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Mail carrier vs. beast: Pennsylvania among worst in country for dog bites

USPS carrier Michael McDonald gathers mail before making his delivery run in February in Atlanta.
David Goldman
USPS carrier Michael McDonald gathers mail before making his delivery run in February in Atlanta.

Pennsylvania ranks No. 4 on the list of states for mail carrier dog attacks and during National Dog Bite Awareness week, the U.S. Postal Service marked the importance of keeping pets in control.

About 5,300 Postal Service employees were attacked by dogs last year — an average of about 15 a day, according to USPS.

Leeann Theriault, USPS manager of employee safety and health awareness, said carriers have scanners that send them an alert when a dog is coming up at an address.

But Theriault said pet owners can do their part, as well.

“The best way that a customer can keep our employees safe from their dogs is to make sure they're trained," Theriault said.

"They teach their dog to behave appropriately, they know commands in case the dog breaks away from the leash so that they call them back, they don't allow them to roam freely, so that carriers don't feel threatened by any dogs running loose.”

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'Biting because they're afraid'

Theriault said mail people are trained to put their letter satchel in between them and a dog coming toward them. They also have repellent spray.

“That's a Cayenne pepper spray that has been approved by the Humane Society to use if they needed to,” she said.

Jackie Folsom, director of development for the Lehigh Valley Humane Society, said, “You can definitely run into some issues with your local animal control or the Pennsylvania dog warden if your dog is frequently at large running loose."

"Or, of course, if they do bite someone, that can come with some things like fines and you can face consequences.”

Folsom said there are organizations that manage and monitor cases of dogs running at large or attacking someone.

She advises pet owners to do their part by ensuring their dogs are safely contained within a yard with the gate latched.

“If your dog is a dog that is a runner, it's really important to make sure that they don't get loose, because sometimes in the process of someone trying to catch them, they may bite because they're afraid," she said.

"A lot of times dogs are biting because they're afraid.”

Traumatic, can lead to bills

Folsom said that if someone is going to approach a dog, it’s important to read the animal’s body language.

“If the dog has the tail tucked, hackles on the back are standing up, and they're kind of looking at you out of the corner of their eye and, of course, in addition to growling and things like that, panting and drooling, a lot of these things can indicate severe stress and fear,” she said.

“So if that's the case, even if the dog is tolerating you touching it, if you're sensing that the dog is stiff, rigid or uncomfortable, you do not want to try and touch that dog and you do not want to make prolonged eye contact with that dog.”

Folsom concluded by saying animals, as with people, can be hesitant with new people, places or things, so it’s important to keep that in mind while owning a pet.

Theriault said dog bites are very traumatic and can lead to costly medical bills.

People can sign up for informed delivery so they know when mail will be delivered and take the necessary precautions.

Read more from our partners, Lehigh Valley News.