Impasse at the mailboxLetter carriers are armed with protective dog spray
Rockland — Bruce Vose's four white Maltese dogs may be cute. They average a little more than 6 pounds each, and they approach a visitor by nibbling on one's trouser cuffs or pressing a paw on one's shinbone.
But too often the cuteness of family dogs lives only in the eye of the beholder, and certainly not in the wary glance of some carriers delivering mail to people's homes, says the U.S. Postal Service.
Vose, a 62-year-old retired resident of Broadway, has recently had conversations with officials from the Rockland Post Office about his dogs, named Mojo, Baby Girl, Bear and Molly. Mail delivery to his house, including delivery to his tenant who lives in the apartment upstairs, has been suspended, according to Vose and one postal official.
Vose said he is also upset because a letter carrier sprayed two of his dogs with a pepper-spray, a statement confirmed by the U.S. Postal Service.
"The letter carrier was faced with an approaching, barking animal," said Tom Rizzo, spokesman in Portland for the Northern New England District of the U.S. Postal Service. "He used the authorized pepper spray (I described) that all carriers are issued to disorient an animal just long enough to get safely away from potential harm." Rizzo issued the statement in an email to The Courier-Gazette.
The dogs are not leashed. Vose said he lets them out on his back porch in the morning, and they stay around. One dog in particular barks at passersby, Vose said.
"Service to that address was suspended by the postmaster who investigated the incident after the customer moved his mailbox, but not to the agreed-upon location: away from the house where the carrier would not be at risk," Rizzo explained.
Vose said he thought he had complied and placed two boxes — one for him and one for his tenant — on a pedestal next to his driveway, a few feet from the street.
"I didn't want the boxes right on the street because they might be knocked over by the snowplow or the trash truck," he said.
Rizzo said letter carriers are armed with a pepper-based repellent spray that is supposed to stop, at least temporarily, a dog attack.
"It also leaves a temporary yellow marking on the animal, which helps local animal control identify the animal," he said.
The repellent, called HALT, consists of .35 percent, or less than 1 percent, oleo-resin capsicum, an extract of cayenne pepper, and 99.65 percent mineral oil. The mixture is propelled by an inert gas contained in an aerosol can.
The repellent has been accepted by federal agricultural and environmental agencies, Rizzo said.
"It is not only a safe and effective way to reduce bites, but it is also a humane method of controlling animals," he said.
"We recognize that suspension of mail delivery is a serious matter and take this step only when absolutely necessary," Rizzo said.
He stressed that the Postal Service as an employer has to be dedicated to the well-being and safety of its employees.
"Dog bites, regardless of the extent of damage, are traumatic experiences and constant hazards to our letter carriers," he said.
In the United States, about 3,000 carriers were bitten last year, he said. Nearly 5,600 Postal Service employees were victimized by dogs, including not only dog bites, but also trips, falls, and collisions with other objects due to running to avoid being bitten.
Rizzo said he understands dog owners' concern, especially those who have never known their dog to be vicious or to bite anyone.
"However, studies on dog bites show that the problem is not vicious dogs, so-called watchdogs, or dogs running loose," he said.
"Most dog bites occur on the property of the owner, on the front porch or inside the house, and frequently inside a fenced yard.
"In most cases, the dog had not bitten anyone before and was not considered dangerous to anyone by the owner," Rizzo said.
Courier Publications reporter George Chappell can be reached at 207-594-4401, ext. 117, or email@example.com.