For letter-carriers, West Seattle was a dog-gone neighborhood


USPS logoLast week, I showed how the U.S. Postal Service had greatly exaggerated when it declared earlier this year in a national press release that dog-loving Seattle (three dogs for every two children) was tied for No. 2 among cities in the number of dog-attack incidents involving letter-carriers. In its long-standing efforts to shame offending cities, the feds swelled the count 24% by including numerous incidents occurring outside Seattle city limits and even non-bites. On top of that, most of the incidents required no medical treatment. I obtained the 42 reports using the Freedom of Information Act and, after a ridiculous and unlawful delay, an administrative appeal in which I suggested the Postal Service was courting ridicule by protecting the privacy rights of canines. For my memoirs, I now have in my possession a number of written apologies from various Postal Service functionaries.

But this all begs important questions: Which Seattle neighborhoods were the most dog-dangerous to carriers for the federal fiscal year ending September 30, 2012? And what were the particulars? In its release to me, post office officials redacted precise addresses (plus names of victims and dog owners) on privacy grounds. But they left in the duty station of bitten letter-carriers, which helped identify the areas most hazardous to carrier health. Also provided were the narratives describing the gory details and occasionally the perp (“Jack Russell terrier,” “Italian greyhound,” German Shepherd,” “small golden brown dog,” “large chocolate brown Labrador/mix dog,” or–the closest to a human all-points bulletin–“mixed black, white and brown weighing approx, 35-40 lbs.”)

By far the worst neighborhood? West Seattle.

Yes, the water-isolated, culturally independent working-class neighborhood–Seattle’s oldest–across Elliott Bay from the downtown area was the location of nine of the 36 attacks occurring within Seattle proper. With only 13% of the city’s population, West Seattle had a full 25% of the city’s dog-on-carrier carnage, although one of the nine was a near-miss. Tied for second were Ballard–subject of many jokes–and the Central Area, historical center of Seattle’s black community. Each had six incidents. Fourth, with four, was Wedgwood, the middle-class northeast neighborhood named for the famous English bone-china maker. The other attacks were sprinkled across Seattle.

City-wide, most of the incidents involved minor attacks at residences by dogs insufficiently secured by their owners as mail was being delivered. But there was also what might be described as street crime.  “Two unrestrained dogs approached carrier on sidewalk,” read a report for a West Seattle incident that took place on October 18, 2011, at 4:30 p.m. “One of the dogs bit carrier on back of knee.” No medical treatment required.

However, more typical was this West Seattle incident on December 22, 2011, at 12:10 p.m.: “Putting mail into the mail box at the dog bite site,” read the first-person account. “Customer opened front door. The dog came out of the same door and displayed aggressive behavior. I stayed calm and the dog bit my forearm as the owner grabbed the dog’s collar and controlled the animal.” A little too late, it would seem.

A week later, West Seattle was the venue of a postal bit-and-run. “After completing delivery [at one house], I then prepared to deliver mail to the next address,” a carrier wrote about an attack on December 29, 2011, at 3:30 p.m. “I did not see or hear a dog at this time. I felt a quick pain on the back of my right calf. I turned around and saw the dog running back to its owners.”

Then there was this sly West Seattle dog. “Observed a dog walker approaching traveling south on the left side of the sidewalk,” a carrier wrote about an incident on July 20, 2012, at 10:30 a.m. “Kept my eyes on the dog and customer. As we passed, the dog hid behind the walker. I watched the dog until they passed. I then resumed my delivery. It was a moment later that I felt the dog biting my left rear buttock … Didn’t see or hear the dog approaching from the rear.”

West Seattle was also the location of one of the few attacks drawing blood. “A dog was loose in the yard across the street,” read one report about an April 10, 2012, incident at 3:10p.m. The carrier “dismounted from his vehicle to deliver mail to two deliveries. As he closed his last box the dog had crossed the street and came after [employee] while between his vehicle and the stand of boxes, biting him on his left thigh … causing bleeding.” Yet, say the report, no medical attention was required.

The worst injuries of the year seem to have come from an attack in the Wallingford neighborhood just north of Lake Union on April 2, 2012, at 4:30 p.m.: “A loose dog belonging to this address came running to the front of the house and attacked the carrier and resulting in deep puncture wounds to his upper left arm, left foot, sprain right knee and sore left elbow.” This time, there was medical attention.

Staying in a postal truck was no guarantee of protection to one carrier in Ballard who encountered an English setter.  “He was in his vehicle facing south preparing to dismount his vehicle with mail when owner and dog were walking on the sidewalk and approaching vehicle from behind,” said the report of the 1:50 p.m. incident on October 17, 2011. “The dog bit the employee on the right lower calf while employee was still in vehicle getting ready to dismount.”

Customer carelessness was often a contributing cause. “Owner of the dog was cleaning out his car in the driveway that day and was not aware he had left the back door of the house and the back gate open,” read one report of an incident occurring at 2:18 p.m. on September 15, 2012, to a carrier based in the industrial SoDo district. “The dog came running from the back … Carrier instinctively turned away and got bit in the right buttock.”

But the Postal Service outrage over animal attacks on its couriers is enhanced for public consumption. Internally, the agency been far harder on the victims, who are trained to use dog spray and letter pouches to ward off assailants. “Motivate employee to properly perform task” was a frequent comment in the reports, presumably written by supervisors. One Central Area attack on October 17, 2011, at 2:00 p.m. was attributed to “haste; inattention or distraction caused by fingering mail.”

The only dog identified by given name also reared its ugly head in the Central Area, a month later on November 25, 2011, at 1:10 p.m. “Carrier stated that he was delivering mail,” the report stated. “A small white dog named Frankie bit and broke off a little skin off his lower right leg. [Carrier] then told the owner’s daughter who came outside that her dog bit him on the leg.”

According to the reports, Frankie’s fate seemed to be the same as almost all the other animal offenders: “Notify animal control authorities.” I guess that means somewhere there’s a rap sheet.

Now a neighborhood like West Seattle can get a rep from stats like this.

Follow William P. Barrett’s work on Twitter by clicking here.

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2 Responses to For letter-carriers, West Seattle was a dog-gone neighborhood

  1. Sure. But the breed info in the reports really isn’t adequate. A breed was identified in only six of the 42 reports (all within Seattle city limits, as it happens). Two were German shepherds (in Wedgwood and Georgetown). The others were an Italian greyhound (in Ballard), a Lab/mix (Ballard), a Jack Russell terrier (Central Area) and the English setter who bit the carrier in truck (Ballard). Most of the dogs weren’t described at all. The few others that were, were characterized color or relative size. My favorite, I suppose, was the one I mentioned in the post: a “small white dog named Frankie” (Central Area).

  2. Thanks for doing this. Can I use some of the data for a post? Also, can you give me a full list of the dog breeds that were listed?

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