A frightful bear hug — his arms gripped around the pit bull’s neck while the dog latched onto the flesh beneath his armpit — was all Brett Hochhalter could do to prevent the animal from ripping his torso open.
The Pocatello mailman’s pepper spray lay on the asphalt 14 feet away, and the canine’s owner was nowhere in sight.
“When he bit me, I fell back,” Hochhalter said. “And the man who witnessed the attack said the dog was lunging for my neck.”
On any typical day, Brett Hochhalter shuffles door-to-door delivering mail to Pocatello citizens on his standard eight-hour route as a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service.
But that June afternoon of two years ago was anything but typical.
“I have 28 years of service,” Hochhalter said as he recalled the assault. “That was the worse bite. I’ve been bit before on my rear-end by a sheepdog 15 years ago but nothing to this extent. This was just a vicious dog.”
National Dog Bite Prevention Week was May 15-21. Nationwide, dogs attacked 6,549 postal employees in 2015.
Despite implementing two new safety measures to the already extensive support and training that letter carriers receive, dogs have bitten 11 Idaho mail carriers fewer than five months into 2016. That number is two shy of the amount of Idaho postal carriers bitten all of last year.
“For mail carriers, the biggest risk on the job is definitely dogs,” Hochhalter said. “Especially during the summer because kids are home, and they go ‘oh there’s the mailman’ and then little Fido comes out and bites us. That’s why we have so many safety talks on potential dog bites.”
Both safety precautions focus proactively on preventing dog incidents with the first being a verification for dog owners who use usps.com’s Package Pickup application to identify that a dog is present at an address.
The second measure is an alert system incorporated into the mobile delivery devices letter carriers use to scan packages and confirm delivery, which allows them to indicate the presence of a dog at an individual address.
According to the U.S Postal Service, with summer temperatures rising and children out of school, more dogs are running loose. As such, they are strongly encouraging dog owners to restrain their dogs to allow carriers to deliver mail safely.
“People are out in the yard more during the summer, and they typically have their dogs out there with them,” said Glenn Clark, a U.S Postal Service employee of 15 years who has encountered dangerous dogs more than a dozen times. “Dogs do one thing very well and that is guard their own property, and they become very defensive about their owners. Unfortunately, many of the problems we have with dogs are highly preventable.”
Letter carriers receive comprehensive training for encounters with canines that include using the mail bag as a defensive barrier, rattling a gate before entering a yard in order to alert a dog possibly sleeping under the porch or around the corner and to apply their foot to the bottom of a screen door to create another barrier.
Dog owners are instructed to place the dog in a separate room and close the door before greeting carriers and to remind their children about the need to keep the family dog secured. In some cases, if a carrier feels threatened or notices a dog on the loose, the owner may be asked to pick up the mail at the Post Office.
“What I’d like to get across to the public is that if more dog owners were more responsible in controlling their animals, there would be fewer interactions with us,” Clark said. “In other words, don’t think that because your dog is OK around most people that they will be OK around a letter carrier. There’s something about a man in a uniform that sets a dog off.”