FORT WORTH, Texas — Veteran letter carrier Debera Cobb has a survival code: Never look a dog in the eye.
“I’ve just been bitten once — that’s all that is going to happen if I can help it,” she said.
Recently in Fort Worth, a letter carrier was accused of killing a dog with a rock, an episode that upset the owners. The worker is on administrative leave while the incident is investigated, according to the U.S. Postal Service.
At the same time, statistics show that dog bites are a serious hazard for those who deliver the mail.
Fort Worth ranked 16th in the number of postal employees — 26 — attacked by dogs in 2013, according to the U.S. Postal Service.
Postal workers said it’s hard to find a letter carrier who doesn’t have an experience to share.
“I don’t know what it is about postmen, but the dogs don’t like us,” said Christi Fite, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 226, which represents Fort Worth. Nationwide, 5,581 postal employees were attacked last year.
The Postal Service hopes to improve matters through an information campaign that includes tips for pet owners. Additionally, it also released the dog attack rankings as part of National Dog Bite Prevention Week, which started May 18 and ended Saturday.
Letter carriers are equipped with dog spray, a repellent that consists of less than 1 percent cayenne pepper. They can curtail mail at homes or neighborhoods where large dogs roam loose. They aren’t timid about calling animal control when they see loose dogs.
“It makes a lot of people mad, but it is for the safety of us,” said Tina Jarrett, a postal worker bitten by a dog about a year ago. “I had my nose almost ripped off, and it was a terrifying experience.”
Cobb, a letter carrier for about 15 years, was working a route in southeast Fort Worth on Aug. 3, 2003, when she was attacked. She noticed that a pit bull, normally chained, was missing. She looked, took precautions and went on to deliver the mail.
Suddenly, the dog appeared and lunged at her.
Cobb said she instinctively used her mail satchel to protect herself. “She was leaving the ground, coming to my face,” Cobb said.
The dog bounced off, hit the ground and bit her leg once.
“Unfortunately, she hit a main artery in my leg,” Cobb said. “It took 10 stitches to suture it up.”
Cobb called her supervisors, she said, and her husband came to take her to the doctor. Cobb said she later learned that the dog had delivered puppies the night before.
“I was a stranger in her nursery,” she said.
Jarrett, who has delivered mail for almost a year, was bitten while taking a package to a house in the Polytechnic Heights area.
“I had done what you are supposed to do,” Jarrett said. “You walk up to a yard with caution, and you are looking around making sure there are no dogs.”
When Jarrett got to the door, a man approached her who was walking with two loose dogs — a German shepherd mix and a Chihuahua. The Chihuahua was barking at her, and the German shepherd mix lay on the front porch to sleep. The man, who spoke only Spanish, went to find someone to interpret.
When a woman appeared to sign for the package, the German shepherd mix bit Jarrett.
“As I scan the scanner and step back, the German shepherd mix flew off of the porch and literally lunged for my face,” Jarrett said. “I was terrified.”
Jarrett said that a piece of her nose had to be reattached and that she became fearful of dogs even though she has five.
Neither letter carrier would comment on the recent investigation involving the postal worker accused of fatally injuring a Yorkshire terrier with a rock.
The problems typically unfold in older neighborhoods, where the mail is delivered in slots near the front door.
Cobb’s mail route near East Allen and Yuma avenues is in an older residential area in southeast Fort Worth. Dogs sometimes sit unattended on front porches. Cobb tells customers to keep pets leashed, which is the law.
“I’m keeping my dog tied up now. I don’t let it bother you,” shouted one man on her route recently.
Cobb won’t deliver mail to a house with a loose dog.
Dogs need to be on a leash when being walked or if they are off the owner’s property, and owners need to be with their animals at all times, according to city ordinances. Fines can reach $2,000, said Diane Covey, a spokeswoman for the Fort Worth Code Compliance Department.
Brandon Bennett, the code compliance director, said the city combats loose or stray animals on various fronts, including fence standards, education of the public, and promotion of spay-and-neuter programs.
At the post office, letter carriers alert others to possible trouble.
People have theories on dogs and letter carriers. Some think it’s the uniform. Others wonder whether it’s something with the mail delivery routine.
In any case, animal advocates remind pet owners that any dog has the potential to bite, so owners need to keep them securely fenced or indoors.
“Any dog, no matter how kind or loving, can bite under the right circumstances,” said Whitney Hanson, director of development and communications for the Humane Society of North Texas.