A dubious ‘won’t-bite’ guarantee

Posted Sept. 18, 2009, at 5:58 p.m.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is investigating a controversial case in Dexter in which a mail carrier pepper-sprayed a dog and, allegedly, a young child who came to the dog’s rescue.

Because some allegations in the case reportedly are in dispute pending the conclusion of the investigation, and because the incident has caused hard feelings on both sides of the issue, I’ll resist the temptation to wax smart-alecky about the central involvement of a 5-pound Chihuahua in the episode. Down that path lies only a ration of grief. Trust me.

In the story reported by BDN staffer Diana Bowley, a comment by spokesman Tom Rizzo of the U.S. Postal Service’s Northern District pretty much summed up the situation when innocent pedestrian runs afoul of turf-guarding dog. It is not unusual, Rizzo said, to see postal workers wounded “despite a pet owner’s insistence that their dog would never bite anyone.”

If, as has often been said, the phrases “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help” and “the check is in the mail” are the top two false promises known to mankind, then surely “don’t worry — he won’t bite you,” by dog owners the world over has to be No. 3 on the list of all-time canards.

As a devoted daily walker of many years, I have heard that whopper as often as have wary postal workers on their beat, newspaper carriers making their rounds, the heating oil delivery guy, door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesmen and Jehovah’s Witnesses out spreading The Word on a Sunday morn.

Although a card-carrying dog lover who has many trusted friends in the canine community, I have been stopped short on occasion by everything from a yapping ankle-biter to a crazed Rotweiler seemingly the size of an adult Maine black bear — the woodsy kind, not the UMaine hockey team variety.

While walking in another jurisdiction I once faced down a salivating beast whose performance Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi likely would have labeled “un-American.” He charged — hair standing up on the back of his neck and teeth bared — then commenced to circle me while periodically faking a lunge at my jugular. The animal’s owner blithely advised me not to worry — biting humans was not in the dog’s playbook. All the big pussycat craved was a little attention, she insisted. Well, he certainly had mine, I assured her. Undivided.

The news report of the Dexter incident prompted me to go to my dawg-eared copy of “A Dog’s Life,” a literary gem by Peter Mayle, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. in 1995. As I recalled from my first reading of this unique dog “autobiography” years ago, Boy, Mayle’s “uncannily perspicacious and shaggy canine of un-known origins,” offers wise counsel on the sometimes strained dog-human relationship.

Observation and years of eavesdropping on humans have provided him with a sound intellectual base, Boy tells us, but for practical knowledge “there simply is no substitute for experience in the school of hard knocks.”

As an example he cites an unfortunate encounter with a plumber toiling in a confined area under madame’s kitchen sink to retrieve a dead vole from the piping. Space restrictions prevent me from relating the details. Suffice to say the fiasco was “the kind of experience that leaves an emotional mark,” as have other misunder-standings in Boy’s life:

“Take the postman, for instance, who objects to my running out for a harmless frolic with his van and keeps a handful of gravel at the ready to throw at me. Or the cyclist who tried to part my hair with his pump. He lost his balance and fell off, as it happened, and retired hurt, with torn shorts and blood pouring down his leg.

“That was a just and satisfactory ending, but there have been times when things haven’t worked out quite the way they should have — the chicken-training episode, for one. I’ll deal with that later, but I think you take my point. Pitfalls abound, and people are unpredictable. The world can be a perilous place.”

I’m thinking there is a 5-pound Chihuahua in Dexter that might agree.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach by e-mail at olddawg@bangordailynews.net.

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