Postal Service sinks its teeth into dog-breed legislation

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James DeBellis, dressed as the American Humane Association’s Jim the Dog, poses with Elle, a pit bull therapy dog and the 2013 Hero Dog of the Year as U.S. Postal Service worker Jose Yanes, who was bitten by a dog on his route, shakes her paw. SHFWire photo by Madison Fantozzi

Madison Fantozzi
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

WASHINGTON – Jose Yanes was walking his daily mail route in Rockville, Md., in March when he was attacked by a dog. Yanes had only his mailbag to defend himself, and the dog took chunks out of his left thigh with multiple bites.

The dog was a standard poodle.

“Any breed can bite. Our beloved, trusted family pets can bite,” U.S. Postal Service’s Manager of Safety Linda DeCarlo said at a press conference Thursday to promote dog safety.

Nationwide, 5,581 postal service employees were attacked in 2013. The U.S. Postal Service spoke out against breed-specific legislation, such as the pit bull ban in Prince George’s County, Md.

The USPS released a list of the top-ranking cities where postal service workers made dog attack claims last year.

The most attacks – 63 – were reported in Houston, with Texas cities making the list six times. The other top-ranked cities are Los Angeles, Cleveland, San Diego, Chicago, Baltimore, Dallas, Denver, Columbus, Ohio, and Kansas City, Mo. Washington sits at No. 24, with 17 postal carriers bitten last year.

Yanes, 38, was out of work for five days, continues physical therapy and has a shortened mail route due to his injuries. The dog was euthanized. Yanes knew the dog was dangerous, but he had never seen it out of the house before.

“I told the owners to be careful – the dog was very aggressive,” Yanes said. “Every day for six months, the dog would snarl at me and destroy parcels from the mail slot.”

But postal workers aren’t the only ones at risk of dog attacks.

Dog bite claims accounted for one-third of all homeowners’ liability insurance claims last year, according to State Farm. State Farm Senior Vice President Tim McFadden said there is no correlation between breed and bite, based on the insurance company’s statistics.

Dogs bite 4.5 million people each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Half are children.

Just this week, a YouTube video of a dog attacking a child went viral because a cat chased the dog away.

Dog-bite-victim

Kelly Voigt, founder of Prevent the Bite, was bitten by her neighbor’s Siberian husky when she was 7. She had 100 stitches down her face and neck. Now a college student, Voigt sells lesson plans about dog safety. SHFWire photo by Madison Fantozzi

Now 22, Voigt is studying physical education at Valparaiso University in Indiana and wants to be a teacher.

She started Prevent the Bite to provide educational material for children, families and schools.

Dr. Ilana Reisner, of Reisner Veterinary Behavior and Consulting Services, in Media, Pa., said pit bulls and huskies aren’t the only dogs that attack. She has sought medical attention for bites by toy breeds.

“The bias we have toward certain breeds can lead to risks. We tend to have a lax attitude with family pets, but behavior problems are universal in dogs,” she said. “Aggression cannot be cured, but it can be controlled and minimized.”

Prevent the Bite and Victoria Stilwell, a dog trainer and behavior consultant and host of Animal Planet’s “It’s Me or the Dog,” demonstrated the safe way to approach and pet a dog.

Stilwell’s 10-year-old daughter, Alex Zeiler, approached Elle, a pit bull therapy dog and theAmerican Humane Association’s 2013 Hero Dog of the Year. She held out her fist to wait for the dog’s approval. She then stroked Elle’s fur in the direction it grows.

“Dogs love us unconditionally, and we owe it to them to be responsible owners,” Zeiler said. “We need to spend less time on banning certain breeds and put those tax dollars into education.”

Prince George’s County, for example, spends more than $250,000 annually to enforce its ban on pit bulls, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Twelve states, however, have laws prohibiting municipalities from passing breed-specific laws: Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Massachusetts.

As for U.S. postal workers, DeCarlo offered some tips for dog owners, including securing dogs in another room and not having a child accept the mail, as dogs often see the interaction between the child and the postal carrier as a threat.

“If one of our mail carriers feels threatened, we will suspend delivery to your house until the dog is restrained, and you may impact delivery to the rest of your neighborhood if your dog is running free,” DeCarlo said.

Reach reporter Madison Fantozzi at madison.fantozzi@scripps.com or 202-326-9868. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.

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