable white cat named Coco, alias Kovalev, also returned from the dead along about the same time that Mario was rescued. The cat, who had disappeared from the district of Fatima in Lac-Mégantic on July 6th, reportedly just strolled up out of the blue to guards at sentry box five in the yellow zone.
Apparently no worse for the wear, he was reunited with his owner, Melissa, according to Sami Chaiban. Like Mario, he is destined to take with him to his grave the details of how he managed to survive a catastrophe of the magnitude which enveloped Lac-Mégantic.
Despite the miraculousness of Mario's and Coco's narrow escapes, they are by no means isolated incidences. Cats, after all, have an uncanny ability to survive even under the most hopeless conditions.
Subjected to thousands of years of systematic abuse and innumerable extermination attempts, they have been forced by circumstances to hone their survival instincts to a sharpened razor's edge. Whereas throughout the Middle Ages and right up until the nineteenth century the Roman Catholic Church was their greatest nemesis, today it is ornithologists, wildlife biologists, and PETA who are now devoting all of their time and resources in an all-out effort to eliminate them from the face of the earth.
|La Puce and Paul Leclerc|
In spite of the best efforts of their sworn enemies, unorganized ailurophobes, and periodic bouts of outrageously bad luck, some long-suffering felines still manage to somehow survive. For instance, in recent memory cats have been able to persevere for lengthy periods of time while trapped inside, inter alia, a frozen food warehouse, an outdoor shed, the ruins of a collapsed building, a walled-up culvert, and underneath a bathtub.
In all of those cases, they had almost nothing to eat and precious little to drink. (See Cat Defender posts of April 8, 2010, January 23, 2008, April 16, 2009, April 4, 2012, and September 8, 2008 entitled, respectively, "Frozen Food Purveyor Knowingly Condemns Frosty to Spend Five Weeks in Its 28° Fahrenheit Warehouse Without Either Food or Water," "Emmy Survives Being Locked in an Outdoor Storage Shed for Nine Weeks Without Either Food or Water," "Felix Survives Being Buried Alive for Thirty-Five Days in the Rubble of the Kölner Stadtarchivs," "Buried Alive in a Culvert for Weeks Without Food and Very Little Water, Libby Is Rescued Battered and Bruised but, Thankfully, Alive," and "Bonny Is Rescued at the Last Minute after Spending Seven Weeks Entombed Underneath a Bathtub.")
In addition to all of those incredible accomplishments, many cats amazingly weather lengthy sea voyages trapped inside shipping containers. (See Cat Defender posts of December 9, 2005, May 17, 2007, July 16, 2007, August 11, 2008, and September 8, 2010 entitled, respectively, "Adventurous Wisconsin Cat Named Emily Makes Unscheduled Trip to France in Hold of Cargo Ship," "North Carolina Shelter Plotting to Kill Cat That Survived Being Trapped for Thirty-Five Days in Cargo Hold of Ship from China," "Accidentally Trapped in a Shipping Crate, Calico Cat Named Spice Survives Nineteen-Day Sea Voyage from Hawaii to San Bernardino," "Trapped Inside a Crate, Ginger Licks Up Condensation in Order to Survive a Nightmarish Sea Voyage from China to Nottinghamshire," and "Mandarin Survives a Long and Harrowing Sea Voyage from China to Canada Only to Wind Up in Hock to the Calgary Humane Society.")
Sadly, for every cat that manages to beat the Grimm Reaper out of his bounty a thousand more of them perish. Moreover, only a few of them ever even make the headlines. (See Cat Defender posts of April 25, 2008 and December 23, 2010 entitled, respectively, "After Surviving a Lengthy and Hellish Confinement at Sea, Malli Dies Unexpectedly in Foster Care" and "Tavia's Desperate Pleas for Help Fall Upon the Deaf Ears of the Evangelical Who Abandoned Her and the Heartless Officials and Citizens of Kissimmee.")
Aside from all the death and destruction that the oil train's derailment brought with it to Lac-Mégantic, it also furnished the opportunity for the emergence of a real-life hero in the form of a ten-year-old Yorkshire Terrier named La Puce. On the night of the explosion the dog's owner, eighty-three-year-old Paul Leclerc, was sound asleep and surely would have perished in the conflagration if he had not been rudely awakened by his alert and faithful companion.
As things eventually turned out, the duo made it to safety only a few precious minutes before both their house and garage were engulfed in flames. Two other dogs belonging to Leclerc apparently did not make it out alive.
On September 24th, La Puce was recognized for saving her owner's life when she was enshrined in the Panthéon québécois des animaux in Laval. She thus joins thirty-four other canines, five cats, and a pair of horses who also have been so honored for saving the lives of humans over the course of the past fifteen years. (See La Tribune of Sherbrooke, September 26, 2013, "La Puce, un chien à l'oreille fine.")
Despite the staggering toll exacted in both animal and human casualties in Lac-Mégantic, freight trains transporting oil from the Bakken Formation, which extends for five-hundred-twenty-thousand square kilometers underneath parts of North Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, are continuing to roll all across North America and, predictably, to derail. For example, a ninety-car train carrying Bakken shale oil derailed and exploded in Pickens County, Alabama, on November 8th but, fortunately, no humans were injured. In all likelihood, however, some animals were killed.
The train, which is owned by Genesee and Wyoming of Greenwich, Connecticut, was headed to a chemical plant near Mobile that is owned by Shell Oil. (See Aljazeera, November 8, 2013, "Train Carrying Oil Derails, Explodes in Alabama.")
A little bit later on December 30th, another Bakken oil train derailed and exploded just outside of Casselton, North Dakota. As was the case in Pickens County, no injuries were reported but the explosion polluted the soil with more than four-hundred-thousand gallons of oil and prompted the temporary evacuation of fourteen-hundred residents of the town. (See the MinnPost of Minneapolis, January 3, 2014, "Explosive Train Derailment Heightens Concerns about Transporting Bakken Crude Oil.")
Later on January 20th, a CSX train out of Chicago derailed on a bridge near the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. Only six of the seven cars that left the tracks were carrying crude oil and none of them either leaked or exploded.
The crash has been blamed on poor track maintenance which, by the way, always has been a major concern with just about all freight and passenger rail service in the United States. (See the Toronto Star, January 20, 2014, "Train Hauling Crude Oil Derails on Philadelphia Bridge.")
"Make no mistake, an incident involving rail transport of oil will occur in the commonwealth and lives, including first-responder lives, and property will be put at risk," former United States Congressman Curt Weldon told a public hearing March 5th in Eddystone, Pennsylvania, according to the March 6th edition of The Delaware County Times of Primos. (See "Ex-Representative Weldon Warns of Oil Transport Dangers.") "These incidents have occurred in the past and they will occur in the future."
His dire warning, however, fell upon the deaf ears of the oil train operators in attendance. "Between 2000 and 2013, the United States rail industry originated eight-hundred-twenty-five-thousand carloads of crude oil," David Julian of Norfolk Southern countered. "(And) 99.993 per cent of those carloads arrived at their destination (sic) without a release caused by an accident."
Compounding the problems already associated with antiquated track and flimsily constructed petroleum cars, oil extracted from the Bakken Formation is considerably more dangerous to move around than the crude of old because it has a considerably lower flash and ignition point. On top of all of that, the volume of Bakken crude to be transported by rail is expected to increase exponentially within the next few years and that can only lead to congested rail lines which is always a harbinger of accidents.
Many of the same concerns that pertain to freight trains are also applicable to America's equally outdated gas and oil pipelines. For example, on September 29th a six-inch pipeline owned by Tesoro Logistics broke and spilled one-million-one-hundred-seventeen-thousand-two-hundred gallons of Bakken crude in Tioga, North Dakota. (See The Progressive, October 11, 2013, "Oil Spill Overlooked Due to Governmental Shutdown.")
|Downtown Lac-Mégantic in Ruins. Which Town Is Next?|
In April of last year, an Exxon Mobil Pegasus pipeline broke and spewed between two-hundred-ten-thousand and two-hundred-ninety-four-thousand gallons of bitumen extracted from the tar sands of Alberta into the residential neighborhood of Mayflower, Arkansas. Only recently a Mid-Valley pipeline leaked into a nature reserve in Ohio and a BP refinery spilled hundreds of barrels of crude into Lake Michigan.
Transporting oil by sea also is not only hazardous but environmentally destructive as well as it was vividly demonstrated when the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound in 1989. Long before that in 1975, twenty-nine individuals were killed when the Corinthos and Edgar M. Queeny collided in the Delaware River and burned for three days.
Barges that ferry oil up and down rivers and elsewhere are another concern. For example, one of them collided with a ship off the coast of Houston on March 22nd and spilled one-hundred-sixty-eight-thousand gallons of nasty bunker oil into Galveston Bay. (See Living on Earth, March 28, 2014, "Oil Spills Increasing" and the Houston Chronicle, March 22, 2014, "Texas City Dike Closed after Barge and Ship Collide.")
Even gas lines servicing residences and businesses are disasters just waiting to happen. For instance, one of them ruptured and exploded in Ewing, New Jersey, on March 4th while the same thing occurred and in the East Harlem section of Manhattan on March 12th. (See The Delaware County Daily Times, March 6, 2014, "Twenty Homes Uninhabitable after Massive Explosion" and the New York Post, March 13, 2014, "I Thought It Was a Bomb.")
Gas pipelines are so ubiquitous that residents of New Jersey are expected to seek approval from the authorities before even so much as digging in their own backyards! All totaled, George Washington University estimates that two and one-half million miles of pipelines crisscross the United States transporting oil, natural gas, and other hazardous materials. (See Face the Facts USA, July 7, 2013, "Are Pipelines a Safer Alternative for Transporting Fuel?")
All of that is in addition to at least one-thousand-two-hundred-eighty Superfund cleanup sites along with an estimated four-hundred-thousand so-called brownfields, or land contaminated by industry and commerce. Nuclear waste, from both power plants and the American military, underground commercial gas and heating oil tanks that have leaked, and dangerous chemicals improperly disposed of by beauty parlors, laundries, and other enterprises are another huge concern.
A measure of progress has been made on various fronts since Rachel Carson published her seminal work, Silent Spring, in 1962 but overall the level of pollution present in the environment is far greater today. For instance, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that twenty-five per cent of all Americans live within three miles of a hazardous waste site.
As cataclysmic as they were, none of the oil train derailments, ruptured pipelines, or gas leaks have adequately done justice to the gravity of the situation. In order to fully comprehend the extent of the danger posed by all of these ticking time bombs it is necessary to examine what transpired in the aftermath of a celebrated fracking mishap that occurred February 11th in Bobtown, Pennsylvania.
On that memorable occasion, Chevron's Lanco 7H well caught fire and exploded. One worker was killed and the ensuing fire burned for several days.
As a "token of appreciation for their patience," Chevron mailed vouchers for a free pizza and a two-liter bottle of soda to about one-hundred residents of the tiny town in Greene County. Considering how tightfisted the giant oil company is with the homeless cats that reside on the grounds of its refinery in El Segundo, California, its beau geste in Bobtown was anything but surprising. (See Cat Defender post of April 7, 2010 entitled "Although as Rich as Croesus, Chevron Has Only Peanuts to Offer the Two-Hundred Cats Who Live at Its Refinery in El Segundo.")
"Twenty-billion-dollar profit and you offer these unfortunate people a slice of pizza? How far removed from human emotion, intelligence, understanding are you?" one user of Twitter indignantly commented according to the February 20th edition of The Telegraph of London. (See "Town Attacks Chevron for Offering Pizza after Explosion.") "Yay, (sic) free pizza. Once the third-degree burns heal and you can eat solid food again, this will be nice," another person added.
Those comments, however, most likely came from anti-fracking campaigners outside of Bobtown. At Bobtown Pizza, which made a killing off of the $12 vouchers, the sentiment was entirely different.
"This is just a small town. The explosion was a couple of miles away, in a field," the unidentified proprietor of the establishment told The Telegraph. "I have had some activists calling me to gripe but (the offer) wasn't meant that way. It has been blown way out of proportion."
If those comments are in any way indicative of the true feelings of the residents of Bobtown, they were thrilled to death to have gotten their grubby hands on the free pizza and pop. If so, the only thing that Chevron is guilty of is being overly generous.
In all likelihood, it has far less conscientious workers on its payroll who would have been more than satisfied with as little as either a doughnut or half a stick of chewing gum. Chevron most assuredly knows exactly what type of individuals that it is dealing with and its employees certainly know their place and what they can expect from the oil giant.
Be that as it may, it nevertheless would have been somewhat reassuring if the residents had demonstrated enough moxie in order to have held out for at least a forty-ounce jug of either Steel Reserve or Silver Thunder in order to have washed down all of that cheap white dough and gooey cheese. Moreover since venereal disease reportedly is so rampant in Pennsylvania's booming oil towns, the workers would have been totally justified in also asking for a packet of condoms.
Should that gambit have proved successful, they could have gone whole hog and insisted that Chevron foot the bill for a free poke at a nearby whorehouse. It is, after all, well-established that nothing engenders worker loyalty quite like a good old-fashioned romp in the tulips. Besides, if Americans are so hellbent upon destroying all of creation, they should at least go about it in the same style that they have grown accustomed to over the years.
That brief glimpse into the grasping souls of its employees ought to provide Chevron and all those involved in the fossil fuel extraction business with many nights of uninterrupted repose, that is, as soon as their sides stop aching from all the cackling that they have been doing of late. Thinking individuals from outside the industry may find it a tad disconcerting however to realize that their chances of not only holding on to their health but of even staying alive for much longer can be measured on a continuum that has a slice of pizza at one end and a doughnut at the other.
Photos: Canoe.ca (Mario), Sami Chaiban (Mario and Belle-Isle), Ronald Martel of La Tribune (La Puce and Leclerc), and Paul Chiasson of The Canadian Press (Lac-Mégantic).