During dog bite awareness week, a message from your mail carrier

CAMP HILL, Pa. (WHTM) – It may surprise you: About 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About half of those are kids. But another at-risk group has its own advice for pet owners.

Neither snow nor rain, nor threat of dog stays Joe Youch from his route.

“There actually is a dog a couple houses up you got to keep an eye out for,” Youch explained, walking the last leg of his Camp Hill mail route.

Youch’s been pounding the pavement for 29 years, delivering the mail day after day.

“This route,” he said, “when you have your own route like this one, you generally know all the dogs. Most of them are really nice,” he said. “I probably know more dog names than people’s first names.”

But like a lot of mail carriers, Youch has been bitten. It happened just a few years into his career. The dog, one he’d known since he was a puppy.

“When he opened the screen door to take the letter, the dog busted through from another room and broke the screen door and got to me,” he said. “I got stitches. It wasn’t that bad. I was more upset than hurt.”

In central Pennsylvania last year, 87 mail workers were attacked. The most in the Midstate were in York and Lancaster, with five attacks apiece. Harrisburg and Camp Hill followed with two apiece.

That’s a tiny fraction of the country as a whole.

“The first thing people always say is, ‘Don’t worry, my dog doesn’t bite,” Youch said. “Well, last year 6,500 postal employees got bit, got attacked by dogs, so you always have to be aware.”

That’s good advice for everyone, no matter how harmless the dog may seem.

“Mainly, dogs biting people comes from fear,” said Katy Keyser, a veterinary technician at Noah’s Ark Veterinary Center in Harrisburg.

When a dog is afraid or feels like he needs to defend his family, Keyser said, he may lash out at the perceived threat. Half of dog bite victims are kids.

“Often, kids, first thing they do when they see a cute little puppy or big dog is run up,” Keyser said. That’s not the right response because it can immediately put the animal into a defensive mindset.

Instead, she said, teach children to ask first before petting a strange dog.

And remember, every dog has teeth. “It does not matter the breed of the dog,” Keyser said.

Mail carriers get warnings now about potentially dangerous animals. Regulars can leave cards for substitutes indicating where to be careful, and the electronic system they use to deliver mail can also warn new carriers.

They also carry mace.

“You never want to use it unless you have to,” Youch said.

His advice is to avoid confrontation whenever possible. “Put them in another room, put them somewhere where the dog can’t get to it, because they definitely don’t know who’s coming to the door.”

The CDC reports one in five dog bites becomes infected. You can find their recommendations for preventing bites here.

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