"All the dogs want to kill me" is the plaintive plea of former mail carrier Ryan Bradford, who logged snapshots of dogs lurking on his postal route a few years ago. The public was much amused by the photos and he made the circuit of morning news shows. But despite the humor, occupational dog bites aren't a particularly amusing prospect to the postal workers, delivery people, police and firefighters, outdoor workers, and home service providers who have to contend with the reality every day.
This week is National Dog Bite Awareness Week, and the Postal Service is at the forefront of trying to raise awareness about this issue. Every year, about 800,000 dog bites are treated in emergency rooms - and the vast majority of the bite victims are children, followed by seniors. Work-related dog bites are also a significant injury problem - letter carriers and postal workers are third on the victim list. Last year, 5,577 postal employees were attacked in more than 1,400 cities - resulting in a nearly $1.2 million price tag.
A worker who is bitten by a dog in the course and scope of employment would likely be eligible for workers comp, but the insurer may subrogate (file against a third party) to recoup losses, which can be substantial. The Postal Service will hold pet owners liable for medical expenses and other costs. With some exceptions, most homeowners and rental policies will cover dog bites up to the limits of liability coverage (generally $100,000 to $300,000). An analysis of homeowners insurance data by the Insurance Information Institute found that the average cost paid out for dog bite claims was $29,396 in 2011, up 12.3 percent from $26,166 in 2010. In fact, dog bites accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims paid out in 2011, costing nearly $479 million.
Bite Prevention Tips from the Pros
We searched everything from animal trainer and vet sites to letter carrier message boards to amass some bite prevention best practices for workers whose jobs expose them to dogs:
- Be aware of your surroundings and anticipate so you aren't caught by surprise. Be aware that dogs are protecting their master's territory. Don't approach strange dogs and try to avoid startling sleeping or eating dogs.
- Carry something to keep between you and the animal. Some suggest a dog stick, others suggest an umbrella which can be opened, and some letter carriers use their bag to hold between them or to throw down as a distraction. Consider protective clothing such as padding, footwear or gloves.
- Many postal workers are required to carry dog spray. If you carry a spray, attach it to a belt or bag with short bungee cord to offer quick access and to ensure you don't lose or drop it.
- Pepper spray or mace should be a last resort. Sprays may not stop all dogs and can also pose a blow-back risk when used in windy conditions. Also, sprays require care if other people are around.
- Be careful with door slots. Postal worker message boards hold many stories of close calls to fingers and tugs of war with dogs on the opposite side doors. Some frustrated workers say they feed these aggressive dogs the most important looking mail first!
- While many pet lovers suggest that delivery persons carry dog treats to tame savage beasts, this is neither practical nor wise. It is also against the work policies of many organizations.
- Do not run from an aggressive dog. Easier said than done, but you do not want to be perceived as prey because most dogs will give chase. Stay still and avoid eye contact.
- If attacked, stay as still and calm as possible and do not fight back, which may increase the dog's agitation. If pushed to the ground, cover your ears and lie still. If bitten, push into the dog's mouth instead of pulling away.
- CDC: Dog Bite Prevention
- USPS: 2011 brochure with tips for dog owners and delivery workers (PDF)
- OSHA: Avoiding Animal Bites (PDF)
- UMN: Dog Bite Injuries and Fatalities
- Learn to Speak Dog
- Bulli Ray's Occupational Dog Bite Safety, which includes some safety products, including a dog bite sticks and batons.