I walked along Queen Street yesterday, searching the sidewalks for hydro plates. They’re plentiful, but inconspicuous, one of those things you never even notice until you go looking for them, but then they’re everywhere. A 10-inch round metal disk, set into the outer third of the sidewalk about 4-5 feet from every hydro pole so workers can access wiring for each street light, they’re unavoidable as you walk down the street.

And Toronto has somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 of them, all of which they plan to check for what they’re calling “stray voltage” after a 2nd dog was electrocuted yesterday from stepping on one with wet feet.

As a dog owner, this scares the beejeezus out of me. Particularly in the fact that they call it “stray” voltage because it’s not always there to find. After the first dog was killed in November, all the poles and plates in the area were supposedly checked, but the spot where the dog was killed yesterday was across the street from where the first incident took place. That metal plate was checked and was found to be fine with no problems. So how can we trust that any of these plates are safe?

They don’t expect it would kill a human; rubber-soled shoes and boots, plus less contact with the ground (dogs usually have at least 2 legs on the ground), mean that people who have gotten shocked from that plate received a jolt but weren’t injured, but for a dog it’s a different situation.

And while this is the first time something like this has happened in Toronto, news reports are mentioning similar incidents in other large cities like Chicago, New York and Boston, where it’s actually being taken seriously – the hydro department in Boston is replacing all the metal plates with plastic ones.

The scariest part is that there’s nothing people can do to protect their pets, other than not take them for walks in the rain or when there’s wet snow or slush on the ground.

I have a habit of making the dogs walk on the inside, putting myself between then and traffic, just in case. Now I have an even better reason for that tactic – to keep them from walking on hydro plates in the sidewalk and getting electrocuted.

[EDIT- January 24th: Two more occurrences in different parts of the city have caused dogs to be injured but not killed by stepping on metal hydro plates. Toronto Hydro announced plans yesterday to replace all the plates with either rubber, plastic or fibreglass ones (depending on which news source you consult) by the summer. This doesn’t really help Toronto dog owners for the rest of the winter season, but hope is in sight.]