Can dogs, mail mix?
Since June, the Pittsfield Post Office has recorded six dog attacks on its carriers.
"Things change when the kids are out of school," said Pittsfield Postmaster Roger Parent. "They don't think that letting the dog out to greet the mailman will make him susceptible to an attack."
The most recent attack in Pittsfield occurred on July 19, when a small white poodle bit a carrier twice on the back of the leg.
"He had to go back to the doctor's two times to get checked out," said Paula Cooke, a supervisor at the Pittsfield Post Office.
The number of dog attacks mostly bites on Western Massachusetts postal workers are up eightfold since last year, according to Bob Boiselle, spokesman for the Massachusetts Postal District.
Between Oct. 1, 2005, and Sept. 31, 2006, only one dog attack was recorded in the western portion of the district, not including the city of Springfield. This year, there already have been eight attacks six of them during the summer months.
"It's also the heat," added Parent. "It may be cooler outside in the shade than in the house if there's not air conditioning. More dogs are outside during the summertime."
In 2006, there were 3,184 attacks on mail carriers across the country, said Boiselle: 26 of them occurred in the Massachusetts Postal District, which excludes the greater Boston area and Cape Cod. Thirty-two have occurred so far this year.
Although Pittsfield carrier, Eric Yarter, has been bitten four times since he started working in the district in 1992, he is not discouraged by this summer's increase in attacks.
"The people in Pittsfield are very conscientious," he said. "They know you can end up being liable if someone is seriously injured."
It also helps that Yarter and other carriers have "dog warning cards" that list detailed information physical and behavioral characteristics about what dogs are known to pop up where along the delivery route.
Carriers insert the cards into mail that will be delivered a few addresses before the house with the dog.
"It will serve as a reminder that there is a dog coming up a couple of doors down," said Boiselle.
But Yarter insists that the cards are not only drawn up for "bad dogs."
"They are for good dogs and bad dogs. They let you know if it's a jumper. You don't want to go hosing a dog down if it's a good dog," explained Yarter, who, like all carriers, keeps dog spray on him in case of a surprise attack.
Although the dog warning cards are not intended for delivery, Patience Jenkins, who lives on Benedict Road, found one stowed away in her box.
"It had my address and said 'Beware of dog. Will bite mail and fingertips,' " said Jenkins, who found the card after she had already resolved the issue between her dog and the carrier. "It was in my file. I thought, 'Oh my God, the mail people are talking about my dog.' I was so embarrassed."
Two years ago, Jenkins' dog, Lenka, a husky-rottweiler mix, would stand directly behind the mail slot built into her porch door. She would bite the mail aggressively as soon as it was put through the hole.
But because Jenkins was rarely home during delivery time, she was unaware of her dog's dangerous habit.
"Once day I noticed that we didn't get the mail. And then I noticed that we didn't get the mail for three or four days. And then I got a whole bundle of mail wrapped up in a rubber band in the yard. They left a note saying, 'Undeliverable due to dog,' " explained Jenkins.
"It was dangerous for the mailman because the dog was biting the mail out of his hand," she admitted.
The note prompted Jenkins to buy and mount a mailbox to the side of her house. She also taped a "do not use" sign to the mail slot.
Jenkins is an example of a dog-owning resident Western Massachusetts post offices would like to see more of this summer.
According to North Adams Postmaster Philip Moreau, "it's more about having a responsible dog owner than a dog problem."
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