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Commentary & Opinion

It's National Dog Bite Awareness Week

You may have gotten one in your mailbox or inbox, too. It’s a flier from the United States Postal Service announcing that June 5th through June 11th is National Dog Bite Awareness Week. I had no idea. I assumed every week was National Dog Bite Awareness Week. I was taught early on that you don’t pet a dog without the owner’s permission and then only after letting the pooch smell your hand.

Wallie by Beth Rundquist
Courtesy of Ralph Gardner Jr.
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Wallie by Beth Rundquist

I’m not sure why that should make any difference to a dog. What if a he or she or they finds your scent disagreeable or smells lunch on it and decides it’s a yummy treat? Our previous dog, a somewhat moody rescue mutt named Mimi, wasn’t always cheerful and I warned passersby of her character flaw as they went to pet her. Some appreciated the heads up. Others reacted as if this fact reflected poorly on me, as if I was somehow responsible for her surly personality.

I wasn’t interested in getting into a long conversation; I was as fearful as any stranger of Mimi’s inclination to snap. I can’t recall whether she ever drew blood. Indeed, I wanted to return her when she snarled as a puppy five minutes after we got her home from the shelter. But I also don’t want to give the wrong impression. Mimi lived with us for fourteen years and we quickly reached an amicable truce. She was beloved by our daughters, even though nobody would have ever described her as a lap dog.

Also, that age old standoff between territorial canines and postal workers didn’t apply to us because our mail is delivered to a post office box. According to the flier we received this week, dogs attacked over 5,400 postal employees in 2021.

Further research – in other words clicking on the USPS website – revealed that Cleveland led the nation with fifty-eight attacks in 2021, followed by Houston, Kansas City and Los Angeles. No explanation was given for why Cleveland leads the pack, though Ohio seems to be a hot bed for dog bites, the state ranking third after California and Texas, which have much larger populations.

Nonetheless, dog assaults were down from 2020 when 5,800 of them were registered. A postal service press release offered no explanation for that drop, either. Perhaps it was because more packages were delivered in the heat of the pandemic.

We didn’t get our current pooch, Wallie, with mail carrier safety in mind. We got her to be the lap dog that Mimi never was. Wallie isn’t, if only because at sixty-five pounds it would be cumbersome to have her sitting in your lap while you’re watching TV or reading a book. However, she would if you allowed her. Instead, she gently places her paw in my wife Debbie’s hand when they sit together on the couch.

Wallie and I aren’t as close. I feel affection for her, but at a distance. Debbie, who’s convinced Wallie can do no wrong, for years denied that she was the cause of the phlegm that could occasionally be found at impossible heights on windows and walls. The dog, a Bracco Italiano hunting dog whose jowls and long floppy ears bear a strong resemblance to a bloodhound’s, unintentionally expectorates when she shakes her head, the centrifugal force sending the spew flying.

But it’s a small price to pay for near perfection in other areas. The most important being that Wallie doesn’t have a mean bone in her body. I’m sure lots of people say that about their dogs. And among the training mail carriers receive to prevent altercations and injuries from jealous pets is never to assume a dog won’t bite.

But we have proof of Wallie’s radical civility. She enjoys hunting frogs and snakes at our pond. On the occasion that she catches one she’ll toss it around like a rag doll, but seemingly never injuries it before the amphibian or reptile in question makes a break for the water and manages to flee to safety. That’s another flaw of Wallie’s. She doesn’t swim. Don’t ask me why. She had large webbed feet and no problem wading in up to her shoulders. She just won’t take the extra step and perform the dog paddle. That’s disappointing but far less so than if there was a wanted poster of her in the post office or bite marks on a letter carrier’s leg.

Once Wallie managed to gum up a squirrel pretty badly, but not so badly that it wasn’t able to escape up a tree first chance it got. And last week she tried to turn a baby robin into a playmate. But so soft is the dog’s mouth – we understand that she’s been bred that way as a bird dog – that the fledgling managed to survive after we dragged Wallie, deeply unwillingly, back into the house. I can’t testify that the bird won’t suffer PTSD in the years to come. But its parents resumed its flying lessons as soon as the danger was removed.

Part of the reason the postal service sent out that flier, one would assume, is because they’re concerned dog owners don’t take the issue of biting pets seriously enough. Indeed, the standoff between dogs and mail carriers seems embedded in American culture, virtually a trope if not a meme. It was said of comedian W.C. Fields that “Any man who hates dogs and babies can’t be all bad,” though I don’t recall whether his resume included mail carrier, either on or off screen.

But I know you’ll want to join me in thanking postal workers for their service and will be vigilant about securing pets when they deliver the mail. Not just during National Dog Bite Awareness Week but the fifty-one other weeks of the year, as well.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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