May 15-21, 2016
By Ren Cooper
Sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), Dog Bite Prevention Week occurs each year during the third full week of May. The purpose is to promote safety and education when it comes to dog bites and dog bite prevention. AVMA estimates that over 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year, approximately half of whom are children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Dog attacks are also one of the main safety challenges faced by the United States Postal Service. At a press conference last week, USPS Safety Director Linda DeCarlo announced that 6,549 postal workers were attacked by dogs in 2015, a considerable increase from the 5,581 postal carriers who were attacked by dogs in 2014. 
Given the statistics, it is understandable that mail carriers take this issue seriously. As a rule, customers are asked to restrain their pets when carriers are making deliveries. If a dog or other animal is perceived to be a threat by a postal carrier, he or she may fill out a warning card, which serves to notify other carriers of potential danger on the route. The mail carrier will also remind the pet owner to restrain the dog. If this warning is ignored, the carrier may no longer deliver to the address, causing the customer to pick up any mail at the nearest post office. The pet owner’s neighbors may also be asked to pick up their mail at the Post Office, which won’t make you too popular on your street…
As a result of the increase in dog attacks, USPS has enacted additional preventative measures, which will serve to better alert mail carriers in advance of the presence of a dog at a particular location. When requesting a package pickup, as of May 13th, a box has been added for customers to confirm whether or not a dog lives at the address. The second new safety measure will go into effect later this spring. DeCarlo explains, “The Mobile Delivery Devices that letter carriers use to scan packages to confirm delivery will include a feature that allows carriers to indicate the presence of a dog at an individual address. This is especially helpful to substitutes who fill-in for letter carriers on their days off.” 
Carriers also carry dog repellent, a form of pepper spray, and are instructed to use it in emergencies. Veterinarians have thoroughly examined it and have stated that it is a safe, effective, and humane method of restraining threatening animals. As evidenced by the new safety measures, USPS is looking to altogether avoid dangerous situations in which retaliation becomes an option. DeCarlo also shared the following tips:
- If a letter carrier delivers mail or packages to your front door, place your dog in a separate room and close that door before opening the front door. Dogs have been known to burst through screen doors or plate-glass windows to get at strangers.
- Dog owners should keep the family dog secured. Parents should remind their children not to take mail directly from letter carriers in the presence of the family pet as the dog may view the letter carrier handing mail to a child as a threatening gesture.
Of course, one can understand the perspective of a dog, as well. Dogs, who are in principle territorial creatures, may be frustrated by a person returning day after day to his or her space. Dogs use sounds and body language to communicate; if a dog has used warning barks to tell a mail carrier to move along, the dog may become perturbed and lash out at a carrier just trying to do his or her job. Displaying aggressive behavior can also be very reinforcing for a dog. Since mail carriers, or other delivery people, tend to come and go very quickly, a dog may interpret this as a success. That is, I barked madly at the mailman, the mailman left very quickly (because, in actuality, he completed his task of delivering the mail), therefore I should always bark at the mailman. Experts recommend starting early when it comes to conditioning a dog to be accepting of visits from strangers. It is possible to counter-condition a dog who has already displayed aggression toward a mail carrier, but it is obviously much more difficult. 
Yet, it seems that the United States Postal Service may need to worry about more than just dogs! Earlier this year in Hillsdale, New Jersey, a postal worker was surrounded in his truck by 7 wild turkeys. Eventually, two police officers assisted by scaring off the wild turkeys, after the Hillsdale Postmaster called 911 requesting help. As per the released transcript of the call:
"You're not going to believe this, but I got a carrier being attacked by wild turkeys who won't let him deliver the mail," the Hillsdale postmaster said on the call. "This has been going on. It's crazy. They're actually attacking, biting, they chase the trucks, everything." 
This carrier may need to copy the tactics of a mailman in Falmouth, MA who uses a giant stick to carefully fend off the gang of wild turkeys who follow him on his route every day! The Massachusetts mail carrier does not strike the turkeys; rather, he uses the stick to maintain a safe distance from the menacing gang (fun fact: a group of turkeys is called a rafter). Watch this video, by the Cape Cod Wave, to see the turkeys in action. Listen for the carrier’s resigned, “Every day…” We will continue to monitor the situation and will update readers if USPS ever rolls out a Turkey Attack Prevention Week. [5,6]
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Preventing Dog Bites,” last modified May 18, 2015, http://www.cdc.gov/features/dog-bite-prevention.
- Mark Saunders and McKinney Boyd, Postal News, “Postal Service Releases Annual Dog Attack City Rankings,” May 11, 2016.
- Andrea Janet Farricelli, Pet Helpful, “Why Do Dogs Hate the Mailman?” February 13, 2016.
- CBS News, CBS New York, “Gang of wild turkeys trap New Jersey mailman in his truck,” February 18, 2016.”
- Brian Tarcy, Cape Cod Wave, “Turkeys Attack Falmouth Mailman ‘Every Day,’” December 5, 2016.
- Whitney Meers, The Huffington Post, “Wild Turkey Troop Goes Bonkers On The Mailman, And It Happens Every Day,” December 14, 2015.