Dog urine causes traffic light to collapse in western Japan

An iron column traffic light in Suzuka City, Mie Prefecture, has proved to be no match for the potty habits of neighborhood pets. Years of damage from dog urine caused the structure to collapse early this year with local officials now calling on residents to find a more suitable location for their pets to take care of business.

Urine seeps into traffic light base

Although no one was hurt when the traffic light suddenly snapped from its base in February, local police launched an investigation. The structures are designed to last about 50 years - but this one broke just 23 years after its installation.

Investigators found a high concentration of urea in the underground foundations, which was 42-fold urea compared to other traffic lights nearby. They also detected 8-fold of the substance around the column edge.

Police noted that the surrounding area was part of a popular dog-walking course. When a new traffic light was installed, it also became a prize urinating spot for dogs.

An iron traffic light column
An iron traffic light column collapsed at an intersection in Suzuka City, Mie Prefecture, in February 2021.

Infrastructure at risk

Police decided that since there were no other problems with the traffic light's installation or construction, dogs were the culprits. They say the damage accumulated over many years.

A photo of the corroded column
The base of the traffic light column was likely corroded by streams of dog urine.

"Even if the amount of urine is just a little, the repetition over a long period, can damage public infrastructure and cause it to collapse," warns officer Takahashi Koji, who serves in the traffic management and control division of the prefectural police.

He is calling on dog owners to help their pets find other places to urinate: "We want them to look at alternatives, like encouraging their animals to pee before they go for a walk."

Confusion among owners

But dog owners are confused by the advice. Many say the whole point of taking their pets for a walk is to let them pee outside.

"It's difficult to immediately stop my dogs from urinating there," says one owner who regularly passes through the intersection where the traffic light went down.

Another asks, "What's the alternative if it's not allowed outside?"

A man in his 70s says he is trying to get his dog to pee in the grass – and not on traffic light columns.

"But if dogs can't pee outdoors, what are we supposed to do?"

Vet encourages at-home urination

Veterinarian Shibanai Akiko, director of Tokyo's Akasaka Animal Clinic, says dogs can still enjoy their walks even if they can't pee.

"Dogs don't stress out even if they don't excrete or pee during a walk, or they don't mark their territory," she explains. "Also, it won't cause them to get sick."

Veterinarian Shibanai Akiko, director of Akasaka Animal Clinic in Tokyo.

"I recommend that owners discipline their dogs to excrete at home to check their health condition through their excretory substances. This is also to let dogs realize they are members of our society," she says.

Shibanai says dogs can be trained to choose suitable places for excretion, but adds that people need to be patient.

"Dog owners have to rethink what it's like to live with dogs. It is also good to consult with dog instructors or veterinarians."