“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” can stop the United States Postal Service’s 617,000 postal workers from delivering over 155 billion pieces of mail per year. But there’s one thing that can stop a mail carrier in their tracks — a snarling, territorial dog. Now, new statistics show that last year, letter carriers were bitten by dogs 5,767 times.
The statistics were released as part of an annual dog attack report prepared by the USPS. The number is up slightly from last year, when 5,581 bites were recorded. Though they’re only a fraction of the roughly 4.4 million dog bites that occur in the United States each year, they’re a real problem for postal workers whose jobs involve bringing mail to homes that can host aggressive dogs.
Los Angeles had the most dog-on-mail-carrier incidents in 2014 (74 attacks), followed by Houston (62), San Diego (47) and Chicago (45). USPS Service Manager of Safety Linda DeCarlo notes that though owners often refuse to believe their dogs will bite, many do. She also says that all attacks are preventable. DeCarlo recommends that owners make sure their dogs are in a separate room or space from where packages are delivered, and to secure dogs when they see a mail carrier approaching. She also says that people should avoid taking letters and packages directly from mail carriers, as dogs might misunderstand the action as threatening. Letter carriers who feel threatened are encouraged to leave mail at a local post office branch instead.
But in one area, postal workers aren't waiting for dog owners to train their dogs. NPR’s Allie Ferguson reports that in Los Angeles, where sunny skies and suburban yards increase dog bite dangers for postal workers, letter carriers are working with a dog trainer hired by the city’s postmaster. Ferguson writes that Allen Burnsworth teaches postal workers to use their mail bags to fend off territorial dogs long enough to leave the yard and return to their vehicle. Veteran mail carriers told Ferguson that more post offices should hire trainers like Burnsworth to help prevent bites.
Wondering how you can avoid a dog bite sans mail bag? The Humane Society of the United States recommends you pay attention to a dog’s body language, avoid eye contact, and back away slowly.