What do dancing cows and zapped dogs have in common?

Posted February 2010. Dog killed by stray voltage in ground. Stray voltage zaps child. Stray voltage scare costs $14 million to fix. Toronto Hydro says stray electricity an on going problem.

These are some of the headlines that have been bringing the issue of stray voltage to the attention of Toronto residents.

The latest story, Stray voltage safety primer, was launched by Toronto Hydro to tell pedestrians and pet owners how to protect themselves and their pets from stray voltage. They recommend that pedestrians walk closer to storefronts and stay away from street lights, that pet owners walk their dogs before dark while the street lights are off, and that they use a non-conductive leash made of nylon rather than metal. This way if your dog gets zapped at least you won’t be harmed.

One women in New York, wasn’t so lucky. Jodie Lane, a Columbia University doctoral student was killed when she stepped on a metal plate in East Village while walking her dog in 2004. Stray voltage was to blame.

While stories like this get a lot of attention and millions of dollars are spent trying to solve the problem, the same cannot be said for what happens in rural North America. Here, stray voltage, preferably called ground current, is a silent killer that gets little attention. It affects farmers, their livestock, and their livelihood.

In the country, ground current, may be due to both on farm and off farm sources. A growing concern is that we have an aging infrastructure and an inadequate capacity to keep the electricity flowing along the wires. As a result, electric utilities allow the energy to flow along the ground, making the ground into another wire. Any animal in contact with the ground is exposed to this current. The consequences are just as lethal as being electrocuted, although the suffering is prolonged.

The video below shows what happens to dairy cows exposed to ground current.

Cows exposed to ground current have swollen joints, open sores that fail to heal, and they “dance” (lift their feet) as they try to break the flow of electricity through their body coming from the ground. Milk production is reduced and many have difficulty conceiving. Once they are unable to stand they are no longer useful to the farmer.

Ground current is a serious problem in both Canada and the United States and requires immediate attention.

Hydro One in Ontario is beginning to take this problem seriously. They have a website and a procedure to deal with farmers who think they have a stray voltage problem.