Once bitten twice shy

Pictured is Paul Walmsley from Walmsley Leaflet Distributions has had his finger bitten by dogs while posting in the past.
Pictured is Paul Walmsley from Walmsley Leaflet Distributions has had his finger bitten by dogs while posting in the past.
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When Blackpool postie Carl Webb was badly bitten some years ago he admits it changed him.

“It’s really painful,” says the resort-based North West Communications Workers Union regional secretary.

“It’s frightening. It makes you wary, worried, a bit jumpy. Any dog can attack. You develop a bit of a phobia. That’s why we’ve got to fight – and bite – back.”

Posties are calling for tougher measures to curb dangerous dogs after former Blackpool North and Fleetwood MP Joan Humble lost part of her finger when she posted an election leaflet through a door on Harrison Street, in central Blackpool, on Saturday.

The dog, who stayed silent at the other side of the door, tore off the top of her ring finger.

Medics removed part of the bone, as it had fractured. Doctors also cut off Mrs Humble’s wedding ring. “That was the saddest part,” says Mrs Humble. “I’ve worn it for 40 years and we celebrated our ruby anniversary this year.”

The politician, who spent two nights in hospital after the attack, said she broke her own rule of never putting her hand through a letter box.

But union leader Mr Webb says that’s beside the point. “We don’t think it’s acceptable to be bitten by a dog in any situation when you’re going about your business lawfully,” he adds.

“The Fylde’s postal workers have the utmost sympathy for Joan. It is appalling this happened. Sometimes it’s hard to post a letter or package without putting your hand through. Letter boxes differ. Posties also face additional pressures to complete a round in a given time.”

Five hundred of the Fylde’s Royal Mail workers are backing the CWU’s Dangerous Dogs – Bite Back campaign. It is on the agenda at the CWU conference in Bournemouth this week.

The attack on the politician coincided with the Government’s announcement of plans to close a loophole in the law, so dog owners will face prosecution if their pet attacks someone on their property.

But the regional union leader says: “It doesn’t go far enough. We need proper preventative measures.”

Animal welfare charities criticise the failure to introduce dog control orders to keep potential problem dogs on a lead, or muzzled.

There are hundreds of dog attacks on posties every year in the UK. Royal Mail recently announced a national inquiry into the “unacceptably high” number of incidents.

Mr Webb added: “Postmen bitten by dogs has been treated as a bit of a joke. This attack shows how horrible it can be. We shouldn’t be considered fair game because we are in someone’s garden, drive or on their doorstep.

“We’re not breaking in, but providing a service. It is up to owners to keep dogs under control, rather than leave them behind a door, or in the garden, or left to prowl a neighbourhood. Posties are at risk, but so are leaflet and newspaper distributors and utility services, and even carers, who often have to gain access to a property.

“Owners know if a dog jumps up at the door, or tries to attack visitors. We won’t post mail if a dog is clearly aggressive, but sometimes calculated risks are taken. If an owner isn’t around, a dog should be in a room away from the door, tethered safely, or muzzled.

“In the past we’ve had streets become no-go zones because of dogs prowling.

“All dogs are potentially dangerous. David Cameron has repeatedly assured us we are going to get stronger laws to deal with dangerous dogs – it’s another broken promise. And we’re paying the price.”

Paul Walmsley, 70, of Marton, has run Walmsley Leaflet Distribution, covering the Fylde coast, since 1969, and been bitten twice. “I had to go to hospital for one. A dog came out of an alley in Marton and leapt at my back. I had stitches. I’ve also had a finger bitten by a dog behind a door. Whether big, or little, dogs are potentially dangerous.

“I tell my team to not take risks. Dogs defending their territory see you as the trespasser.”

Mrs Humble said: “It is important pet owners are made aware of their responsibilities, both to their animals and the rest of the public. When I was an MP I sat on the Work And Pensions Select Committee, and I met with members of the Communication Workers union to discuss health and safety.

“Attacks by dogs was a huge issue, but quite a complex one. Steps should be put in place if a dog has a tendency to attack anything that comes through a letter box.”

Bob Wareham of Blackpool, a postie for 37 years, and CWU North Lancashire and Cumbria area safety officer says: “Dog attacks are a regular occurrence

“We keep up to speed on potential problems and tip off postmen covering for regulars on leave, or sick. It’s not the dog’s fault, it’s irresponsible ownership. We have customer stickers which warn postmen to beware. There are dog pegs too, you stick mail in the end, and the peg pushes the letter through.

“But responsible owners are the best defence of all.”