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Detroit ranked in top 10 cities for dog attacks on postal carriers


Washington — The U.S. Postal Service ranked Detroit in the top 10 cities for dog attacks on postal employees for last year — a tally that includes anything from nips to major attacks causing serious injury.

Detroit tied with San Diego for No. 10, with 35 dog attacks reported in each city in 2020, according to Postal Service data. 

The count of attacks in Detroit is on the rise, increasing 35% from 2019 when postal carriers reported 26 dog attacks in the city.

The number of attacks statewide is also growing. Michigan ranked seventh among the states for dog attacks on postal carriers with 253 attacks last year, up 7% from 237 in 2019. Michigan ranked behind California, Texas, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

Other cities in Michigan with the most dog attacks included Flint (15, ranked No. 23) Grand Rapids (eight), Royal Oak and Saginaw (seven each), and Battle Creek and Jackson (six each), according to Postal Service data.

Nationwide, dog attacks on postal employees are up slightly, with 5,856 attacks reported in 2020, compared with 5,803 in 2019.

James Hunter, who was a letter carrier in Birmingham for 30 years, said he was attacked by dogs along his route at least a half dozen times in that span, but was never bitten thanks to the training provided by the Postal Service. 

"The worst thing about getting a dog attack, your heart starts pumping and it's a crazy, crazy feeling. Just that adrenaline rush. — oh my God. And it takes a little while to calm down after that," Hunter said. 

"And then you get mad. Because it's like, come on. The customers know they have a dog that can possibly do that. Keep your dogs under leash or behind something."

The Postal Service is trying to spread the word about dog bite prevention and how to safeguard letter carriers with a public service campaign timed to its annual National Dog Bite Awareness Week, which starts Saturday. This year’s theme is “Be Aware: Any Dog Can Bite.”  

"Dogs are instinctive animals that may act to protect their turf, and that why’s it’s important to inform the public about this campaign," USPS Acting Employee Safety and Health Awareness Manager Jamie Seavello said in a statement.

Dog attacks and bites aren't just a problem for postal employees in Detroit, where officials were moved to strengthen laws for owners of vicious animals last year after a 9-year-old child was mauled to death in the city in August 2019. 

Emma Hernandez was attacked by three pit bulls while riding her bicycle in an alley near her home in southwest Detroit, which sparked outrage in the community and calls for action against violent dogs and problem pet owners. The city's new ordinances subject owners of dangerous dogs to misdemeanor charges and educational training. 

Postal officials stressed that the responsibility is on the dog owner to control the animal, and that owners should secure their dogs around the time that their letter carrier usually arrives each day to reduce the potential of any interactions.

Officials also urge dog owners to remind their kids not to take mail directly from a letter carrier because the animal might then consider the postal employee to be a threat and try to attack.

Letter carriers are trained to stand their ground and protect themselves by either using dog repellent or putting something between themselves and the animal, such as their satchel, according to the Postal Service.

Letter carriers do have "dog alerts" as part of their handheld scanners they carry to alert them of the potential presence of a dog. Officials said the carriers also have dog warning cards as reminders for substitute carriers about dog hazards along a route.

Hunter said his satchel is what prevented him from getting bitten the times he was attacked by a dog.

"The dog will bite on that satchel, and that’s when you start kicking and yelling and hope the owner comes out fast enough," he said. "But I know carriers who have been bit, and it shakes them up."

He's also carried the pepper spray but said that's not as helpful when if it’s windy, or if the carrier is startled because there's no time to grab it, he said.

Among the scarier situations, he said, is encountering properties with electronic dog fences, when a carrier sees a dog unrestrained in the front yard.

"If you're not the regular carrier, we're told not even to approach that yard because we don't know if there's an electrical fence there," Hunter said. 

The letter carrier is trained to skip that home and not try to make the delivery that day, he said. 

Postal officials said when a carrier feels unsafe, mail service could be interrupted and won't be restored until the dog is "properly restrained."

mburke@detroitnews.com