‘I’ve been bitten seven times’: Pueblo mail carriers raise awareness after city ranks high for dog attacks nationwide

As Pueblo ranks high for dog attacks on mail carriers nationwide, USPS is working to raise awareness for the issue.
Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 6:20 PM MDT|Updated: Jun. 7, 2023 at 5:25 AM MDT
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PUEBLO, Colo. (KKTV) - During Dog Bite Awareness Week, Pueblo officials are sharing stories and spreading awareness as the city ranks high nationwide for dog attacks against mail carriers.

Johnny Morris has been a carrier with the United States Postal Service for 22 years. In that time, he said he has been bitten by dogs seven times.

“It doesn’t make me feel good at all,” Morris said. “Any bite is a different bite, and it hurts. I’m just trying to go home with all my fingers and toes and arms and legs, you know.”

One of those bites happened only a couple of months ago.

“Owner says, ‘Everybody knew the dog bites,’ but I didn’t know that,” he said, showing 11 News a scar on his left wrist.

Morris is one of six cases of recorded dog bites against USPS mail carriers in 2023. The previous year, he would have joined 13 other carriers, with Pueblo recording 14 total attacks, ranking 22nd in the nation for dog bites. They are tied with Albuquerque.

Nationwide, more than 5,300 postal employees were attacked by dogs that year.

When Morris began working with USPS, he didn’t expect to be part of this statistic. All he’s worried about, he said, is delivering mail.

“No, I’m not supposed to worry about it because, you know, the customer is supposed be responsible for the dogs,” Morris said.

Pueblo’s postmaster, Susan Grasmick, said she makes sure her employees are prepared.

“Every day, we remind them to carry their satchel, have their dog spray, have their dog horn with them and just to always check their surroundings and be aware of the area that they’re in,” Grasmick said.

Tuesday morning, Morris made sure he had all three before he set out for his route. His satchel, he said, is used for self-defense, giving a dog something to bite that won’t injure him, should it attack. The air horn can be used to scare the dog away. Should that not work, the dog spray can deter the dogs, should that be necessary.

“We don’t wanna do that, that’s not our priority,” he said. “Our priority is just deliver mail safely and get back home.”

Along his route, he was sure to check his mail for cards that show whether there’s a dangerous dog on the property. A neon orange card warns carriers about a dog that could get aggressive. It lets Morris know to keep the satchel, horn and spray handy.

During his route Tuesday, though, he encountered a house without that card. As he approached the porch and began walking up the steps, he heard a loud bark from a large dog inside. He delivered the mail without even flinching, but was sure to walk away quickly. He said he is always prepared for the possibility that a dog is present, regardless of warning.

“You just go in there and rattle the gate, making sure there’s no dogs in there,” he said.

As he continued, he was sure to look out for another card. This one’s blue with the words “Dog Warning” on it.

Should a carrier feel repeatedly threatened by a dog, USPS can halt mail service to a house, or even an entire neighborhood.

Morris encountered one of these houses Tuesday. Rather than deliver the mail to the house, he is instructed to use their designated PO Box instead.

Grasmick said she would like to see things change so carriers like Morris don’t need to worry about being attacked.

“So, what I would like to tell dog owners is to make sure that they have their dog secured,” she said.

She added that any dog has the potential to be dangerous.

“The dogs there to protect the family, so the dog doesn’t know that the carrier’s just a carrier out delivering the mail, so the dog is doing their job at protecting their house and the people that own the dog,” she said.

Any dog has the potential to bite, and she wants to make sure everyone is aware of that.

Part of this is letting everyone know how mail carriers are trained when faced with a dog. This includes:

- Not startling the dog

- Keeping their eyes on any dog

- Assuming all dogs could bite

- Making noise to alert a dog of their presence

- Never attempting to pet or feed the dog

- Putting their foot against an outward swinging door to prevent a dog from escaping.

As for dog owners, USPS said they can help protect carriers by restraining their dogs.

- Keep your dog in the house or behind a fence

- Keep dogs in another room if you’re keeping your door open to talk to a carrier

- Keep dogs on a leash

Morris said seeing mailboxes outside a fence in a gated house is also helpful for making sure the risk of a dog attack is low.

He said he’s careful while out, but that doesn’t stop him from loving dogs. In fact, he has four of his own. He doesn’t plan on leaving a job he loves, but USPS said they want to help make his mail routes safer by making everyone aware of a prevalent issue.