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Dog-walking New Yorkers fear electrocution

Some New York dog owners are more paranoid about walking around in the city after a woman walking her dogs was accidentally electrocuted when she stepped on a metal plate electrified by a faulty underground cable.
/ Source: Reuters

New York has long been a city of walkers wary of obstacles from speeding yellow cabs to food delivery bikes on the wrong side of the road. Now add to that list of perils the fear of electrocution.

Three months after the accidental electrocution of a woman who stepped on a metal plate owned by utility Con Edison while walking her dogs in the East Village, local dog owners report neurotic behavior in their walking habits.

“I feel like I am being obsessive compulsive, but I don’t walk on grates any more, I don’t walk on the electrical covers, I totally avoid them,” said dog owner Joanna Murphy, who has walked her German Shepherd “Emmy” in the East Village for the past decade.

Murphy was “horrified,” said she, when she heard the news that 30-year-old Jodie Lane, a doctoral student, had been killed Jan. 16 when she and her two dogs stepped on a metal plate electrified by a faulty underground cable.

Witnesses reported watching Lane try to calm her dogs, who went berserk after being electrocuted before the electrical current reached her. The dogs survived.

Murphy said there was a similar incident occurring to a man just two blocks away one month after the Lane tragedy, in which the man survived but his dogs were electrocuted.

After the incident, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said: “It’s just unacceptable that somebody can walk down the street and get electrocuted ... We’ve got to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Subconscious avoidance
New York’s streets have 260,000 of the same manhole covers, grates and service box covers that killed Lane -- part of energy supplier Con Edison’s 90,000 miles  of underground cable in New York and nearby Westchester County.

The company inspected all of its manhole and service box covers following Lane’s death and found “no stray voltage at 99.95 percent of the equipment,” according to Con Edison spokesman Chris Olert.

“Wherever we found a stray current, it was corrected immediately,” he said.

Yet hundreds of street jolts have been reported in recent years, some of which involved people but mostly dogs stepping on the metal covers throughout all five boroughs of New York.

In 1999 a carriage horse was killed when it stepped on an electrically charged manhole cover in midtown Manhattan.

The incidents have sparked e-mails among dog owners warning each other of potential perils and prompting them to change dog-walking routines.

Ruth Parsons, who walks her Boston Terrier “Pinkie” in the East Village, said her dog running group e-mails each other alerts of places where dogs have been shocked.

She said dog owners suspected a potential danger of the service box covers before the Lane accident. Now, she said, people have become “more paranoid.”

“It could have been me, it could have been anyone I know that has a dog in this neighborhood, or anyone that doesn’t have a dog for that matter. It’s scary,” she said.

Walking on rubber
Gunnar Hellekson, a member of the same dog running group and co-founder of the Jodie Lane Project, a group that wants street hazards removed, said that in the past when owners had seen their dogs leap into the air they put it down to bad behavior.

“People now realize what the danger looks like,” he said. ”I don’t know anyone who is comfortable walking over the grates, manhole covers or service boxes. The risk is just too great.”

Hellekson and his fellow dog lovers, who want Con Ed to improve maintenance and inspections, maintain a list of electrical hotspots at

“Within a month of inspections there was a series of manhole explosions ... the system has begun to disintegrate,” Hellekson said.

Con Edison has pledged to its customers and the New York State Public Service Commission that it will inspect each of its 260,000 manhole covers and service box covers every year.

Con Ed’s Olert said dog walkers should not have to change their walking patterns, but urged people to contact the company is they suspected any problems. He declined to comment on negotiations on a settlement with the Lane family, who are demanding improvements to the wiring of city streets.

New York’s City Council is holding hearings on two bills that if passed would require any company delivering electricity in the city to inspect their systems once a year for safety.

Meanwhile, dog owner Mark Bulvanoski said until the streets improved he had another solution -- wearing rubber shoes, even if his dogs can’t. But he insisted he would not change his walking patterns.

“You have to walk in this city and for something to change my walking patterns it has to be some personal infliction,” he said. “So all you are is a little bit more angry every time it happens, and it just makes you want to leave New York City.”