Don’t Get Street Zapped

When you take your dog for a walk you realize there are unseen dangers but one you probably never thought of, at least I didn't,...

Horst Hoefinger  |  Jul 7th 2009


When you take your dog for a walk you realize there are unseen dangers but one you probably never thought of, at least I didn’t, is risk of electrocution from outdoor electrical fixtures. Street lights, manhole covers, fire hydrants appear innocuous but all have been responsible for the death of dogs and humans caused by stray voltage.

There is a site, Streetzaps.com, which is a timely and useful tool intended to reduce the year-round risk of injury and fatality from contact voltage.

From Post-It’s To The Post

A leaking lamppost killed an innocent dog Zorro, in the West Village in the winter of 2001. I read this disturbing piece in the New York Post and recognized the pervasive danger of the ubiquitous voltage hazard to the multitude of oblivious owners and their canine charges. The streetscape is replete with tampered equipment and the world is now a transformed pedestrian landscape of increasingly techno-distracted walkers.

My advocacy began with this very article, a pen, a steady supply of Post-It’s, and my heart. I never imagined that this sincere and primitive outreach would evolve into Streetzaps.com. Nor did I ever suspect I’d view my work on display at the New York Historical Society’s Petropolis exhibit; appear in the New York Press as the Best Homegrown Public Service Announcement; or as an editorial topic in New York Tails, City Tails, Animal Fair, Baltimore Sun Mutts, The New York Times, and of course, The New York Post.

When I penned a simple “WATCH WHERE YOU WALK YOUR DOG!” flyer, I ultimately found myself testifying at the City Council’s First Sidewalk Safety Hearing (2/12/04) after the Jodie Lane tragedy having crafted the only known public service. Sadly, I had been eerily prescient. What I had recognized in the Post piece is now the accepted street wisdom that pedestrians and their pets are progressively more at risk and will be for many years to come.

While you may think this would never happen to you that’s exactly what Celia Sing thought until May 2008 when her dog was shocked to death while out on a walk. Sebastian, a black and white husky, was killed by stray electrical voltage from a lamppost. A memorial service was held in his honor.

The lamppost that electrocuted Sebastian was the property of the Transportation Department and was replaced shortly after the accident, but Ms. Sing, 50, a former employee of the Police Department who volunteers at a cat shelter, still mourns her loss. She used to walk her two dogs separately so that each could have quality time with her. “It took me so long to be able to say Sebastian’s name” after his death, she said through tears, adding that she had refused several offers to replace him.

“It’s important to note that this hazard impacts on everyone,” said Blair Sorrel, who hosted the benefit for Sebastian’s bereaved owner, Celia Sing, and is the founder of Streetzaps.com, a Web site dedicated to raising awareness of stray voltage from fixtures such as streetlights and sidewalk metal plates. “It’s a fairly mundane occurrence.”

Go to Streetzaps.com to report shocks, find recent incidents, and to read some very important safety tips. Please pass this important information on to all your dog loving friends, let’s help get the word out.

* Pic from Sebastian’s memorial courtesy Michael Appleton for The New York Times