Seattle City Light's Dog Killing Electrified Saga: The Story So Far

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It all started on Thanksgiving Day when Lisa McKibbin was walked her dog Sammy on Queen Anne Avenue outside the Bricco Wine Bar. The dog stepped on a light plate cover that had an unconnected ground wire and was energized at around 90 volts. The shock killed the dog. Since then, four other street lamps or ground covers have been found to be electrically charged, the latest being a plate in Greenwood that shocked (but didn't kill) another dog on Thanksgiving but was only reported this week. Since the saga began, Seattle City Light, which maintains the utilities, has been scrambling to put the best face on the problem. But what are they actually doing to make sure it doesn't happen again?

Here's a map we put together of the incidents so far. Click the markers for more info on each incident.

View Street Light Danger in a larger map

As for what the city is doing about it, SCL spokesperson Suzanne Hartman tells Seattle Weekly: "lots of things."

Mainly, she says the utility will be checking about 30,000 light poles and electric plates, likely beginning in the areas of the city with the oldest infrastructure, namely Capitol Hill and the Central District.

She says they've already checked hundred of lights in the High Point, New Holly, Greenbridge and Rainer Vista developments around where one bad light was already reported. She also says that SCL will partner with a contractor to help speed the checking process and that they hope to be done before Spring 2011.

In the case of the dog that was killed, Hartman says a ground wire that wasn't connected properly was to blame. In the electrified light poles in Capitol Hill and the Central District, aging wires are thought to be the culprit.

As far as how common this kind of thing is, Hartman has this to say

"It's very infrequent, a line worker who'd been here 20 years said he'd maybe seen a half dozen instances of voltage, but never any injuries. We started talking to a lot of our sister utilities and the industry average says one out of every 337 street poles could be energized. For us we could find as many as 60 during our testing."

Interestingly, in at least one of the cases, the faulty light was reported after a dog sensed it and wouldn't go near it. Good dog.

Hartman says people should report any such canine premonition and also any lights on during the day or flickering lights by calling (206) 684-7056.

If the trend continues, there are likely many more faulty lights to be found. All one can hope is that no more pets (of God-forbid, humans) have to die in order to find them.

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