More Stray Jolts | Letters | Chicago Reader

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Dear Justin,

Thank you for your article "This Sidewalk Could Kill Your Dog" dated June 9. Your experience validated two similar experiences we've had with our four-legged kids Buster (Rhodesian ridgeback) and Libby (Doberman pinscher).

One evening about two years ago my husband and I took Libby and Buster for our evening jog on a route that took us by the corner of Diversey and Halsted. On this particular evening it was raining. When we approached the northwest corner of Diversey and Halsted our dogs started yelping like I've never heard before. Like you, we thought that they were stepping on something. We were immediately able to get them across the street, at which time Buster seemed unfazed and Libby totally frenzied and scared. My husband had to carry Libby home all the way to Wrightwood and Racine. The dog who was returned to the rescue shelter three times and finally felt she was "rescued" by her forever family glared at us in disbelief and distrust as if we had deliberately abused her. I racked my brain trying to imagine what had happened to Libby and Buster. After a week of sleepless nights, horrified by the images of Libby yelping and gyrating on the street corner and worried that she would never trust us again, we let the incident go and rerouted our evening jog.

One year later we were walking the dogs at dawn after an evening's rain on Wrightwood toward Jonquil Park--a route we've passed for five years since living in the neighborhood. All of a sudden Libby started yelping and something threw her into the brick wall of Wrightwood Tap and back to the other side into the mailbox. This time I didn't let it go.

As I was walking home from the el that evening I purposely passed by the scene. I surveyed the area for any clue that would explain what happened earlier that day. Broken glass? Thorns from a tree? Nails from the rehab construction that Wrightwood Tap was undergoing? As I was retracing the steps and expanding my search within a five-foot radius of our path, I didn't realize that I was about to step on the culprit: a live, exposed wire sticking out of the ground where a street lamp used to be. Frustrated by my inability to solve the mystery, I proceeded home.

On my way home the horror of Libby's yelps were screaming in my ears and a shot of her flying into a brick wall and then metal garbage can flashed in my mind. And then I remembered the exposed wire. I raced home and frantically searched the Internet for "electrocution" and "sidewalks, manhole covers," etc, praying for answers. Although the search results were few in number, they offered an explanation to the unexplainable.

I shared my findings with my husband, and he insisted that we go back to the scene with a camera to take a picture of the exposed wires. While taking the picture, he suggested that I point to it with my foot so that it could be clearly identified in the photo. As I did this, my tennis shoe touched the wires and sparks the size of fireflies flew in the air. Several pictures later and the smell of burnt wire insulation in the air, we knew that we had the evidence to let the local authorities know about the problem, correct it, and educate our neighbors.

After explaining the situation to Vi Daley's office, I learned that she "was aware of a similar incident that killed a dog on Lincoln and Wrightwood a few years ago" (how horrifying) and that the incident involving Libby "was in Ted Matlak's ward." A phone call to Ted Matlak's office seemingly offered a more urgent response as "they would send someone out right away."

Armed with rubber-soled shoes, my husband and I marched to the scene twice daily for several days and kicked the wires in hopes that our elected officials had fixed the problem. When the sparks continued to fly we decided to take our story and pictures to the local media.

E-mails ("Sparks Fly in Lincoln Park") and pictures to the local CBS, NBC, and ABC affiliates yielded no response. An e-mail to the Chicago Tribune resulted in a reporter correcting my usage of the term electrocution, as that apparently means "to cause death" and not simply to cause harm or trauma. And while our story was ignored, Libby's improvement over the next few weeks became more evident.

Last week while I was on the el and anticipating the "Buster-and-Libby hero's welcome" I would receive after a long day of work, I glanced over a woman's shoulder and caught a glimpse of a subtitle to your story "stray voltage" with the accompanying picture of a dog. The adrenaline rushed through my body as if Libby's incident happened yesterday and not a year ago. I rushed home so that I could read your article online. I was happy to hear that New York and Boston have gone to great lengths to eliminate the "stray voltage" problem, not surprised that your story had not been heard until now, and grateful that your article could help to ensure that stories like ours do not continue to be buried beneath the streets of Chicago.

Kimberly, David, Libby, and Buster Suda-Blake

W. Wrightwood

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