California leads U.S. in dog attacks on mail carriers as number of bites rises

Genaro Molina –– – 063956.ME.0502.dog1.GEM A pitbull dog keeps a watchful eye on mail carrier Linda Heyman while she delivers mail along E. 112th Street in Watts Friday afternoon. Heyman has stopped delivering mail to one block in the area due to a pitbull that attacked her on her rounds. Residents on the block have not received their mail for the past two and a half weeks.
A pit bull watches a mail carrier pass along East 112th Street in Watts. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

California is a “ruff” place to deliver the mail, according to annual data from the U.S. Postal Service that shows the state leads the U.S. in dog attacks against mail carriers.

Last year, there were 675 dog bites on mail carriers in California, up from 656 in 2021 and 67% more than Texas, which ranked No. 2 with 404 bites in 2022. New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio rounded out the top five states, with 321, 313 and 311 bites against mail carriers, respectively.

Los Angeles ranked second among cities, up from fourth the previous year, with 48 dog attacks on mail carriers. Houston claimed the top spot with 57 bites in 2022. Four other California cities made the list: San Diego at No. 5 with 39 attacks, San Francisco tied for No. 17 with 19 attacks, and Long Beach and Stockton tied for No. 20 with 16 attacks each. The data were not standardized for population size.

In total, more than 5,300 USPS employees were attacked by dogs in 2022, according to the agency. The data were released as part of the Postal Service's annual National Dog Bite Awareness Week public service campaign. This year’s theme is “Even good dogs have bad days,” the USPS said in a statement.

“When our mail carriers are bitten, it is usually a ‘good dog’ that had not previously behaved in a menacing way,” said Linda DeCarlo, USPS occupational safety and health senior director.

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Mail carriers are instructed not to startle dogs or assume they’re friendly. If a dog attacks, postal workers are trained to “stand their ground and protect their body by placing something between them and the dog — such as a mail satchel — and to use dog repellent, if necessary,” the USPS said. Letter carriers also have tools to flag dogs along their routes, including an alert feature on their scanners and warning cards that can be inserted with sorted mail.

Pet owners can help protect mail carriers by keeping dogs inside, on a leash or behind a fence when mail-time rolls around, the USPS said.

“When letter carriers deliver mail in our communities, dogs that are not secured or leashed can become a nemesis and unpredictable and attack,” said Leeann Theriault, USPS employee safety and health awareness manager.

Threatening dogs have in some cases caused disruptions to mail service. In September, postal workers stopped making their regular deliveries to a neighborhood in Cleveland, the city with the fourth-most dog bites last year, after an aggressive dog attacked a mail carrier.

In 2020, mail delivery was suspended at Mar Vista Gardens, a public housing complex with more than 1,800 tenants in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Del Rey, in part over a threatening dog.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.