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West Vancouver therapy dog Benny electrocuted on mall sidewalk

Poor Benny. His owner wants everyone to know about the risks of stray voltage.

Park Royal is investigating and carrying out repairs after a shopper’s dog was electrocuted while walking on the mall's sidewalk Saturday night, a likely case of “stray voltage.”

Benny, a five-year-old, 90-kilogram Leonberger, was with his owner Teresa outside the Popeye’s Chicken at Park Royal North around 6 p.m. when he suddenly went into distress.

“All of a sudden he just started, oh my God, yelping so loud, screeching so loud. He threw himself on the ground, rolling around, thrashing like a bull,” Teresa said.

At first, Teresa didn’t know what was causing her beloved pet so much pain. She thought maybe he’d stepped on glass or something causing a burn on his pads. The scene drew onlookers wanting to help, and people from the other side of Marine Drive could hear Benny’s yelps.

“I fell down to my knees to try to help him and then I started feeling shocked,” she said.

It took several minutes to get Benny to safety. A stranger offered to go pick up Teresa’s vehicle and help load up the massive mutt, and Teresa took Benny to an animal hospital. It was only after she left that she started to put together what likely happened.

Stray voltage

There have been many documented cases of dogs being zapped by “stray voltage” – when the electrical current from underground wiring jumps to infrastructure at street level. Dogs are more likely to be shocked than humans because their paws come into direct contact with the ground, metal grates and junction boxes, often with water and salt from the street acting as a conductor.

Teresa explained what happened to staff at the clinic but, frustratingly, the vet on duty told her Benny had just likely stepped on salt, which can also irritate a dog's paws.

The vet gave him a sedative and painkillers. An electric shock can cause a heart arrhythmia, which can be fatal, but after an exam, the vet determined Benny was traumatized but at least physically OK.

“I just held him and cried because I love this dog so much and I couldn’t believe what he had gone through,” Teresa said.

What followed was a frustrating three days for Teresa, trying to get Park Royal to acknowledge what happened and fix the problem so no other dogs would be at risk. Initially she was told they couldn’t find anything wrong at the site. She suspected the source was an electrical junction box at the base of the planted trees used to power lights in the trees.

Park Royal responds

On Wednesday, Park Royal responded to Teresa, as well as a request for comment from the North Shore News, with the results of their investigation. Park Royal security investigated immediately after the incident on Saturday but couldn’t find the source, said Karen Donald, general manager for Park Royal.

Donald said their staff electrician did inspect the plugs at the base of the trees on Monday and ruled them out because there would have been no power flowing to them at the time. The snowstorm on Tuesday delayed further investigation, Donald said, but on Wednesday, they believe they tracked down the source.

“This morning our electrician went back out to determine that the probable source could have been a small ground fault in one of the light poles that are outside of the building,” Donald said.

They have since fixed the problem.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we are bringing in a third-party electrical company just to do … a survey to see if they can pick up any further ground fault issues,” she added. “Our concern is for public safety. That’s our number one, whether it be the general public or canine.”

Teresa said Park Royal’s management apologized profusely for what happened to Benny, and offered to compensate her for the ordeal. But she said she was only interested in seeing the problem acknowledged and fixed, (though she did accept their offer to cover Benny’s vet bill).

It was the best possible outcome, Teresa said, but she’s speaking up now because she wants others to know about the risk that stray voltage poses to dogs.

Danger to dogs

In 2018, a dog was electrocuted to death on Carrie Cates Court in North Vancouver after stepping on an electrical junction box lid. The dog’s owners later filed a civil suit against the City of North Vancouver, the city’s electrical contractor and Fortis B.C. That case has still not been heard in court.

The City of Vancouver, meanwhile, has made repairs to junction box in Gastown after a well-known neighbourhood dog named Titan was electrocuted on East Cordova Street on Tuesday. Titan survived and is recovering.

“It is actually so common,” Teresa said.

Benny is something of a celebrity in Metro Vancouver, not only because of his stunning stature, looks and rare breed. He’s also a certified therapy dog who visits hospitals, schools and businesses to provide pet therapy.

“He’s a real sweet honey bunny, giving free hugs to the nurses and patients and he’s so loving,” Teresa said. “He’s just the most wonderful, sweetest, kindest, gentlest, gentle giant. And I’m really upset that this happened to him and I feel he shouldn’t have suffered in vain.”

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