They will go through sleet and rain to deliver the mail, but, frankly, U.S. postal employees are getting tired of being chased, bitten and frightened by dogs.
Perfectly normal dogs, says Santa Ana Postmaster Rosemarie Fernandez, are taking bites of letter carriers’ legs and arms at an alarming rate. Already this year, 76 carriers have been bitten in Orange County, more than all of last year.
Most people don’t realize that their fun-loving, friendly pet will attack a postal carrier, Fernandez said.
“It’s not the blue uniform; it’s animal nature,” Fernandez said.
The dogs see a postal carrier coming on their property every day, and they instinctively want to protect the home. When they see an opportunity to attack the carrier, Fernandez said, they take it. Most often, she said, the attacks occur without warning, so letter carriers can’t ward off the dog with pepper spray.
Anthony Le, 32, had been delivering mail in Garden Grove for a year when an Akita jumped off a balcony, bit him on the leg and then sprang over a six-foot fence.
“I never saw him,” said Le, who said bystanders described the dog for him.
George Lopez, 35, was attacked by a shar-pei as he walked across a lawn to a mailbox in Santa Ana.
“I saw someone open the side gate to the fence and heard a yell, and then the dog bit me,” Lopez said. “It happened so fast, I was in shock.” As blood was running from Lopez’s leg, he said, the dog tried to bite him again, but the owner picked it up and ran away.
Since then, he said, he has become “a little paranoid” about dogs.
According to a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, more than 2,700 carriers were bitten last year, and some sustained serious injuries. In Middletown, Pa., a letter carrier suffered a fractured skull when a dog knocked him down. In Arcata, Calif., a dog tore off part of carrier Linda Byrd’s ear.
Fernandez said such injuries could be avoided if dog owners would take letter carriers’ concerns seriously and restrain their dogs when deliveries are made.
“Everyone says, ‘My dog would never bite,’ ” Fernandez said. “They say, ‘It must be the carrier. He or she must be afraid of dogs.’ But that’s not the case.”
As part of a nationwide campaign to end attacks on postal workers and others, the U.S. Postal Service, together with the Humane Society of the United States, has mailed every household in the country tips on how to prevent dog bites.
The most important is to keep the dog restrained, Fernandez said.
“We don’t want to take chances that someone will be hurt,” she said.
The Humane Society also recommends having a dog neutered, because unneutered dogs are three times more likely to bite.
And Marie Hulett from Orange County Animal Control said dog owners should train their pets to be sociable, no matter how old they are.
Hulett said state and county laws require that dogs remain on a leash when they leave private property or stand in areas of private property where the public has access, such as a front lawn.
If someone is bitten on private property, the homeowner may be financially liable. The post office expects dog owners to pay the medical expenses of their bitten workers, and employees often pursue their own claims against owners for pain and suffering.
It can be expensive. Medical claims average $1,200 per bite, Fernandez said. Independent lawsuits by postal carriers can cost an owner tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the seriousness of the injury.
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National Dog Bite Prevention Week runs through Saturday. Some safety tips on how to avoid being bitten and how to be a responsible dog owner:
* Halt: Don’t run past a dog; it triggers its instinct to catch prey
* Noise: Don’t scream if threatened
* Movement: Avoid eye contact, remain motionless until dog leaves
* Familiarity: Don’t approach a strange dog
* Awareness: Allow dog to see and sniff you before you pet it
* Sterilization: Spay or neuter dog; unneutered pets are more likely to bite
* Carrier courtesy: Keep dog inside, away from door during all deliveries
* Children: Don’t let children take mail from letter carrier in front of dog; it can trigger dog’s instinct to protect family
* Obedience: Teaching dog proper behavior will also help you keep control in any situation
Sources: U.S. Postal Service, Humane Society of the United States