SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — Mail carrier Brenda Beattie knows the nasty dogs at the 688 locations on her route by where they live, a few by name.
There’s Barney, the mutt she had to spray with a canister of pepper spray before he backed off, and Sasha, a black Labrador retriever who tries to get through the window to attack her.
“I’ve been attacked hundreds of times,” Beattie said. “I know where all the bad dogs are and how to avoid them, but it never fails that there will be a stray. You always have to have one ear open.”
Beattie, a mail carrier for 17 years, has been bitten 10 times. She has multiple scars on her right ankle and leg. Once, she had to get rabies shots.
Overall, reported dog bites in Greene County are at a 10-year low with 82 in 2011 compared to 148 bites in 2001.
But encounters with dogs are a daily problem for postal carriers. Springfield ranked 23rd in the nation for dog attacks on postal carriers in fiscal 2010, according to the postal service. It was not among the top cities in 2011, but Springfield’s postal district has seen aggressive dog incidents rise about 20 percent for the 12 months ending April 2012.
The district includes eastern Kansas, western Missouri and parts of central Missouri.
In April, Postmaster Bill Brayman wrote then-Mayor Jim O’Neal asking for help.
“The cost in employee pain and suffering cannot be measured,” Brayman wrote. “. . .We are calling on city leaders like yourself to come together to discuss how we together can combat this growing problem.”
Brayman said Thursday he hadn’t received a response to his letter.
“I don’t know if it’s because they’re in the middle of changing administrations,” Brayman said. “Our incidents are still rising. I’m trying to reach out to the city under the assumption that they may have experienced problems too, with utilities workers or emergency response employees. I don’t want my carriers dead. I don’t want anyone else dead.”
Mike Brothers, a spokesman for the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, said Springfield’s issues with postal carriers and dogs are similar to other cities.
“I think this is a perennial issue when you have strange folks delivering mail right up to the front door,” he said.
Brothers said Brayman’s letter was sent to a task force the city set up on animal issues. Brothers said the task force talked about Brayman’s letter in May and “decided that attacks on mail carriers is beyond their charge put together by the City Council.”
Spokesmen for City Utilities and the Springfield police department said their employees haven’t had a significant problem with dogs.
“It’s a part of training that we go through in the academy in how to deal with canines if we go to a home and we’re attacked,” said police spokesman Matt Brown. “Most owners are very good about putting their canines up when we arrive, so we don’t have as much of an issue as the postal carriers do because the owners don’t proactively put them away for them like they do for us.”
Under Springfield’s ordinances regulating animals, owners of dogs at large can be fined at least $10 for each offense. Anyone who violates the ordinance more than three times in 18 months shall be fined at least $200 for the fourth offense and offenses after that in an 18-month period.
Postal carriers also are allowed to cut off mail delivery to addresses with problem dogs. Orange warning cards — tucked into the mail between bills and letters that need to be delivered — remind mail carriers about addresses that have dangerous dogs.
Brothers said the city needs to have better communication from the post office, including written statements from the carriers about problems they have with dogs. He said the ordinances on the books are sufficient.
“It’s sort of like speeding in neighborhoods,” Brothers said. “People see it all the time. But there’s no way that a cop is going to sit on a residential street and just hang out. They have too much else to do.”
Springfield has eight animal control officers, a number that will drop to six by the end of the summer. City officials are waiting to see what happens with the state budget before deciding whether to fill the positions that will be vacant. Animal control officers only cover Springfield as of Jan. 1 because of county budget cuts.
Postal carrier Colleen McBroom said the enforcement of the dog ordinances is lax.
“There’s many times when I’m calling the city to pick up these dogs,” McBroom said. “Their response is, ‘we’ll get someone there when we can.’ I don’t think they’re tough enough on people who let dogs go loose.”
McBroom was attacked by a mastiff in 2005 that knocked her backward down three steps. She landed on her bottom and her lower back. McBroom finished her route, but the next day she could not get out of bed.
She underwent years of physical therapy for pain before resorting to surgery. In 2008, she had a procedure to grind down part of the spine between the L4 and L5 vertebrae where the nerves were being pinched. She still had unrelenting pain. In 2011, a surgeon implanted a neurotransmitter designed to send signals to counteract the pain.
The neurotransmitter was removed because of a severe infection. McBroom spends about $300 a month after insurance on medication for chronic pain.
“Every day I am in pain,” McBroom said. “It totally changed my life.”
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