Why So Many Dog Attacks?

State Farm paid more than $118 million as a result of 3,181 dog-related injury claims in 2015.

No one in Dallas should have been surprised that a pack of dogs attacked a woman in south Dallas in May 2016, causing injuries so severe that she died. The Dallas Morning News in particular and other local print and broadcast news media had documented the problem of repeated dog attacks in that part of Dallas for more than two years. The victim this time was Antoinette Brown, 52, and while she was not at work when attacked, the news coverage of her death merged in my mind with the U.S. Postal Service's 2015 dog attack city rankings because USPS released its data only a few days later.

USPS announced that 6,549 of its employees—that's an average of 18 employees per day, every day of the year—were attacked by dogs in 2015. The Postal Service provided a chart showing there were at least 15 attacks during the year on its employees in each of 51 cities across the country, from Washington state and California to cities in New York state. Houston had the most, 77 (a 22 percent increase from the year before), with San Diego and Cleveland, Ohio tied for second (58). Dallas ranked fourth, with 57, representing a 33 percent increase year over year.

"Dogs are protective in nature and may view our letter carriers handing mail to their owner as a threat," said USPS Safety Director Linda DeCarlo, who announced two sensible new safety measures. The first took effect May 13 on usps.com's Package Pickup application: Customers are asked to indicate whether there is a dog at their address when they schedule a package pickup. The second is a feature on mobile devices letter carriers use to scan packages to confirm delivery; it lets carriers indicate the presence of a dog at an individual address and will be especially helpful to substitutes who fill in for letter carriers on their days off, she said.

USPS and allies that include the American Humane Association offered tips during National Dog Bite Prevention Week (May 15-21). It's a sobering thought: There are 4.5 million Americans bitten by dogs annually, and more than half of the victims are children. State Farm paid more than $118 million as a result of 3,181 dog-related injury claims in 2015 alone, according to the Humane Association.

Update: After Brown's death, the chair of Dallas' Animal Advisory Commission hired Boston Consulting Group to conduct a study about the scope of the city's loose dog problem, and the city has been heat mapping 311 calls to see which neighborhoods have the most serious problem, staff writer Robert Wilonsky of The Dallas Morning News reported June 24. His report said the Dallas City Council and the commission should get the results and recommendations this fall.

This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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