It’s National Dog Bite Awareness Week

You may also have received one in your mailbox or inbox. This is a United States Postal Service flyer announcing that June 5e until June 11e is National Dog Bite Awareness Week. I had no idea. I assumed that every week was National Dog Bite Awareness Week. I was taught early on not to pet a dog without the owner’s permission and only after letting the pooch feel their hand.

Beth Rundquist's Wallie

Courtesy of Ralph Gardner Jr.

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Beth Rundquist’s Wallie

I don’t know why that should make a difference to a dog. What if someone finds your smell unpleasant or smells lunch on it and decides it’s a delicious treat? Our previous dog, a somewhat moody rescue dog named Mimi, was not always in a good mood and I warned passers-by of her character flaw as they went to pet her. Some enjoyed the heads held high. Others reacted as if this fact reflected badly on me, as if I was somehow responsible for his brooding personality.

I wasn’t interested in getting into a long conversation; I was as afraid as any stranger of Mimi’s inclination to crack. I don’t remember if she ever drew blood. Indeed, I wanted to bring her back when she growled like a puppy five minutes after we brought her from the shelter. But I don’t want to give the wrong impression either. Mimi lived with us for fourteen years and we soon came to an amicable truce. She was loved by our daughters, although no one would ever describe her as a lap dog.

Also, that age-old standoff between territorial dogs and postal workers didn’t apply to us because our mail is delivered to a PO box. According to the flyer we received this week, dogs attacked more than 5,400 postal workers 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 as to why Cleveland leads the pack, although Ohio appears to be a hotbed for dog bites, with 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 recorded. A Postal Service press release also offered no explanation for the decline. This may be because more packages were delivered during the height of the pandemic.

We didn’t have our current pooch, Wallie, with mailman safety in mind. We made him be the companion dog that Mimi never was. Wallie isn’t, if only because at sixty-five pounds, it would be cumbersome to have her sitting on your lap while you watch TV or read a book. However, she would if you let her. Instead, she gently places her paw in my wife Debbie’s hand as they sit together on the sofa.

Wallie and I are not that close. I feel affection for her, but from a distance. Debbie, who is convinced Wallie can do no harm, for years denied she was the cause of the phlegm that could sometimes be found at impossible heights on windows and walls. The dog, a Bracco Italiano hound with jowls and long drooping ears strongly resembling those of a bloodhound, spits involuntarily when he shakes his head, centrifugal force sending the vomit flying.

But it’s a small price to pay for near-perfection in other areas. The most important being that Wallie doesn’t have any nasty bones in his body. I’m sure a lot of people say that about their dogs. And among the training letter carriers receive to prevent altercations and injuries from jealous animals, you should never assume a dog won’t bite.

But we have proof of Wallie’s radical civility. She likes to hunt frogs and snakes in our pond. On the occasion that she catches one, she will toss it like a rag doll, but apparently never hurt it until the amphibian or reptile in question pauses in the water and manages to get away in completely safe. This is another fault of Wallie. She doesn’t swim. Do not ask me why. She had large webbed feet and had no problem wading up to her shoulders. She just won’t take the extra step and perform the dog paddle. It’s disappointing but much less than if there was a wanted poster for her at the post office or bite marks on a postman’s leg.

Once, Wallie managed to gum up a squirrel badly enough, but not so badly that he couldn’t escape from a tree at the first opportunity. And last week she tried to turn a baby robin into a playmate. But the dog’s mouth is so sweet – we understand she was raised that way as a bird dog – that the young managed to survive after we brought Wallie, deeply reluctantly, back into the house. I cannot testify that the bird will not suffer from PTSD for years to come. But his parents resumed his flying lessons as soon as the danger was averted.

Part of the reason the Postal Service sent out this flyer, one would assume, is because they’re concerned that dog owners aren’t taking the problem of animal bites seriously enough. Indeed, the stalemate between dogs and postmen seems ingrained in American culture, practically a trope if not a meme. It has been said of comedian WC Fields that “Any man who hates dogs and babies can’t be all bad,” though I don’t remember if his resume included a postman, on-screen or off-screen.

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

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

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