ENFIELD, Connecticut, USA
US POSTAL WORKERS terrorized by angry dogs are getting help from an unlikely source - Connecticut’s prison guards.
A new DVD produced by corrections officials and distributed around the US Northeast gives tips for avoiding attacks. Last year, there were more than 3,000 attacks on postal workers across the USA, according to postal service statistics.
"I never really realized how dangerous that job can be," said canine correction officer David Carroll.
Scott Reynolds, postal service safety specialist, said the video took shape when a postmaster asked prison officials for a dog attack demonstration.
The nine-minute video shows a trained dog named Brady assailing a guard dressed as a postal worker. The fake carrier shouts while keeping his mail satchel between him and the dog. While he yells he pushes the dog back with his bag and climbs into his postal truck.
Yelling helps get attention from anyone nearby, and postal workers are advised to report aggressive dogs to animal control. Mail carriers are also told to maintain constant vigilance.
"Sometimes it's so fast you don't have the time to react, especially when you have mail in your hands," said mail carrier Joe Patty.
The video got such a positive response in Connecticut that it was sent to neighbouring States New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Maine and Massachusetts.
"We thought so much of it that we duplicated it and sent it out to every one of our delivery units in the Boston area," said postal human resource manager Ron Fredey.
As previously reported the German postal service claims to have brought the problem of dogs attacking its staff under control by offering workers courses in canine psychology.
Deutsche Post says that the courses have reduced dog attacks by a third and follow other bizarre attempts to reduce the problem which all failed miserably.
In one, the postal service pushed for legislation to force the owners of dangerous dogs to put up small electrified fences. This was dropped when one postman in Hamburg needed hospital treatment after blundering into one such fence, getting an electric shock and then being bitten by the owner's Rottweiler anyway.
Another plan to issue postmen with ‘contra spray’ - a CS gas for use on dogs - was shelved when staff complained that they often found themselves being bitten as they struggled to find the spray, remove the cap, aim and fire it.
In Bavaria, there was a report of how a postman, knocked to the ground by a playful dog, was gassed when the animal trod on the canister, spraying the postman and frightening the dog, which then bit him.
Reinforced trousers also proved useless because they made postmen easier to catch and unable to leap fences. Staff also said that they were unhappy with tough legal action against the owners of dangerous dogs as bringing the court cases after the event did not stop the problem.
However, after the introduction of the dog psychology courses, the number of attacks has dropped by 1,000 a year to just over 2,000. Deutsche Post has sent nearly all of its 80,000 postmen and women on the animal psychology and psychoanalytical courses.
The seminars, which last for one day and are followed by several evening sessions, are taught to groups of 10 and are led by animal psychiatrists who bring a dog into the classroom for the postmen to work with.
The classes include theory and practical elements, such as demonstrations on why it is not possible to cycle faster than a dog can run and how to hand the mail to a person walking their dog on a lead without being bitten.
Stefan Biegier, a dog trainer, said: "We also show the postmen dog expressions and teach them to watch for the danger signs."
The postmen are taught how to keep a check on their own body language and facial expressions to help prevent an attack, as well as to mask their fear, move slowly and speak in a soothing voice to calm aggressive dogs.
Meanwhile, a British postman who runs dog obedience classes has spearheaded a campaign to prevent Royal Mail workers from being attacked.
Postal worker John Doley, from Flint, north Wales who has been bitten once himself, is urging local dog owners to keep their animals inside when mail is being delivered.
"Some people think it's a joke but you can get quite seriously hurt; a small dog can do just as much harm as a big dog can," he said. "When I was bitten I had to go to hospital but it's not as serious as some people. Dogs can do permanent damage....people have had their fingers bitten off as well.""
Mr Doley's warning follows a spate of attacks by dogs across the region.
In north Wales, 98 postmen and women were attacked as they went about their rounds between April 2002 and March 2003. Across Wales in the same period, there were 5,868 dog attacks, resulting in 5,770 days lost in sick leave.
Although the majority of attacks are by dogs, there have been incidents reported involving cats, pheasants and geese.
Royal Mail's area manager for north Wales, Ian Johnstone said dog owners need to help the delivery service.
"The majority of dog owners are very responsible when it comes to keeping our delivery staff safe," he said. "But dog bites are still a major cause of injury to our postmen and women and the effects can cause considerable distress to those concerned.
"We therefore appreciate it when dog owners take extra care to keep their pets under control when we arrive with their post."