I’m a little neurotic and maybe even a tad overprotective when it comes to my dogs. They each wear multiple forms of identification at all times, the manual for our pet sitter has a page count in the double digits, they eat organic food and treats, and they sleep on orthopedic beds. And if I needed one more thing to worry about, I’ve recently learned the sidewalks of city streets are now actually attacking dogs. Or, at least it seems that way. Something called “stray voltage” has been reported running through sidewalks at levels that can shock dogs and even kill them.
I’ve been following the various news stories, and in this year alone dogs in Chicago and Boston have been electrocuted. Here in NYC, several dogs in the past weeks have stepped onto electrified sidewalks and been injured or even killed. From what I’ve learned, there are a couple of different scenarios that can lead to sidewalks becoming electrified. Some of these incidents are the fault of construction crews, who have ripped up streets and sidewalks and not properly reconnected the power lines, resulting in the presence of stray electricity.
However, stray electricity isn’t just the fault of construction crews. Salt, used to de-ice city streets, combines with water and eats away at wiring, which also results in the presence of stray voltage. Some sidewalks have been shown to have more than 100 volts of electricity running through them –- that’s comparable to sticking your finger in an electrical socket!
Humans are somewhat protected as we walk down sidewalks, as our feet are encased in boots and shoes. But dogs, on the other hand, are completely vulnerable. Dogs are particularly in danger when they walk across wet manholes and other metal grating.
NYC’s electrical provider, Con-Edison, says that in recent years it has made significant progress in reducing the problem, and that reports of stray electricity are down 90 percent in recent years. But clearly there is still work to be done, as dogs continue being electrocuted. It’s hard to really offer safety recommendations around an issue like this because part of the danger of electricity is that it’s invisible.
Here are some tips on how to keep your dog safe from stray voltage:
1. Watch the sidewalk
Avoid walking on anything metal. It’s one more thing to avoid, but it can make the difference between life and death for your dog.
2. Watch your dog
Don’t allow your dog to pee on anything metal, including lampposts, trash cans or any other upright metal object. These objects may be conducting stray electricity and could shock your dog.
3. Know when to retreat
If you suspect your dog has been shocked, do not progress further, as it’s likely the electricity may get dangerously stronger the farther you go. Stop, turn around, and go back the way you came.
4. Consider dog footwear
Some reports seem to suggest that dogs wearing boots are offered slight amounts of protection from the electricity, but others say the insulation is not thick enough to protect your dog and the boots could actually be harmful if they become waterlogged and your dog comes into contact with an electrified sidewalk. There currently aren’t any boots on the market that are proven to actually protect your dog from being shocked or electrocuted by a sidewalk.
5. Use the leash if you suspect a shock
Even though your immediate instinct will be to grab a dog who has been shocked, experts are suggesting that you pull your dog away from the area by the leash –- reaching down to pick up your dog could result in you being shocked as well. If you get shocked, you could be unable to help yourself or your dog.
6. Alert the proper authorities
Call the electrical company and the city immediately to notify them that your dog has been electrocuted. If you’re a New Yorker, call 311 and alert them to the issue. Call 911 if the area is electrified and the electrical company has not taped if off with proper signage.
7. Educate yourself
Visit StreetZaps for more information about stray voltage. It even has state-by-state maps about reported incidents of stray voltage on city streets.
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About the author: Sassafras Lowrey is a dog-obsessed author based in Brooklyn. She is the winner of the 2013 Berzon Emerging Writer Award from the Lambda Literary Foundation, and the editor of two anthologies and one novel. Sassafras is a Certified Trick Dog Instructor, and she assists with dog agility classes. She lives with her partner, two dogs of dramatically different sizes, and two bossy cats. She is always on the lookout for adventures with her canine pack. Learn more at her website.