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It sounds like an old-fashioned stereotype, the dog chasing after the mailman.
But for thousands of postal workers last year, man’s best friend turned out to be a major hazard of the job.
In 2022, dogs attacked more than 5,300 employees who were delivering the mail, according to the US Postal Service. It was a slight drop from the previous year, when more than 5,400 postal employees were attacked.
Officials say even well-behaved pets who don’t show signs of aggression may lash out at postal workers, who often have to enter a property to drop off the mail, and the results can sometimes be fatal.
“When our mail carriers are bitten, it is usually a ‘good dog’ that had not previously behaved in a menacing way,” USPS Occupational Safety and Health Senior Director Linda DeCarlo said in a statement.
The Postal Service released the data as part of its annual National Dog Bite Awareness Week, a public service campaign meant to raise awareness of attacks on mail carriers.
California saw the most canine-on-postal worker attacks last year, with 675 incidents, followed by Texas, New York and Pennsylvania. The number of attacks in all four states increased last year over 2021.
Houston had the highest number of attacks of any city, with Los Angeles, Dallas and Cleveland trailing behind.
Officials are asking pet owners to take a few steps that could help protect postal workers from a potentially dangerous encounter, such as keeping dogs inside, behind a fence or on a leash when the mail carrier arrives.
The Postal Service also recommends that people not let children take mail directly from a postal worker, since protective pets may think the child is in danger.
“When letter carriers deliver mail in our communities, dogs that are not secured or leashed can become a nemesis and unpredictable and attack,” Leeann Theriault, USPS employee safety and health awareness manager, said in a statement.
“Help us deliver your mail safely by keeping your dog secure and out of the way before your carrier arrives,” Theriault added.
Authorities say mail carriers are trained to spot dogs on their route and take measures to stay safe, such as refraining from petting dogs and making noise before entering a property so the dog knows they are there.
In the event of an attack, postal workers are told to use their mail satchel as a shield or deploy dog repellent if necessary.
The Postal Service says an aggressive dog could cause the agency to temporarily stop mail service in an entire neighborhood, forcing residents to pick up their mail at a post office, until the dog is properly restrained.