Week brings attention to danger
SIKESTON -- U.S. Postal Service mail carrier Danny Denton had a close encounter with a pit bull. Although the experience is one he would rather forget, he, like the rest of the mail carriers in the nation, must face the possibility of confronting a dangerous dog on a daily basis.
Last month, Denton, who has been a mail carrier for 17 years, was walking his assigned mail route, down a street in Sikeston, delivering mail when he reached a house where a woman and her dog, a pit bull, were sitting on the front porch.
"As I walked up to the house, the dog started barking at me, but the owner didn't do anything," Denton said. "I gave her the mail, and at the same time, her dog grabbed my mail satchel and wouldn't let go.
"I sprayed Mace at him, and then he went underneath my satchel and grabbed my right pants leg and tried to bite me, but missed," Denton continued. "I just took off running. The owner never did anything to help me."
Denton reported the incident to his postmaster since this was the second time in two months the pit bull attacked a postal worker. Eventually, the dog owner was fined $125 for neglecting to control her dog during its attack on Denton.
This week the U.S. Postal Service continues its crusade against one of the nation's most reported public health problems as it acknowledges National Dog Bite Prevention Week.
According to the U.S. Postal Service, nationally, the reported number of mail carriers bitten by dogs decreased from 7,000 to 2,541 in 1998. However, in 2001 the number increased to 3,138 Postal Service employees bitten by dogs.
"Owner responsibility is the main problem when it comes to dog attacks," Monty Escue, Sikeston post master, said. "The dog is just protecting its owner. It's the owner that makes the dog mean. I have a Rottweiler that is as gentle as can be, but it's because I've trained him to be that way."
Most people take care of their dogs, but there is a small percentage of people who have a dog, but they don't really own the dog, Escue said. In addition to taking responsibility of the dog, Escue asks owners to keep the dog confined since many dog attacks occur from stray dogs.
Owners should make sure the dog leash isn't too old. A lot of dogs have leashes, but a worn out one can easily break, he said. The U.S. Postal Service also recommends obedience training and spaying or neutering dogs.
Denton suggests keeping the dog away from the mail carrier or putting the dog on a leash so that is at least 25 feet away from the mailbox.
Escue said he's not really sure what it is that makes a dog attack mail carriers. "I don't know if it's because of the uniforms the postal worker wears and the dog feels as if carriers are intruding their territory," he said. "And a lot of people will say that their dog doesn't bite, but you can't say any dog won't bite, because they will. You just never know."
A Charleston mail carrier was attacked by a dog last year. He didn't lose any limbs, but he lost a lot of use and feeling in his hands and arms, Denton said.
Although the Sikeston mail carriers have had close calls like Denton's (Denton alone has had six or seven) no one's lost any parts of the body, Escue said. "We've been fortunate," Escue declared. "We encourage workers to carry their satchels. They're thick enough that even a pit bull can't bite through it. They can really help in a serious situation."
Mace is also used by Sikeston mail carriers, but Escue and Denton both feel it doesn't always work. "For some reason, Mace doesn't really have an effect on pit bulls or Rottweilers," Denton said. "And long-haired dogs," he added.
Other preventative measures taken by the Sikeston Post Office to ensure employee safety include discontinuing mail delivery to a residence with a known dog problem and using dog alert cards, Escue said.
"A regular carrier like Danny (Denton) knows which houses to be aware of, but a new carrier doesn't," Escue stated. "The dog alert cards are kept on file and let carriers know if a residence has a dog issue so they know if there's something they need to watch out for."
Escue said they know the dog-biting problem isn't unique because everyone has dogs, and other professions from gas and electric companies have to visit residences, too.
"Three thousand injured people might sound like an insignificant number compared to the 200,000-plus mail carriers in the United States," Escue said. "But tell that to the victims."