Houston postal workers dodge dogs daily

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A chorus of yelps and yaps greets letter carrier Trina Lastrap on her route each day through the Third Ward.

Sometimes a wet-nosed snout emerges from beneath a gate, or a hazy figure appears behind a screen door. Curtains shake until curious eyes peak through an opening.

And those are just the dogs that can be seen. Others, large and small, can be heard as the U.S. Postal Service worker delivers the mail.

“I am aware of my surroundings all the time,” Lastrap said Friday while filling mailboxes along an audibly pet-friendly stretch of Southmore Boulevard. “People think it’s easy, but this is really not an easy job. We just make it look easy.”

Lastrap has been attacked twice by dogs in her 17 years delivering mail, and she’s not alone. Dogs assaulted a record 6,755 postal workers nationwide in 2016, including 62 in Houston. The Bayou City ranked No. 2 in the nation for dog attacks on postal workers, behind Los Angeles, where 80 employees were attacked by canines.

The statistics are released each year to coincide with National Dog Bite Prevention Week, which began Sunday and ends April 15.

The Postal Service has a plea for the American people: Folks, secure your pets. Fluffy transforms into Rambo when the letter carrier arrives.

Lastrap, 49, has more than 600 stops on her usual route, which includes the area near her base at the Southmore Station on Almeda and neighborhoods near Scott and Southmore.

She always opts for a uniform with pants because aggressive dogs might latch onto the clothing instead of her leg. The satchel slung over her shoulder can serve double duty as a physical shield. And there’s a canine repellent spray clipped to the bag.

As she’s walking, her blue scanner emits urgent beeps to let her know there is a property with a known dog nearby and shows addresses with the number of estimated feet away on the screen.

“I basically know where the dogs are unless the dogs are stray,” Lastrap said.

Scars to prove it

Over the years, the Postal Service has expanded its tally from simple dog bites to include all attacks because the animals can cause varied injuries.

Lastrap’s right arm bears two scars as proof.

In one instance, a pet came outside with a resident as she was loading mail in a curbside box.

“The house dog came out with her and came through the gate and was trying to bite me,” Lastrap said. “So, I retrieved my spray and I stepped backm, and when I stepped back, I slid on the dirt and that’s how I broke my wrist. The dog didn’t bite me because she hurried up and grabbed the dog.”

The physical recovery lasted four months. A linear scar from surgery is prominent on her inner right arm.

Another time, Lastrap was delivering to a multi-family four-plex building where the bottom pair of units were vacant. She reached up to place mail in the upper boxes and heard something coming toward her.

“And when I turned around, the dog was lunging at me,” she said. “When I put my bag up, he gashed my arm. I proceeded to fight the dog, kick the dog. I couldn’t grab my spray because he was on me.”

A group of men nearby beat the animal off of Lastrap. Her treatment included large antibiotic capsules and a tetanus shot.

An investigation determined that the dog was protecting its puppies inside of one of the unoccupied lower units.

Restraint needed

Houston has hovered near the top of the Postal Service dog-attack list since landing at No. 1 in 2010, the first year a ranking was released. Over seven years of data, the Bayou City has had the most dog attacks for three of those years and had the second-most for two of those years – including 2016.

Houston attacks hit a record of 77 in 2015.

Linda DeCarlo, the Postal Service’s national safety director, said the nationwide prevention efforts were kicked off in Houston last year because of the city’s stray dog problem.

The Postal Service advises customers to secure animals in another room before opening the door to receive mail because dogs have burst through screen doors and glass windows to attack carriers. Pet owners also should be aware that handing mail to a customer could be perceived as a threat by a dog.

If a letter carrier feels unsafe around a dog – or the animal is unleashed or roaming – the owner may be asked to pick up mail at the post office until the pet is adequately restrained.

Some good news may be hidden in the numbers. Although dog attacks on postal workers jumped by more than 200 incidents in 2016 nationwide, the increase did not keep pace with the roughly 1 million new addresses added each year to routes.

Houston’s postmaster oversees the annual delivery of roughly 1.2 billion pieces of mail along nearly 1,900 city routes and 150 rural routes, the agency reported. At-your-door service has exploded in recent years with increasing online purchases.

Despite her negative canine encounters, Lastrap smiles as she sums up her outlook about continuing to work as a letter carrier.

“There’s always paranoia,” she said. “I think about it daily, but this is my job and this is what I have to do.”

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