FARGO - Terry Jones was never bitten by a dog during her 32-year career as a postal carrier in Fargo, but there were plenty of close calls when she had to use her satchel as a shield.
“It can be terrifying,” she said.
Jones, president of the North Dakota branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers, said carriers are trained to recognize the body language of dogs and avoid delivering or picking up at homes with aggressive dogs. “Just because they’re wagging their tail doesn’t mean they’re not upset,” she said.
Last year in Fargo, a dog bit a carrier in the face. The carrier tried fending off the dog with a satchel and deterrent spray, and the owner tried to restrain the dog, but it wouldn't back down, according to Fargo Postmaster Gregory Johnson. Luckily, it was a nip to the carrier's face and not a "chunk," Johnson said.
Newly released data from the United States Postal Service (USPS) reveals six dog bites were reported in North Dakota last year compared with 10 in 2017. The data is available on an interactive map that shows where bites occurred across the country.
Last year, 124 attacks were reported in Minnesota, an increase from 108 reported in 2017. Johnson said many attacks go unreported.
Nationwide, dogs attacked more than 5,700 postal employees last year. Over the past two years, the USPS said attacks have declined by 1,000.
Despite the drop in the number of dog attacks, it remains an area of concern for the Postal Service - so much that the agency is raising awareness this week, also known as National Dog Bite Prevention Week.
Each spring, Johnson said USPS raises awareness about preventing dog bites because, like people, dogs can get spring fever after a long winter. “Most of the dogs pent up all winter are out, and they’re a bit frisky,” Johnson said.
The decline in dog bites is partly due to new technology that alerts carriers of homes with dogs. Handheld scanners used by carriers on routes beep and display a warning message when approaching an address registered with a dog. Customers can register their dog when scheduling with the package pickup app.
To prevent attacks, postal carriers are equipped with horns and dog repellent that contains cayenne pepper extract. It wears off in 10 to 15 minutes, according to the USPS.
Spray is a last resort, Jones said, and postal carriers are trained to skip delivery rather than be in a position of having to use repellent.
USPS encourages customers to keep their dog inside when a carrier is due to visit, and not just in a screen porch. Johnson said there are cases of dogs busting through screen doors. If a dog is in a fenced-in yard with a mailbox, carriers won't go inside to deliver. He said USPS can help move the mailbox if needed.
As for dog treats, it may seem like an innocent gesture, but Jones said it's actually against USPS policy for carriers to give out treats to reward good dogs or keep aggressive dogs at bay.