Phoenix risky city for mail carriers; No. 6 for dog attacks

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PHOENIX – Phoenix is tied for No. 6 when it comes to the number of dog attacks on mail carriers.

According to newly released numbers from the U.S. Postal Service, there were 38 attacks each in Phoenix and Cleveland in 2010. No other Arizona city was in the top 25 ranking. With 62 dog attacks on letter carriers, Houston topped the list. That’s just a fraction of the nationwide numbers – 5,669 letter carriers were attacked by dogs in more than 1,400 cities.

The medical expenses from such attacks cost the U.S. Postal Service, which is a self-supporting agency, nearly $1.2 million last year.

The Postal Service said the safety of its employees is one of its top priorities. Letter carriers are well within their rights to halt delivery and ask homeowners to pick their mail at the post office if there's an unrestrained dog on the property.

In the cases of free roaming dogs, mail delivery to an entire neighborhood can be affected.

One thing dog owners often tell their letter carriers is that their pets won’t bite.

“Given the right circumstances, any dog can bite. Dog attacks are a nationwide issue and not just a postal problem," said Matthew Lopez, Houston Postmaster, in a news release.

A total of 4.7 million Americans, most of them children, are bitten by dogs each year. According to the Insurance Information Institute, dog attacks accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners' insurance liability claims paid out in 2010, costing nearly $413 million.

"Working with animal behavior experts, we've developed tips to avoid dog attacks, and for dog owners, tips for practicing responsible pet ownership,” Lopez said.

With National Dog Bite Prevention Week coming up next week -- May 15-21 – the American Veterinary Medical Association offers the following tips:

How to avoid being bitten

• Don't run past a dog. The dog's natural instinct is to chase and catch you.

• If a dog threatens you, don't scream. Avoid eye contact. Try to remain motionless until the dog leaves, then back away slowly until the dog is out of sight.

• Don't approach a strange dog, especially one that's tethered or confined.

• People choosing to pet dogs should obtain permission from the owner first and always let a dog see and sniff them before petting the animal.

• If you believe a dog is about to attack you, try to place something between yourself and the dog, such as a backpack or a bicycle.

How to be a responsible dog owner

• Obedience training can teach dogs proper behavior and help owners control their dogs.

• When a carrier comes to your home, keep your dog inside, away from the door in another room.

• Dogs can be protective of their territory and may interpret the actions of letter carriers as a threat. Please take precautions when accepting mail in the presence of your pet.

• Spay or neuter your dog. Neutered dogs are less likely to roam and bite.

• Dogs that receive little attention or handling, or are left tied up for long periods of time, frequently turn into biters.

"Warm and wonderful relationships are shared between more than 72 million pet dogs and their owners in the United States," said Dr. Lori Teller, who serves on the AVMA's Animal Welfare Committee and is past president of the Texas VMA, in a news release. "To protect those relationships, everyone must take responsibility for preventing dog bite injuries."