PITTSFIELD — It was a “beautiful” Saturday afternoon in late July when mail carrier Leah Rowland reached a Ridgeway Avenue home along her route.
Residents were buzzing about outside. Among them was Dai Ingalls, who was in her backyard as Rowland walked up to her front door to deliver the mail. She typically kept her front door closed, but July 31, after having finished mowing her lawn, she had only her screen door shut.
As the postal worker approached the home, uniformed and holding mail in her right hand, Ingalls’ two dogs bolted through the screen door, Rowland said. The mail carrier, who recently had learned that she was pregnant, moved quickly to block the door with her foot, but the dogs barreled on and began to attack her.
With mail in her left hand, Rowland tried to grab her dog spray with her right hand, but one of the dogs bit down on her left arm, then the other bit her hip. Eventually, she said, she fell to the ground and cried out for help as the dogs continued to bite.
“We had just found out we were having a baby on Tuesday,” she told members of the Animal Control Commission on Aug. 25. “So, I’m at this point about seven weeks pregnant, so, my initial instinct was to protect my torso and my neck.”
Her statements were part of emotional testimony she gave at a public hearing called to determine the dogs’ fate, after the attack that Rowland said left her traumatized and unable to work. One of the dogs was ordered euthanized; the other was confined to the property at all times, unless muzzled.
After what seemed like forever, Rowland said, Thomas Dawley, a neighbor and off-duty police lieutenant, ran to her aid. He scooped Rowland off the ground and shook off the dogs, also getting bitten in the process.
Dawley brought Rowland back to his house and called 911. Rowland said she was treated by EMTs, then rushed to Berkshire Medical Center, where she received her first rabies shot and was put on antibiotics.
Appearing with her husband, a fellow mail carrier, Rowland described in detail how she still suffers physically, and emotionally, as she finds herself nervous around and unable to walk her own dogs and unable to pick up her 15-month-old daughter. And the medical bills are piling up.
“I love my job, I love my route, I love dogs. ... I put my dogs in my Christmas cards every year,” said Rowland, who has been a mail carrier for seven years. “But, this can’t happen to anyone else. There’s so many kids in that neighborhood, or older folks that just walk around.”
After the hearing, the commission deemed both dogs dangerous and voted to order that Ingalls euthanize one of them — Fudge, a 2-year-old unneutered male pit bull mix that chairman and veterinarian Dr. John Reynolds said was the primary aggressor. Commissioners ordered Ingalls to keep her other dog, Maggie, confined to her property at all times, unless muzzled.
Ingalls has a 10-day window in which she can appeal beginning when she receives formal notification by mail, according to police. It was not clear whether she had done that as of Thursday.
Several people spoke up in support of the dogs. Ingalls, through tears, said the incident was “an extremely unfortunate accident” and, in comments echoed by her daughter and another man who knew the canines, said her pets never before have exhibited hostility.
“I don’t know why this happened,” she said. “They’ve never shown any aggression towards anyone.
“I thought the screen door was secure, but like she said,” Ingalls added, referring to Rowland’s comments. “They pushed it open.”
Dawley wrote a letter that was read at the hearing. He said Rowland was traumatized and suffered injuries from which she never might recover. But, he opposed euthanasia, noting that neither dog ever had been reported to have attacked another person before the incident, and he suggested that they were trying to protect their home.
“In my opinion, these dogs should not be subjected to being euthanized. Several safety steps and precautions can be introduced to prevent anything like this from happening again,” Dawley wrote. “I do not want to see these dogs killed for this isolated incident.”
It was Dawley’s proximity and assistance that prevented the situation from ending in tragedy, said Postmaster Susan Murphy. She said the attack left the carrier with severe injuries and prompted the U.S. Postal Service to modify how carriers deliver mail in the area to ensure that their vehicles are close by for protection.
“Aggressive once; they will always be aggressive as far as we’re concerned in the postal service,” she said. “The dog has mauled a carrier who could have possibly been killed if Mr. Dawley did not do what he did.”