Metro Vancouver dog owners express concern after pets receive electric shocks walking on sidewalks | CBC News


At least two dog owners in Metro Vancouver are warning others to beware after their pets received electrical shocks while walking on paved sidewalks.

The first incident happened last Friday evening when Teresa Bouchard was walking her dog Benny, a five-year-old Leonberger, at Park Royal Mall in West Vancouver.

“There was a larger metal plate by a tree and he stepped on that and immediately started yelping, screeching, howling and threw himself on the ground,” she said.

“It was just the most traumatic thing I’ve ever seen.”

A big brown dog stares into the camera
Benny, a five-year-old Leonberger, got an electric shock while walking on the sidewalk at Park Royal Mall on Feb. 25. (Yasmin Gandham/CBC News)

Bouchard thought at first that Benny, who weighs nearly 90 kilograms, had stepped on glass. 

“I was trying to wipe it off his paws and while I was doing that, I was getting shocks.”

That’s what tipped her off to the fact that her dog was receiving electric shocks from the ground he was standing on.

Benny was taken to a veterinary hospital where he received sedatives and has since recovered.

Broken ground wire leaked current

The Park Royal Mall confirmed a broken ground wire in a street lamp was likely the source of the electrical current that hit Benny.

The wire was repaired Wednesday morning.

“It’s kind of a teachable moment for us, we’ve never had this happen,” said general manager Karen Donald in a phone interview. “In order to ensure everything is safe, we pulled in a third party to do a survey to make sure there’s nothing we’re not aware of.”

An area is cordoned off with yellow tape and orange cones
A dog received an electric shock from the current from a street lamp outside the Petsmart at Park Royal Mall in West Vancouver on Feb. 25. (Yasmin Gandham/CBC News)

A professional engineer says ground faults are fairly common in cities like Vancouver, Seattle, and New York that have older wiring.

“Things are energized by using two wires, the wire where the electrons flow in and the wire where the electrons flow out,” explained Michael Wrinch, principal engineer at Hedgehog Technologies.

He says if one of those wires touches the ground, that is considered a ground fault, and the ground becomes electrified, which could potentially electrocute someone standing nearby. 

2nd dog gets electric shock in downtown Vancouver

A second incident happened Tuesday in Vancouver’s downtown core when a three-year-old dog named Titan got an electric shock after stepping on the metal cover for an underground junction box near the intersection of Cordova Street and Columbia Street.

Titan also survived the incident, but his owner Lindsey Gale says it came with a $1,100 bill from the vet. 

A small pitbull dog lies on the pavement with his tongue wagging
Titan, a three-year-old pitbull-poodle mix, got an electric shock when he stepped on the metal lid of an underground junction box in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on Feb. 28. (Trey Patric Helten)

The City of Vancouver’s electrical branch said they identified a burnt-out wire resulting from a short circuit as the cause of the energized metal lid.

City crews cordoned off the area while they repaired the fault on Tuesday.

A statement from the electrical branch says “occurrences like this are rare but have happened here and in other cities across North America due to aging infrastructure.”

Snow, salt the perfect conductor for electrical current

Wrinch says the probability of those incidents can increase when snow and salt create the perfect conductor for electrical current.

People are generally protected from ground faults because they wear shoes with rubber soles which act as insulators, but pets walk around in their bare feet.

“If there was a ground fault, what could happen is that the pet experiences the energy, energy from that ground fault and those incidents happen,” Wrinch explained.

A man in a suit looks into the camera
Michael Wrinch, the principal engineer at Hedgehog Technologies in Burnaby, says older cities commonly have ground faults and need to inspect their older wiring. (Yasmin Gandham/CBC News)

In the 1960s, electrical systems began using three wires instead of two.

“The third wire is a ground wire that protects the system,” said Wrinch. “So if there is a ground fault, the current returns to the ground wire and generally people are safe and the system may even alert the city or whoever it is that that condition exists.”

The engineer says cities with older assets should regularly perform risk studies and assess the riskiest assets.

Bouchard says she’s tried to get Benny to wear dog shoes since getting shocked, but they aren’t sticking.

“I’ve tried, but they don’t stay on, and he doesn’t like it.”

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