Last December, I first heard about the danger of stray voltage as it relates to pedestrians and dog walking and wrote an article about it for another publication. Stories abound in big cities, like New York of dogs who are electrocuted while being walked near conductive objects like light poles, electrical boxes and manhole covers.
Now, the danger is striking closer to home.
WKYC's Tom Meyer investigated contact voltage in Cleveland last week, a few months after a Yorkie was zapped by a light pole while being walked in the Metropark in Bedford.
Luckily, the Yorkie survived, but his paw still bothers him. Meyer's investigation found many high-voltage objects, including two light poles in Akron that each gave off 118 volts of electrical charge and one in Cleveland that was live with 454 volts.
Dangerous stray voltage occurs when current escapes, usually via a frayed or corroded wire, and makes conductive objects live with electricity. The danger is higher in winter or after a rain, as melting salt and water assist with conductivity.
Dogs who step on live manhole covers or wet spots that are touching a live object can be shocked, and the current can even travel through leashes to the person walking the dog. In one instance in New York City, a dog was killed when he stepped on wet outdoor carpet that was underneath an ATM machine and a heater, one of which was live.
I spoke with Jeff McHugh of the Cuyahoga Falls Electric System, who assured me that he is not aware of any incidents of pedestrian or pet electrocution on the streets of Cuyahoga Falls.
"I'm not saying it's not out there," said McHugh, "but with Cuyahoga Falls being a smaller area, our active streetlight crew is better able to keep an eye out and do preventative checks."
McHugh said the Electric System crew regularly checks streetlights for wires with nicks and cuts, corrosion and bad grounds. He also said that area in-ground electrical boxes no longer have metallic lids and are therefore non-conductive.
There are precautionary measures to take to keep pets safe, but fitting dogs with booties isn't a reliable solution. Any water-logging or holes in the boots means electricity will pass right through to their paws.
The most important precaution to take is to avoid walking near any metal object that may be in contact with electricity, especially if the ground is wet. This includes manholes, grates, street lights, and yes, even fire hydrants. According to StreetZaps.com, which offers a wealth of information on stray voltage, dogs have been electrocuted by hydrants.
The StreetZaps site offers a place to report high voltage areas as well as shock maps. According to the Ohio map, a young boy was electrocuted on the bumper cars at Lake County Fair in 2003, the same year another boy was electrocuted in Columbus when he touched a lamp post on the Main Street Bridge.
Dog walkers can protect themselves by using a harness with no metal hardware. They may be difficult to find at local pet stores like or , but the a metal-free harness and leash in one called Rope-N-Go is available online. The leash won't protect dogs, but if a dog is zapped, the lack of metal means the current won't travel through the leash and the person on the other end can attend to the dog quickly.
The next time you're out walking alone or with your dog, remember this little rhyme I wrote to keep safe:
When the ground is wet from rain or snow,
avoid stray voltage wherever you go.