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Postal Carriers Unleash Frustration Over Dog Attacks

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Marching, chanting mail carriers were out in force making an unusual Sunday morning delivery.

They were delivering a message dear to postal carriers’ hearts--and other parts of their anatomy: “Keep your dogs locked up. They bite.”

Local Postmaster Alyce Alford, who led the march of letter carriers and their families, said the protest was intended to heighten public awareness of dog attacks on mail carriers, which she said is on the rise in Garden Grove.

“Everyone in Garden Grove seemingly has a dog,” Alford said, as the 100 protesters quick-stepped a one-mile route through the center of the city.

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Six Garden Grove mail carriers have been bitten in as many months, according to Alford, who was once chased up a fence herself by a pursuing mutt that latched onto the seat of her pants.

A Garden Grove carrier suffered permanent injury to his leg in a 1989 attack that left him using a cane and reassigned to a desk job.

In fiscal 1993, 2,733 carriers nationwide were injured by dogs. Although injuries are on the decline nationally from a peak in the frantic dog-bite days of the 1980s, postal carriers have only their wits, their satchel and an apparently not-quite-effective pepper spray to keep the hounds at bay.

“They eat the spray, they drink the spray, the spray doesn’t hurt them,” Alford insisted as she led the marchers on a route through quiet residential streets.

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None of the letter carriers bothered to bring their spray cans.

“What good would it be to bring the pepper spray? It’s glorified salad dressing,” Alford said.

Most participants were from Alford’s Garden Grove post office, but they were joined by some of their dog-weary brethren from Huntington Beach. Regardless of where they deliver mail, the carriers seem to share experiences like that of Laura LaMagna.

LaMagna displayed scars from a Weimaraner that clamped his teeth onto her forearm during a delivery last Christmas Eve. The dog was being led on a leash by a 12-year-old girl.

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“The pain was so excruciating,” said LaMagna, 40, a four-year veteran of the Postal Service. “When I see a dog now, I don’t take any chances.”

Postal authorities can withhold mail delivery, even bypass an entire block, if a serious threat is perceived, Alford said. But such tactics are a last resort and can be avoided if pet owners keep their dogs inside or otherwise secured during mail delivery hours.

Maybe it was the early hour on Sunday (the protest march began at 10 a.m.) or maybe the chanting scared away the strays, but only one dog was spotted roaming loose, and the procession drew only an occasional bark from behind fences and gates.

Elaine and Dale Weise came outdoors when they heard the marchers’ commotion, but their pet Chihuahua and a chow remained behind a fence.

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Their dogs “get out once in while, like everybody’s,” Dale Weise said. “But the mailman and mail lady usually know our dogs by name.”

Nevertheless, mail carriers like Jean Morby believe the dog problem in Garden Grove is increasing.

“I know the nature of dogs,” said Morby, 62, who has raised German shepherds, owning as many as 12 at one time. When she or her co-workers urge residents to keep their dogs secured, it’s for good reason, Morby said.

The dog owners’ “famous last words are: ‘My dog won’t hurt you,’ ” she said.

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But not too long ago a pit bull on a leash in a front yard broke loose from its choke chain and knocked Morby to the ground, she recalled.

“He started right up the ankle, five bites,” Morby said. “When (I was) on the ground and fighting to reach the (spray), he’s biting away. . . .

“It was very painful.”


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