Dave Porter of south Minneapolis was a letter carrier back in the early ‘70s. His training orientation lasted two weeks. The first was all about the job itself -- your commitment to get everyone their mail. The second was about dog attacks.
A retired K-9 sergeant told them the score when it came to them and the dogs of the world. Dogs get 90 percent of their information from their nose, he said. When you spend your days walking through everyone’s yard, through the territories of countless dogs and people and God knows what else, your shoes and pant legs turn into the scents of a thousand strangers. So the dog, frightened by such an intrusion, will do what dogs do: defend its territory and family -- bravely, selflessly -- with the only weaponry it has. Its teeth.
Porter is a lawyer now -- has been for 40 years -- but he still remembers his close calls on the job. All letter carriers do, he says.
“If you talk to a mailman, you’re going to get a dog story,” he says.
This is Porter’s dog story.
He used to have route that took him past Central High School. There was this house across the street with a glass door, and behind it was a dog. It happened to be a German Shepherd, but this wasn’t a breed thing. Ask any letter carrier: all dogs bite.
And this dog hated anything that didn’t feed it. Every time Porter would deliver the house’s mail, he’d see the dog going berserk behind the glass door, clawing at the curtain over the pane of glass that separated them.
There came a day when Porter walked up to the front door and didn’t see the dog. That was because it had slipped out the back door. It saw Porter and tore across the yard toward him like a furry missile.
Porter knew he did not want to get bitten. He’d heard about a mail carrier that ended up unable to work for weeks after he’d stepped over a sleeping bulldog on a front porch near Lake of the Isles. It got him in the crotch.
So Porter remembered his training. He got down on one knee. He held up his satchel, which doubles as a dog shield. Porter describes himself as “reasonably well muscled” at the time. Then, as the dog went for him, he threw a right hook and punched it right on the nose.
The dog flopped over and stayed down. Porter managed to get away unscathed.
The next time Porter went to the house, the dog furiously ate the mail as he fed it through the slot. You sometimes get your revenge in slow, small ways, Porter says.
These days, letter carriers have a few more tools at their disposal. Mike Zagaros, who runs the National Association of Letter Carriers union branch in Minneapolis, says they have air horns and dog spray to keep attackers at bay. He’s still had to use his satchel as a shield though. If a letter carrier gets bitten by a dog, all mail delivery to that house stops until they can make an arrangement that doesn’t put the mail carrier in danger.
Minneapolis was recently ranked at No. 14 in the nation for the most dog attacks on mail carriers. Zagaros is just thrilled that it is no longer in the top 10. He’s had a dog break through a screen door and try to attack him.
“We have dog parks and we have yards, and people love their pets,” he says. There are very few houses on a typical route that don’t involve a pet of some kind. Letter carriers have gotten attacked by cats too.
He’s not anti-pet, he says. He’s a pet owner himself. He’s pro-responsible pet ownership. If you know the mail carrier’s coming, he says, bring your dog inside.