BANGOR — Dog bites against letter carriers are the subject of jokes, but dogs injure thousands of postal workers every year, according to the U.S. Postal Service. This week is National Dog Bite Prevention Week, an event meant to promote awareness of the problem and its solutions.
Fifteen postal service letter carriers were bitten by dogs in Maine last year, and nearly 2,900 postal workers in the U.S. reported being bitten in 2009.
“Any dog can bite, even the gentlest dog if it’s in pain or threatened or protecting its food or favorite toy,” said Tom Rizzo, the postal service district communications coordinator for Maine.
Approximately 334,000 people are admitted to the emergency room each year for dog-related injuries, according to a 2001 report from the American Veterinary Medical Association. Almost half of the victims are children less than 12 years old. More than 30,000 reconstructive surgeries were performed because of dog bites last year, most of them on children, Rizzo said.
“It is also very costly when a [letter] carrier is injured,” Rizzo said.
People with dog-related injuries that end up in the emergency room cost an estimated $102.4 million each year, according to the Veterinary Association.
Letter carriers are allowed to curtail delivery to a residence and insist people pick up their mail at their local post office if they fear for their safety because of a dog. And delivery to neighborhoods where dogs are allowed to roam free can be curtailed at a postmaster’s decision if letter carriers that deliver to the community feel threatened by the dog there, Rizzo said.
In February, a Hartland man was attacked by his chow mix, according to Bangor Daily News archives. The man was left with a $16,000 bill for a LifeFlight helicopter trip to a Boston hospital. The dog was euthanized.
More recently, a Rangeley man was issued a summons for keeping a dangerous dog after his pit bull attacked and injured a 13-year-old girl.
The postal service investigated an incident last year involving a letter carrier after she used pepper spray against a Dexter family’s Chihuahua, and the little girl who tried to intervene after the dog attacked the postal worker. The federal investigator later cleared the letter carrier of any wrongdoing, according to BDN archives.
Pet owners can also be held liable for medical expenses and other costs if their dog attacks a postal worker, Rizzo said. Maine law allows for courts to order restitution for any harm done to a person or property by a dog.
There is no particular breed known to be more susceptible to biting people than others, according to the Veterinary Association, and there are several reasons why it is difficult to accumulate dog-bite statistics for certain breeds, one being that not all dog bites in a community are reported.
The postal service and the Veterinary Association recommend several tips for curbing biting in dogs. Dog owners are recommended to teach obedience training to their pet, keep their dog inside and away from the front door when a letter carrier arrives, not let children accept mail from carriers in the presence of a dog and to spay or neuter a dog. Dogs that receive little to no attention or are tied up for long periods of time frequently turn into biters.
The postal service isn’t “anti-dog” Rizzo said, but tries to raise awareness of the problem of dog bites. The postal service does not support programs to teach pet owners responsible dog training or handling.
The governor signed a law May 28, 1999, giving courts the right to order a dog muzzled or euthanized if it “has killed, maimed or inflicted serious bodily injury upon a person or has a history of a prior assault.”