Maura In The News

More than fashionable: Owners hunt dog booties
Footwear combats electrical shock
By Donovan Slack, Globe Correspondent, 3/6/2004

Canine couture may never have been so hot in Boston. For decades, finicky dog owners have equipped their prized pooches with winter boots to prevent them from tracking mud indoors and lessen paw irritation from salt and snow. Often, they have color-coordinated them with doggie sweaters and hats of the season.

But following the electrocution of a dog last month in Charlestown and the electric shock injury of another in Chinatown this week, rubber booties for dogs are becoming more than luxuries or fashion statements. Some dog owners are thinking of them as life-or-death commodities.

The sudden alarm over electrical "hot spots" lurking in city streets has sent dog owners scurrying to pet stores like Petco in Brighton, where Paw-Tectors, one brand of rubberized boots, have been flying off the shelf.

"We've had quite a few customers coming in and asking about them, saying they were scared to walk their dogs," said Angela Mariani, a manager at Petco, as she flipped through the final half-dozen pairs on the shelf. "As you can see, we're really low. They're just selling so fast."

Dog owners are also buying booties online, as well as at animal hospitals and groomers, said retailers and animal care professionals. There is a seemingly endless variety to choose from: with materials of nylon, polyester, fleece, and leather and colors of basic black, safety orange, and hunter green. Most are fastened with colorful velcro straps, and some require duct tape.

But not all offer protection from electric currents. Specialists said booties with rubber soles offer the best protection. Fabrics also can be effective if they are treated with waterproofing chemicals.

But anything that absorbs water can conduct current, said Walter H.G. Lewin, a physics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "With shoes or boots there is no risk, unless the shoes are soaking wet," he said.

The small, skid-proof patch popular on many dog booties may not protect the dog if the rest of the boot can absorb water, he said.

Four dogs in as many months suffered jolts of electricity while walking on Boston streets. One was killed. A woman in New York City died in January after she came in contact with the electrified lid of a service box. Combined, these incidents have sparked an outcry in Boston over live wires underground.

NStar began checking its 30,000 manholes in the city for electrical charges this week. So far, crews have found five hot spots out of the 644 checked, NStar officials said. Four were related to city-owned equipment and one was on private land, spokeswoman Christina McKenna said. Another hot spot found on one NStar-owned manhole in Dorchester is still under investigation. The citywide sweep is scheduled to be complete in 90 days.

"We want to make sure that people feel safe on the streets of Boston," McKenna said.

Councilor at Large Maura Hennigan plans to hold a hearing Monday to investigate the problem and has asked representatives of NStar and the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority to testify. Hennigan said she wants to hold the city, utility companies, and others accountable for their electrical equipment. She said she hasn't purchased any booties for her dogs, but said they might be a short-term answer for dog owners.

Penny Cherubino never walks her dog without booties, but the Back Bay resident isn't taking any chances these days, choosing to carry her pet over anything that might conduct electricity, including wet sidewalks. She only lets him walk on grassy areas.

Cherubino, who founded Bostondogs, an Internet group for dog owners in the city, says the danger of electrical shock on city streets is nothing new, although people are paying more attention since the recent electric shock incidents. She lists a half-dozen dog-shocking incidents during the past decade, many on Commonwealth Avenue Mall.

"Twelve years ago, when I came to the city, one of the first things I was told is never let your dog walk on metal in the city," she said. "It's always been a fact of life here that dogs can receive shocks."

Donovan Slack can be reached at [email protected]

? Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.

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