It’s been said that dogs can smell fear and, as it turns out, mail carriers have good reason to be concerned.
Canada Post contacted Peace Arch News to help raise awareness about the risk of attack letter-carriers face, and what dog owners can do to help limit the number of attacks.
Canada Post superintendent Christina Fisher, who’s based in Newton, told PAN that one of her former employees was bitten by dogs 20 different times in her 10-year career as a mail carrier.
She also said she was contacted by another former mail carrier who had been bitten 18 times in his 30-year career.
However, Fisher added, some carriers retire without ever being bitten on the job. Fisher said it’s hard for Canada Post to determine why some carriers are targeted by dogs while others are not.
“They didn’t have a fear before they worked for Canada Post, and as soon as you know, you get your first dog bite. Now you have a fear and the next dog can smell that. Sometimes you can be very lucky and go through your whole career and not have a dog bite, and some people, it’s just part of their daily lives. How do they deal with that?” she said.
Fisher said she didn’t realize the prevalence of dog attacks on carriers until she began working for the corporation four years ago.
“We grow up and we watch the cartoons and everyone has a funny story about the postmen or postwomen and the dogs. I thought that was just a joke. I didn’t realize that it was based on reality,” she said.
According to figures provided to PAN by WorkSafeBC, there have been 58 cases where short-term or long-term disability benefits were paid to Canada Post letter-carriers, due to dog bites, in the past five years in the province. The numbers do not include claims where injury was related to a dog attack but was not caused by dog bites.
Over the same time period, according to WorkSafeBC, there have been 482 short-term or long-term disability benefits paid to victims of dog bites, regardless of the victim’s type of employment.
One of Fisher’s jobs with Canada Post is to investigate after one of her carriers has been bitten by a dog.
Whether a large or small breed, Fisher said it’s impossible for carriers to know how a dog is going to respond to their presence, and the customer can underestimate the unpredictability of the animals.
“Unfortunately, we do have instances immediately following the customer saying something to the effect of ‘oh, don’t worry, my dog is friendly, there’s never been an incident.’”
Fisher, who considers herself a dog lover and has grown up in a dog-friendly family, offered some insight into why dogs specifically target mailmen.
“We try to explain this to customers. A dog is at the window, right? They’re watching the house because that’s what they do. The delivery agent comes up to the house in uniform, delivers the mail, the dog barks and the delivery agent goes away. That happens every single day. The dog thinks, ‘Oh, I did a good job. I defended my house.’”
However, Fisher said, if a mail carrier comes to the door with a parcel – wearing the same uniform – and the homeowner opens the door, the dog perceives the presence of the carrier as a threat to the home.
“Unfortunately, we do have a lot of issues at the door because of that.”
Fisher said that homeowners can help protect the safety of mail carriers by securing their animals from Monday to Friday, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“We’re delivering later and later in the day. It’s really important that dogs are secured throughout the day so that delivery agents can safely approach a property,” she said.
It’s not just large-breed dogs that Canada Post employees have concerns with, Fisher said, adding that “a bite is a bite.”
“I’ve had an employee have a reaction to the tetanus shot and antibiotics they were given after a very, very small dog bite. They were off work for two weeks.”
During the winter, Fisher said, another employee had to take “several months” off work after sustaining a “significant injury” caused by a large-breed dog.
“The best thing we can do to keep everyone safe is just make sure that the dogs are secured.”