DOG ATTACK: THE THREAT IS REAL AND MAY BE GROWING
A recent pit bull attack on a PG&E meter reader in Oakland is a sobering reminder of the dangers faced by utility workers who go door-to-door in the course of their duties.
The attack occurred Oct. 2 when the meter reader entered a fenced area after knocking and seeing no sign of animals. However, after reading the meter the employee saw a pit bull approaching. That dog was quickly joined by a second pit bull, which attacked the meter reader. The first dog then joined in the attack.
Passersby attempted to distract the dogs with food, but one of the dogs continued the attack. The meter reader finally was able to use a stick found in the yard to beat the attacking dog, and then escaped through a gate.
The statistics are clear: if you go door-to-door to make a living, you’re going to encounter a lot of dogs. According to dogbitelaw.com, dogs bite about 4.7 million Americans each year. Of these, 800,000 need medical attention—about 1,000 per day seek treatment in hospital emergency rooms. Most of the victims who receive medical attention are children, half of whom are bitten in the face.
Whether you’re an adult or a child, dog bite injuries can be severe. After being attacked by a mastiff, one PG&E Bay Area meter reader suffered a severed femoral artery. Even the police officers who arrived on the scene shortly after the attack started were unable to pull the dog off the meter reader and had to shoot it.
Attacks this serious can inflict life-altering trauma on the victim. Psychological and emotional scars sometimes prevent the victim from returning to work, piling economic hardship on top of the other injuries.
More Aggressive Dogs
While the number of dogs rose by 2% during a 7-year period in the 1990s, the number of bites increased by 33%, according to dogbitelaw.com. This appears to reflect a growing preference among dog owners for aggressive breeds of dogs. Meter readers and other utility employees in the field must increase their vigilance accordingly.
The best place to start is to acknowledge that fear is a natural response in a confrontation with a threatening animal. But showing that fear to the dog is exactly the wrong response.
Dogs are hierarchical animals. If you cannot dominate the dog, the dog will be emboldened to try dominating you. With its teeth. Maintaining eye to eye contact with the dog is crucial.
If you are entering a dog’s territory, you want the dog to be submissive. But you don’t want to appear so aggressive that the dog becomes afraid. A “cornered dog” is a dangerous dog, and liable to attack. Bear in mind that the equipment worn by some utility workers could appear threatening to a dog.
How do you avoid having to decide what is dominant enough and what is too dominant? The best game plan is to know in advance if a dog is on the property. Your company should keep records on which locations have dogs, and every employee should be responsible for updating those records when new information becomes available.
But records can be wrong. There may be a new dog in the neighborhood since your last visit. That’s why it’s important to be on the lookout for signs of a dog before you enter a customer’s property—even if you’ve been there before. Do you see any food bowls? How about pet toys, dog houses, or chains?
Stay alert to other possible threats besides dogs. Local 1245 members have been attacked on the job by other animals, including an ostrich.
If you suspect that a dangerous animal may be present, ask the customer to put the pets in the house while you work. Obviously some dog owners are sensitive to any implied criticism of their pet, so it might be best to frame your request as a concern: “I’m worried your dog might get out when I go into your yard—would you mind putting it in the house while I’m here?”
Something Else to Bite
Even the best precautions cannot guarantee that a meter reader will never encounter a dog face to face. And not every dog is going to submit when you put on your dominance routine.
Some employers provide meter readers with protection devices to ward off animal attacks. It’s important to know how to use these devices, and to keep them at the ready in suspicious situations.
But if you have no such device, or cannot get to it in time, the best strategy is to give the dog something else to bite besides your body. Try anything: a jacket, a clipboard, your gloves—something that doesn’t bleed. While the dog is dominating the object, get your ass moving toward an exit, or at least a more defensible position.
As numerous Local 1245 members have discovered, sometimes you won’t be able to evade the dog. Don’t be shy about calling for help. If someone else in a protected position can distract the dog, seize the opportunity to escape.
If you use your head, chances are good you will survive. (Only 15-20 people die each year from dog bites, according to dogbitelaw.com.) The next step is to take care of yourself, and others.
Take care of yourself by washing your wounds thoroughly with soap and warm water, then seek professional medical treatment. If your injuries seem serious, get to an emergency room. When you have recovered physically, be alert to signs of post-traumatic stress, such as sleeplessness, fear of being outside, or other troubling feelings or unusual behavior.
Take care of others by reporting the attack to your employer. Help build your company’s “bad dog” database. Also report the incident to Animal Control. If the dog is a stray, Animal Control personnel will want to know what the dog looks like, where the attack took place and what direction it went after it ruined your day.
People love their dogs. They’re not going to give them up. Most dog owners will exercise responsible control over their animals, but some will not. If you make your living going door-to-door, the person ultimately responsible for assuring your safety is you.
So stay informed. Stay alert. Be prepared. Be safe.