To many New York residents, melting snow is a welcome reprieve from the daily drudgery of navigating treacherous sidewalks. But the celebration may be short-lived as melting snow could pose an inconspicuous danger to pedestrians and pets alike. All that water, replete with de-icing salts used to keep sidewalks clear of snow after a storm, is a perfect conductor for electricity and can lead to people and their dogs getting shocked, city officials warn.
According to the New York Council of Dog Owner Groups, or NYCDog, there have been several reports of dogs and their owners receiving shocks from sidewalk voltage this year. Earlier this month, on Feb. 14, an 11-year old dog was fatally shocked by stray voltage on Clinton St. outside her owner’s Lower East Side apartment.
“We were entering the building when Bella started acting funny,” the dog’s owner, who asked not to be named, told New York Daily News. “She let out a cry. She didn’t seem to want to go into the building. Then she went into a spasm and just laid there.”
This year’s snow melt is hardly the first time pedestrians and pets have been electrocuted by high voltage sidewalks. In 2007, two dogs were shocked just two days apart while walking on New York City sidewalks. One was killed, and the other was resuscitated by its walker.
Live Science notes that in 2004, a 30-year-old New York City graduate student was electrocuted and killed while walking on a wet street. Con Ed later revealed that a poorly insulated electrical wire had caused the young woman to be shocked.
And officials expect electrocution to also pose a threat this year as the winter snow season comes to an end.
“The predicted warm weather combined with street flooding over the next few days are likely to trigger more incidents of dogs and their owners receiving shocks,” NYCDog said in a post on its Facebook page on Wednesday. “NYCdog urges all pet owners to exercise caution and be aware of their surroundings. Avoid manhole covers, sewer caps, metal gratings, Con Edison repair locations as well as all overhead scaffolding at constructions sites.”
Just last week, several blocks of Manhattan’s Sixth Avenue were closed after city officials discovered that an electrical malfunction had caused sidewalk grates and doorknobs of nearby buildings to become electrified. According to Gothamist, as Con Ed scanned the area for stray voltage during the early morning hours of Feb. 19, they detected a “single volt” on a Sixth Avenue grate. The voltage measured 44 volts, which officials described as dangerous.
"The area that was energized expanded,” Con Ed spokesman Alan Drury told Gothamist. “Doorknobs and other grates were energized."
Fortunately no injuries were reported.
On its own, water is a poor conductor of electricity. But when combined with other minerals, particularly sodium chloride, calcium chloride, magnesium chloride or potassium chloride – the exact compounds found in de-icing salts spread on sidewalks during the winter – pavement puddles can become conduits for an electrical charge.
“If you suspect your dog is receiving a shock, dog owners should not touch their pet or the ground,” NYCDog advised. “Pet owners are advised to immediately about face and use their leash or other non-conductive material to maneuver their pet to back away from the area -- do not proceed forward as the voltage may increase as you travel ahead.”