The U.S. Postal Service reports that the number of postal employees attacked by dogs nationwide was 6,244 in 2017 -- a reduction of over 500 from 2016.
If you have one or more dogs, follow these tips:
-- If a carrier delivers mail or packages to your front door, place your dog in a separate room and close that door before opening the front door. Some dogs burst through screen doors or plate-glass windows to attack visitors. Dog owners should keep the family pet secured.
-- Parents should remind their children and other family members not to take mail directly from carriers in the presence of the family pet, as the dog may view the handing over of mail as a threatening gesture.
-- The Postal Service places the safety of its employees as a top priority. If a carrier feels threatened by a dog, or if a dog is loose or unleashed, the resident may be asked to pick up mail at a post office until the carrier is assured the pet has been restrained. If your dog is roaming the neighborhood, any nearby neighbors might also be asked to pick up their mail at the post office until the area is deemed safe.
I advised the USPS some years ago to use training videos to educate mail carriers on reading dogs’ behavior, and how best to behave around those that aren’t restrained. They should especially be taught never to stare at the dogs. Most dogs who bark don’t bite, unless threatened or afraid. Many dogs greet mail deliverers once they know and trust them.
DEAR DR. FOX: We have two wonderful 14-year-old cat brothers who have always gotten along well. Out of the blue, one day in January, Spunky attacked Gus. It was definitely not play, and was unprovoked.
They have occasionally turned on each other if they have seen a strange cat walk through the property, but it is over quickly and they are friends again. This time has been different. For weeks, we could not comfortably leave them alone if we had to go out for a while.
There has been some improvement, but this has been going on for almost three months. We can now leave them, but they are usually sleeping. They can be very loving -- bathing each other, sleeping in the same room and sometimes even sleeping on the bed together. But often when Gus walks away and Spunky follows him, Gus will look back, spit, growl and run, which causes Spunky to pursue him. If I don’t get there in time, there is a very vicious attack. This can also happen if Gus walks into a room where Spunky is and Spunky chases him out. It does not always happen, but we are on high alert in case it does.
They do have an enclosed yard with special fencing that prevents them from getting out. They are never out there without being observed, and when out there, they never fight. Gus has no problem if Spunky follows him outside, and vice versa.
I have used Feliway plug-ins and spray. Early on, I rubbed them with familiar scents, but nothing has changed the behavior. After an altercation, they are almost immediately loving and licking each other, so I don’t think this is triggered by scent.
It is as if Gus cannot forget the original attack, and when Spunky follows him, it brings back the memory and he cannot help himself. Then his growls and hisses get Spunky going. I use a spray water bottle to break them up, but it has been going on for so long I am afraid the behavior is just being reinforced.
I should also mention they are both in very good health. Gus has been on thyroid medication (methimazole) for the past year and is doing very well.
I would appreciate any suggestions you can give that could bring back our happy, peaceful household. -- J.M., Fairfield, Connecticut
DEAR J.M.: This problem is all too common, and you are correct in assuming that it was the stray cat outdoors (scent, sounds and sight) that made one of your cats redirect aggression toward the companion cat he lives with.
This traumatic event will not be forgotten by Gus for a long time, even though they may groom each other and sleep together. This is one of many reasons why cat owners should not allow their cats outdoors to roam free.
Gus will be especially on edge when walking past and away from Spunky. His thyroid condition is adding to his stress, along with any spray-bottle or other discipline/intervention you may instigate; such things will scare both cats and probably make matters worse.
Since you have tried what I would have suggested to help Gus get over the attack, I would try grooming each cat in turn, early in the evening, while they are both on the floor or sofa with you. Then try massage and any interactive games you can engage in to draw them both together, such as chasing a laser light or a lure on the end of a string. Find what treats they like, such as freeze-dried chicken or fish, and call them to you at random times so they both come and receive a treat at the same time. Try some catnip herb.
Repeated close proximity provided by these pleasurable activities may be the best hope of Gus overcoming this traumatic event.
REQUEST TO READERS
If you have ever had dogs who eat their own and other dogs’ stools, so-called coprophagia, please let me know the age and breed of your dog, what kind of dog food was being given at the time, and what you found to be the best remedy to prevent such behavior.
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxVet.net.)