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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Dog electrocuted in downtown Spokane in apparent ‘stray voltage’ incident outside bank

UPDATED: Thu., Feb. 7, 2019

Zach Harper didn’t know about “stray voltage” when his 4-year-old collie mix, Hank, seized up outside the Washington Trust Financial Building on Tuesday.

“He completely froze,” Harper said Thursday night. “He couldn’t physically move, and he became very vocal. Not vocal like a dog. Not a bark, not a howl, but a yell.”

Hank apparently had been electrocuted, and now the downtown bank has shut off power to the subterranean warming system beneath its sidewalks in an effort to curb a danger to pets or small children that has been seen nationwide.

Washington Trust Bank is investigating the cause of the apparent electrocution, according to a company statement released Thursday. The statement lists the apparent cause of the electrocution as “stray voltage,” a phenomenon that has been reported in New York City and other major cities with the common culprit being underground sidewalk heaters.

Within minutes, despite efforts at CPR by Harper and other passersby, Hank died. Harper, who adopted the dog from a Colorado shelter at 7 weeks old, couldn’t believe a routine walk around downtown had ended in tragedy.

“It was just heartbreaking,” Harper said.

Washington Trust has a heating system that warms the pavement at the entrance to its 16-story tower built downtown in 1973, according to the company.

But it’s unclear where other heated sidewalks might be located throughout Spokane.

Neither Avista Utilities Corp. nor the city of Spokane keep records about which of Spokane’s many miles of sidewalks are heated. The city would only require a permit if underground work obstructed a sidewalk, and if there’s electrical work, there would only be an initial check of the circuitry, said Marlene Feist, a spokeswoman for the city of Spokane.

“We would inspect it once,” Feist said. “The responsibility for maintaining it would be the same as for any property owner, like clearing your sidewalk of snow.”

Harper’s done his research in the few days since the incident, trying to make sense of the death of what he called his “best friend.” Experts in other cities report that pools of melting snow and salt used to combat slippery sidewalks can act as conductors if wires beneath cracked sidewalks are frayed.

Harper called the apparent lack of oversight of electrical hazards downtown “ridiculous.”

“It sounds like no one really knows,” he said.

In its statement, Washington Trust said it was working to resolve the problem so it doesn’t happen again.

“We are in close contact with Zach during this difficult time and are brokenhearted for his loss,” the statement says.

Harper praised members of Washington Trust Bank for assisting him with Hank, particularly Jack Heath, the bank’s president and chief operating officer.

Meanwhile, Hank’s remains are at the family’s veterinarian in Deer Park, as Harper weighs his options and “how far I will take this.” That includes a push for new rules and oversight of electrical hazards.

“I’m trying to find some sort of educational takeaway from all this,” Harper said.

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