Dogs in New York City are receiving electric shocks while out walking on the sidewalk. At least that’s the claim from dog owners in the Lower East Side area of Manhattan — and they are blaming Con Edison for this so-called “stray voltage” harming their pets.
After we reported on the issue earlier in the month, I happened upon a meeting of the local Community Board’s Transportation and Public Safety Committee to see how accurate the claims were and whether the suits at Con Edison plan to do anything to stop inadvertently electrocuting dogs.
I was there to cover a proposal to rename the corner of Rivington and Ludlow streets as Beastie Boys Square (in honor of the group using it on their Paul’s Boutique album cover). It just so happened that I attended New Signage For Potential Electrical Hazards.
So at first I was not exactly charmed when I realized the first item on the agenda involved a PowerPoint presentation about how the harsh winter conditions had meant more salt was being put down on the city’s sidewalks and something about ionic charges. The two screaming kids running around (one of whom eventually barfed) did not add to the ambiance.
But things started to take a bizarre turn when a gentleman claiming to represent the council of city’s dog walkers stood up and, while visibly riled, began a heated speech about how he could not tell 50,000 dog walkers to stop walking their dogs for fear of the animals being electrocuted. He claimed that in the past week, 10 incidents of stray-voltage shocks had been reported in an eight-block stretch outside his apartment.
After him, a woman stood up and declared, “The streets are not safe and hearing your presentation makes me think they are really not safe. Every day I am putting little booties on my 80-pound dog and I am really worried.”
She claimed Con Edison was effectively using dogs as test subjects to check for stray voltage issues.
Another gentleman told a story about his Pug receiving a shock, claiming “there was a mysterious man in a car watching the whole incident.”
An elderly woman was next: “My 48-pound dog screamed and flew three feet in the air on Second Avenue between 9th and 10th streets.”
On it went for more than an hour, with members of the public telling their dog stories while two gray-suited men from Con Edison stood looking unaffected.
From something of an outsider’s point of view, the meeting was like a curious mix of an episode from Parks and Recreation and something rather chilling: At one point a gentleman who claimed to have received an electric shock (and brain injuries) from a pay-phone stood up and spoke; back in 2004, a woman called Jodie Lane was killed after stepping on a metal sheet near a bakery. This was balanced by the surreal scene of Con Ed representatives being asked if small or large dogs were more susceptible to receiving an electric-shock. (It was not an issue they had researched.)
My abiding impression of the meeting was that Con Ed really does not seem to care about the plight of anyone walking a dog in a potentially dangerous area. The plan to simply put up newly designed signs seemed flawed. The signs are only 18-inches wide with relatively small type. Most dog-walkers said they were more likely to encourage people to walk toward the areas of danger to read them rather than avoid them. One person at the meeting pointed out that often the signs are put inside cordoned-off areas, which again brings people closer to the danger.
The idea that dog walkers should be patrolling the streets and alert Con Ed if their dog gets a shock — rather than the other way around — also seemed exceptionally disingenuous (although this is also a company whose history involves electrocuting an elephant).
The meeting ended with Community Board representatives asking Con Edison if it could report back in six months with a more comprehensive plan. In the meantime, outfitting your dog with protective footwear may be the best way to proceed with caution.
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About Phillip Mlynar: The self-appointed world’s foremost expert on rappers’ cats. When not penning posts on rap music, he can be found building DIY cat towers for his adopted domestic shorthair, Mimosa, and collecting Le Creuset cookware (in red). He has also invented cat sushi, but it’s not quite what you think it is.