In addition to ice, snow, and salt, stray contact voltage is a potential serious hazard of walking your dog in rain or snow–one that is completely invisible.
What is it?
Contact Voltage is stray electrical current that may be running through any metal structure on the street that is near or in contact with electrical service. Due to corrosion or loosening by the vibration of construction or passing heavy vehicles, electricity that should be running through wire circuits comes in contact with other nearby equipment and electrifies it. This equipment then poses serious shock hazard to both people and pets, particularly if the street is wet or snowy.
Why are pets at risk?
Pets are at particular risk because they are often barefoot, and because unlike people, they almost always have two feet on the ground. Electricity always seeks to run as current. If your pet has two feet on the ground, the circuit can be closed through your dog, and the current will run through him or her. Dog boots aren’t thick enough to protect your pet from this happening.
How to Avoid Contact Voltage?
The best way to avoid contact with stray electricity is to keep yourself and your family and pets away from any structures which may have become electrified. Walk your dog away from sewer covers, lit transit shelters, streetlight poles, and handwells (small metal plates covering wiring in the street near streetlights). Use a leash that is made of a non-conductive material, and keep it as dry as possible while you walk.
What to do?
If your dog encounters contact voltage, he or she may freeze or collapse. Your pet may have seizures, muscle spasms, or even experience respiratory failure. Toronto Hydro recommends a three steps approach: Stop, Clear and Call.
Stop: Do not touch your pet. You may come in contact with the electricity and become incapable of helping either of you.
Clear: Move away from your pet. If your pet’s leash is dry and non-conductive, use it (or another non-conductive object) to drag your pet clear of the electrified area.
Call: Call 911 for emergency assistance. Call Toronto Hydro’s Contact Voltage Hotline at 416-222-3773. Call us and bring your dog in for immediate examination. Any number of injuries may have been caused by the incident, including burns, badly bitten tongue or lips caused by seizures and spasms, internal injuries, or abrasions caused by being dragged clear of the hazard.
Incidences of contact with stray voltage are rare but serious, but as our city infrastructure ages, contact voltage is becoming more common. Toronto Hydro has a remediation program, and immediately corrects any identified issues. They have a great printable information sheet here: Contact Voltage Fact Sheet.