After a Windber postal carrier suffered injuries from a dog attack last week, local U.S. Postal Service officials are asking residents for their help to prevent similar situations.
Each year, USPS promotes National Dog Bite Prevention Week in April in an effort to prevent dog attacks.
Dierdre Keim, postmaster for the Windber post office, said the issue is timely and raising awareness is crucial.
The carrier who was attacked last week required emergency medical treatment, and her injuries resulted in several stitches, she said.
Keim, who has worked for USPS for 26 years, recalls a time when a large St. Bernard dog attacked her vehicle when she was a rural carrier.
Dogs attacking or biting postal carriers is something that can happen as many as three to seven times per week in Windber’s district of USPS, Keim said, and can range from a minor bite to a wound that draws blood.
Johnstown Postmaster Wendy Hudak said she’s handled six incidents in the past two years that have involved dog bites requiring carriers to seek medical attention.
That doesn’t count incidents in which carriers have to avoid certain streets due to aggressive dogs.
“It’s an ongoing issue for mail carriers,” she said. “We have a lot of safety discussions around dogs and how to handle them. We talk about it daily.”
According to USPS, pet owners’ efforts are critical to decrease the number of employees attacked by dogs.
“A lot of people are under the misconception that their dog isn’t going to bite anyone,” Keim said.
“It just depends on what the dog perceives as a threat.”
The USPS recommends that if a letter carrier delivers mail or packages to a front door, pet owners should place their dog in a separate room and close that door before opening the front door. Dogs have been known to burst through screen doors or even glass doors or windows to attack postal workers.
Hudak said many times, children who are home for the summer open the door for the mail carrier, unintentionally allowing dogs outside and into the path of post office employees.
“It’s more of a summer issue for post offices,” she said.
Parents are asked to remind children and other family members not to take mail directly from carriers in the presence of pets, as dogs may view the carrier handing mail to a family member as a threatening gesture.
Carriers are trained to use their mail satchel as their first line of defense and also carry dog spray, which can divert dogs long enough for carriers to safely return to their vehicles or get out of the area.
In addition, Hudak said carriers are instructed never to pet or feed dogs and not to wear earbuds on their routes to remain alert to any animals that may approach them.
The devices carriers use to scan packages can also be programmed to remind them of homes or streets with issues involving dogs, Hudak added.
If a carrier feels threatened by a dog or if a dog is loose or unleashed, the pet owner may be asked to pick up mail at a post office until the carrier has been assured the dog has been restrained. If a dog is roaming the neighborhood, the pet owner’s neighbors also may be asked to pick up their mail at their area’s post office.
As the weather turns and more pet owners allow their dogs outside, Keim also noted that restrained dogs on leashes or chains should not be able to get within reach of a postal worker who walks through yards or uses sidewalks on their routes.
“It’s not just for the mail carrier, it’s for anyone,” she said, including students canvassing their neighborhoods for a school fundraiser or even those who are campaigning door-to-door for the upcoming local elections.
“It’s a serious issue and concern. We just want to be sure everyone is safe. That’s our main goal.”