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Delivering the Mail

Marcia Ehinger, MD, a native Californian, is a retired pediatrician and genetic specialist. She is the California Writers Club Sacramento Branch newsletter content editor.

I had never thought that delivering the mail was dangerous. So, when I was in college, I took a summer job as a letter carrier at large post office in Orange County, California. It should have been a dream job, with sunshine, nearby beaches, and moderate exercise.

But one morning, our supervisor warned us over the intercom, "Attention, carriers. You need to be more careful out there. Every day this month, at least one letter carrier has been sent to the emergency room because of a significant dog bite."

The man next to me said, "I'm not worried. I know kung fu." Someone else said, "We've all got pepper spray. Mine's right there on my mailbag." Joe Rinaldi begged to differ. "Pepper spray's no good. I sprayed a big dog right in the face. He stopped, licked it off, and then waited for a second helping."

I hadn't remembered that dogs hate the mailman, a person who walks up to the house nearly every day, and violates the family's sacred space by forcing paper items of various shapes and sizes through the center of the front door. Even our family dog would bark, as most dogs do, when the carrier approached the house, and then proceed to bite the mail as it fell into the living room.

One Saturday, I was walking through a relatively new housing tract, delivering the usual mix of letters, catalogs, and small packages. It was early in the morning, but the weather was already sunny and warm, and a number of people were out mowing lawns or trimming bushes in their front yards. My left shoulder was weighed down by a thick leather satchel — following a tradition that went back to the 1860s. My right hand was used to grab the presorted mail and stuff it through the slots.

Near the middle of the block, I noticed that a new family had moved in. The garage door was open and there were moving boxes stacked inside more than three feet high. As I got closer, I was surprised to see a pair of ears pop up from behind the boxes. Then, I heard a deep growl. "That must be a really big dog," ran through my mind.

Suddenly, a huge black German shepherd leaped over the box wall and ran toward me, teeth bared and snarling, barking like crazy. The dog seemed bigger than I was. What was I going to do? He was attacking the dreaded letter carrier.

I knew I couldn't outrun it. I was dressed in lightweight, easy to penetrate, summer clothing, and I didn't know any useful self-defense moves. I had a can of pepper spray hooked onto the mailbag. Maybe if the spray wasn't any help, I could hit him with the can. No, too small.

The dog was closing in fast, running full tilt, barking furiously, snarling and drooling. The answer came to me in a flash. I let out a scream as I smashed the dog in the face with forty pounds of letters and catalogs enclosed in thick leather. I turned and ran the other direction down the sidewalk. As I looked back, I saw three men who had been out doing yard work, run over and grab the dog by the collar.

I was safe. I slowed to a walk.

At the end of the street, a Yorkshire terrier ran up to me, yapping, long hair dragging, a pink bow on top. "Just a little ankle-biter," I thought. And that's exactly what she did.

~ Marcia Ehinger




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