Family has to fetch mail after dog scares postman

CANTON, OH -- The latest skirmish in the ongoing mail carrier vs. dog wars cost a northwest Canton family almost a week's worth of home mail delivery last month.

It's a typical ''he said/she barked'' story.

The ''he'' is a letter carrier who says he was menaced by a dog belonging to Shawn and Sondra Thomas. The ''she'' is Sheila, a 35-pound black lab mix the couple adopted as a puppy from the Humane Society three years ago.

Mail carrier and dog collided on the Thomases' enclosed breezeway sometime in the middle of June, but only the carrier and Sheila know what transpired and one of them isn't talking.

The Postal Service relies on the discretion of its carriers in dog matters. If the carrier feels menaced, he's menaced.

Same goes for icy steps, mailboxes in construction zones and other hazards. Rain, sleet, snow or dark of night notwithstanding, letter carriers won't risk their necks—or tender calves—delivering the mail.

The couple eventually spent about $75 on a curbside mailbox.

However, they say postal authorities unfairly labeled their dog vicious, failed to inform them for three days that their mail was suspended and did not communicate their procedures and policies.

Details are sketchy. Although menacing incidents are usually documented, the mail carrier, whose name was not available, apparently went on vacation the next day without making a written report, said Akron district Postal Service spokesman Paul Harrington.

The carrier told supervisors the dog tried to push through an apparently unlocked door in the breezeway when he attempted to deliver mail to a box outside the home.

The carrier closed the door with his foot, pushing the dog back inside, he said.

Shawn Thomas said this might have occurred June 11, when his wife discovered Sheila in the breezeway, which has been converted into a completely enclosed sun porch. Sheila was found amid broken pottery and knocked-over chairs. Thomas says the door was still locked.

''We came home and she was trying to get into the house like she had been attacked,'' Thomas said.

He said that although Sheila never had formal obedience training, she was housebroken and taught not to snarl or bite.

He and his wife, ages 31 and 28 respectively, have a 10-month old son and say the dog behaves well around him.

''She's great around the baby. She protects the baby,'' Shawn Thomas said.

Thomas said he isn't even sure whether the carrier used pepper spay on Sheila.

Harrington is unsure about the sequence of events because the Newmarket Station manager, Don Tucci, is on vacation.

However, Harrington said Tucci tried to deliver the suspended mail and discuss the situation, but Sheila snarled at him before he could talk to the dog's owners. ''In this case, a decision maker felt threatened himself, and that was probably the end of any deliberation for him,'' Harrington said.

Thomas didn't notice that his service had been stopped until June 19, when he realized he hadn't received even a scrap of junk mail in three days. He says among the undelivered letters was a check from a mortgage company that sat at the post office for three days.

Thomas tried to negotiate a solution—for example, keeping the dog inside the house—but was told his only options were to get a curbside box, get a post office box or get rid of his dog.

''We had to finally cave in so our mail wouldn't get cut off,'' Thomas said.

From September 2000 through June 2001, the postal district that includes Akron, Canton, Toledo and Youngstown recorded 84 dog attacks with 68 bites, according to postal records. The other incidents involve injuries suffered while escaping a dog. Just last week in Akron, a postal carrier twisted his ankle getting away from a dog, Harrington said.

Keeping animals indoors is no guarantee of safety either. ''A dog once came though a pane-glass window at a carrier,'' Harrington said.