A West Side dog is the latest victim of stray voltage — a phenomenon sending an electrical current through NYC sidewalks, endangering unsuspecting pet owners and their canine companions.
Tess Marty, a New York-based dog trainer, was walking mini goldendoodle Hudson (a Hell’s Kitchen resident) past the dog run behind Silver Towers on W41st Street between 11/12th Ave around 1:50pm on Tuesday when the dog “leapt up and yelped loudly, and kept dancing with his feet like he was walking on hot rocks for a few seconds,” said Marty. Realizing that something was wrong and Hudson had been shocked, Marty immediately “swept him over to the street” and asked working personnel at Silver Towers to rope off the area so no one else would step on the faulty sidewalk. “They said, ‘Oh yeah, there’s something going on, this is a problem area,’ but they hadn’t roped it off or anything, and they just let me and my dog walk right over it,” she said.
Hudson and Marty had just experienced “contact” or “stray” voltage, where snow, salt, and rain from the city’s sidewalks seep into below-ground electrical wiring, causing, as Con Ed spokesperson Allan Drury told West Side Rag, “contact with the copper that carries the power — and since salty water is a strong conductor of electricity, the voltage can reach street level.” Dogs, without the insulation of shoes to protect them, are especially vulnerable to shocks but the risk of electrocution applies to everyone — East Village resident Jodie Lane was killed by stray voltage in the winter of 2004.
The episode is an uncomfortably common occurrence around town, where recent incidents have been recorded on the Upper West Side, Tribeca, and in Greenpoint. While Hudson was able to withstand the shock at Silver Towers, not all dogs have been so lucky. Lala, the 4-year-old canine in the Greenpoint incident, died at the scene earlier this winter after being shocked by a metal grate. The current was strong enough to immediately electrocute her as well as injure a man who attempted to put a cone over the area.
“When we were walking over this area, she just started screaming and just fell over immediately,” said owner Lida Bilokur’s friend Lauren Green, who was walking the dog at the time of the accident. “I’ve been running through what I could have done differently and like, coming back here, I don’t think there’s much I could have done,” Green told NBC4 News.
The company in charge of the sidewalk where the incident occurred in Brooklyn, One Bell Slip, told NBC4 News that “an underground electrical wire was inadvertently exposed to snow and salt which caused a temporary live charge in a metal plate on the ground. Immediately after learning of this and the accident it caused, we worked with the City and Con Edison to fix the issue.”
Over on the Upper West Side, several pet owners experienced terrifying near misses on West End Avenue. UWS resident Sara Lewin Lebwohl told West Side Rag that her dog “yelped as if he was standing on hot lava” after walking over a portion of the sidewalk. “A man working nearby yelled to us to get off the street quickly, saying it was electric. My husband looked all around the ground and did not see any visible salt, glass or anything that could have caused Prince’s pain. He was not standing on or near metal.”
After hearing horror stories and eventually coming across the issue first-hand, fellow Upper West Sider Julia Levy and her family decided to investigate. Testing the street with a multimeter, they found that the sidewalk on West End Ave carried significant electrical voltage, compelling them to immediately contact ConEd. Representatives from ConEd identified the source as “a defective service cable feeding one of the buildings. Repairs were made to prevent any additional contact voltage,” they said in a statement to City Council Member Gale Brewer’s office.
ConEd has taken steps to protect two-and four-legged New Yorkers from stray voltage. After Jodie Lane’s death, the company installed preventative detection technology. Said ConEd representative Drury to West Side Rag, “We scan our system regularly for contact voltage and when we find it, we immediately make it safe, even if the voltage is not coming from Con Edison equipment. Instances of contact voltage from Con Edison equipment have declined by 90 percent since we began this program in 2004.”
But while contract voltage has declined, it still poses a considerable risk to pets and their owners citywide. NYC veterinarians recommend that in addition to avoiding metal sidewalk grates and plates in winter, dogs and dog owners can further protect themselves from concrete voltage by donning rubber boots, which limit electrical conduction.
Marty wishes there had been further protection as she walked by Silver Towers with Hudson. “At no time as I was approaching the area did they say anything about the electrical current,” she said.
“I was furious, and told the Silver Towers doorman, who I escorted to the scene. After around 15 minutes, there was one single cone against the wall, nowhere near the concrete blocks, and caution tape around the tree nearby, also not near anything or blocking anything off. I found cones and wet floor signs nearby and put them around the area myself,” said Marty, who added that Hudson’s mom told her ConEd would not arrive on the scene until 8pm this evening.
For now, Marty is thankful for Hudson’s safety, and fuming over the unnecessary risk she was put into.
“I’m still furious that there was no one sent out directing people away, and more furious that someone standing nearby let us walk by, knowing that there was something shocking dogs in the neighborhood without saying anything, letting Hudson get shocked,” said Marty.
“The shock on a small dog could easily have been far more severe. Luckily, Hudson is a larger dog and I was quick on my feet. I’m hoping no one else got hurt, and I think it was pretty neglectful of the employees at Silver Towers to not send someone over there, or at least put caution tape up blocking the walkway.”
W42ST has reached out to Silver Towers and Silverstein Properties for comment. We will update this story as more information becomes available.