St. Louis is Tops in Postal Carrier Dog Bites

It's up to you to prevent this.
It's up to you to prevent this.
We're No. 5! Celebratory chomps all around.

OK, it's not actually that funny. The U.S. Postal Service today released data on the nation's top cities for dog attacks on postal carriers, and St. Louis tied for fifth (along with San Antonio) with 39 attacks in 2010. Houston was the top dog, with 62 letter carriers bitten last year.

"People laugh, ha ha. It's not funny," says Mark Saunders with the postal service. "Until you've experienced it, you can't imagine." Saunders himself recalls being attacked by a pooch while riding his bike as a kid.

The data were released to coincide with Dog Bite Prevention Week, which runs from May 15-21. The USPS was out $1.2 million last year in medical care for carriers who looked cross-eyed at Fido. And according to the Insurance Information Institute, more than a third of homeowners' insurance payouts were related to dog bites, to the tune of $413 million.

So it's serious business, and dog owners need to be aware that even though of course darling FiFi is a perfect angel, dogs' protective impulses can and do kick in. Any dog might interpret the friendly lady coming to the door with a box full of Internet shoes as a threat, and switch into defense mode. Saunders says postal customers should put their pet in another room, behind a closed door, whenever they open up for a carrier.

Postal carriers are trained to maneuver rain, snow, sleet and hail, of course. But they're also trained to avoid dog attacks, and they pack heat.

"We give them extensive training," says Saunders. "They're trained to place their satchels between them and an animal. And they carry a little can of pepper spray -- it's been approved by the Humane Society."

The American Veterinary Medical Association offers the following tips:
How to Avoid Being Bitten
·         Don't run past a dog. The dog's natural instinct is to chase and catch you.
·         If a dog threatens you, don't scream. Avoid eye contact. Try to remain motionless until the dog leaves, then back away slowly until the dog is out of sight.
·         Don't approach a strange dog, especially one that's tethered or confined.
·         People choosing to pet dogs should obtain permission from the owner first and always let a dog see and sniff them before petting the animal.
·         If you believe a dog is about to attack you, try to place something between yourself and the dog, such as a backpack or a bicycle.

How to Be a Responsible Dog Owner

·         Obedience training can teach dogs proper behavior and help owners control their dogs.
·         When a carrier comes to your home, keep your dog inside, away from the door in another room.
·         Dogs can be protective of their territory and may interpret the actions of letter carriers as a threat. Please take precautions when accepting mail in the presence of your pet.
·         Spay or neuter your dog. Neutered dogs are less likely to roam and bite.
·         Dogs that receive little attention or handling, or are left tied up for long periods of time, frequently turn into biters.

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