Hydro steps up review after second dog electrocuted

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Two dogs out for walks on the same street in Toronto's west end have died in separate electrocutions near hydro poles, victims of a bizarre "stray voltage" problem that has prompted city-owned Toronto Hydro to launch a sweep of the entire system, fearing a human could be next.

"We are very, very concerned not only that a dog has been killed, that's bad, but we are concerned that a person could be injured as well," said Blair Peberdy, Toronto Hydro's vice-president of communications. "That's why we're giving this top priority."

Late last year the utility started scanning the city street by street with infrared equipment, looking for electrical "hot spots" after a seven-year-old king shepherd was electrocuted and killed on a Keele Street sidewalk in November.

But just recently around 2 a.m., 25-year-old Darjan Avramovic was walking his father Dusko's dog, Mrak, a seven-year-old Labrador-poodle cross, less than 100 metres from the previous incident, near Annette Street. After stepping on a small round iron lid in the sidewalk near a hydro pole, the dog suddenly collapsed. It died despite the efforts of paramedics who tried to resuscitate it for 20 minutes.

Paramedics were called to the scene along with firefighters and police because of the danger of electrical shock.

Panicked, Darjan - just a block from home - called his father on his cellphone to come help before emergency services arrived.

"When I tried to lift [the dog's] head, I got a shock in my left hand. I did not know what was happening, I was in shock anyway," said Dusko Avramovic, 55, a civil engineer. "... Imagine, it could have been a child."

In a sad, tired voice, he told The Globe and Mail that his dead pet was more than a family member because he was well loved in the neighbourhood, too: "I know everybody says 'My dog is the best dog,' but this is what the other people who have dogs were saying about my dog."

Toronto Hydro crews say they examined the entire area for more leaky voltage and have declared it safe, insisting the two dog electrocutions were not directly linked. The street was checked after the November incident and deemed safe as well.

Mr. Peberdy, the utility's spokesman, said the sweep for stray voltage began last year but paused during the holidays. He said it would resume "in the next week or two" and be complete "in a matter of weeks."

Only then, he said, would Toronto Hydro have an idea of the scope of the problem, which in other cities has been blamed on aging infrastructure. Toronto Hydro is in the midst of a 10-year, $1.3-billion overhaul of the city's aging electrical grid.

While a crew investigating yesterday's incident hadn't determined exactly what happened, Mr. Peberdy said the tiny metal maintenance cover in the sidewalk, which usually contains wiring for things such as lit transit shelters, somehow became electrified.

In the November case, Mr. Peberdy said, electricity from a batch of wires under a sidewalk was believed to have been spirited to the surface by conductive salty water that had seeped into cracks in the concrete.

Meanwhile, Max Mancuso, 30, has not yet been able to contemplate replacing his dog, Pierre, which was electrocuted on Keele Street in November.

He said Toronto Hydro clearly was not doing enough to solve the problem if a second dog died just metres away two months later: "It's really gut-wrenching and it's really disappointing.... I was hoping something would be done."


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