- The Washington Times - Friday, August 6, 2004

In the classic American struggle — mailman vs. dog — the territorial growlers have gained ground on the letter-bearing intruders.

U.S. Postal Service officials said yesterday that more Northern Virginia letter carriers have reported being bitten this year than in any period since 2001.

In response, postal officials in the region mailed postcards this week to customers asking them to “please be a responsible dog owner.” The cards also suggest keeping dogs on leashes, behind fences or indoors when letter carriers arrive.

From October to June, 46 Northern Virginia mail carriers reported being bitten, compared with 38 in the same period in 2003, said Simone Mills, safety manager for the Northern Virginia district.

Mail carriers in the District and suburban Maryland are also having problems. Postal officials said the number of reported dog bites in the area has increased by 18 percent since fiscal 2003.

Kevin McAdams, a postal manager in Northern Virginia, suspects the dogs become aggressive when confronted by the fast, deliberate pace of the mail carrier.

“I think dogs can sense that,” he said. “Many dogs that will bite a letter carrier would never, ever bite a neighborhood person or a child or family member.”

No mail carriers have been killed, but many have had to visit the hospital for stitches, and some have needed a day off from work to recover from a bite, Miss Mills said.

The postcards were sent to residents in Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax and Woodbridge, where Miss Mills said most of the bites occurred.

“Oftentimes, these attacks occur to the surprise of the owner,” the postcards read. “Always assume that your dog will bite a letter carrier, even if [it] has never shown tendencies to do so.”

When a dog becomes a persistent problem, postal officials will discontinue mail service in that neighborhood or help mail carriers file lawsuits against dog owners, said Deborah Yackley, an agency spokeswoman.

“It’s just like when anybody is bit,” Miss Yackley said. “It is the owner’s responsibility to make sure that a dog doesn’t do something like that. If the dog is loose or bites somebody, then the people have the recourse to sue.”

The agency launches informational campaigns about the dangers dogs pose to mail carriers every year, Miss Yackley also said. This year’s campaign was held in May in the District.

“We had a lot of letter carriers who stood in a chorus line and showed where they had been bitten,” Miss Yackley said. “It was a great photo opportunity.”

A letter carrier in Leesburg is one of the most recent victims. On Tuesday, a German shepherd lunged at him when he opened the door to a business. The carrier had to take off the next day to recover from the attack, Miss Mills said.

Yesterday, she ticked off a list of attacks that sounded more like an emergency-room log: “The week ending July 23: two dog-related injuries; the week ending July 16: three dog bites; the week ending July 9: three dog bites.”

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