Dog owners could face a prison sentence if they fail to take steps to prevent their pet biting a postal worker’s fingers through a letterbox.
The High Court ruled that dog owners could be convicted of the offence contrary to the Dangerous Dogs Act, facing a maximum of five years in prison, whether they are home or not.
Royal Mail is now calling on dog owners to make letterboxes in their homes a ‘no-go zone’ for their pets.
This clarification of the Dangerous Dog Act was made in a case brought by Royal Mail.
A postman lost the tip of his finger when a dog bit him as his hand partially protruded though the letterbox whilst he was delivering mail.
The owner had left the dog alone at the address at the time. The dog had not injured anyone before.
The new decision applied to anyone who is visiting the premises with lawful reason, such as someone who is delivering a free newspaper or leaflet, the court ruled.
The Judge said there will be a short time when someone exposes their fingers to a dog within the property.
If the dog injures that person and the owner had allowed the dog to freely roam the house, the owner can be criminally liable.
The High Court ruling will effectively require dog owners to install letter box cages or otherwise keep dogs away from the front door or face prosecution if injury is caused to a person delivering to the house.
In the event of a conviction, the court must order destruction of the dog, unless the owner proves it is no longer a danger to the public.
The court also has power to disqualify persons from owning dogs and order unlimited compensation to the victim.
Since 2013, over 650 postal workers have been attacked while posting mail through the letterbox – some cases have resulted in the loss of fingertips and even amputation.
Angela Chapman, a postwoman of 13 years from Darlington, suffered “irreversible” damage to her ring finger and has a “permanent tingling”.
She said: “I was delivering mail on a new route and posted a letter through a letterbox. I wasn’t aware of a dog at the property and it didn’t bark as I approached the door.
“My hand didn’t actually go through the letterbox when I posted the mail, but the dog instantly latched on to the letter and pulled my hand into the letterbox.
“It bit onto my three fingers and wouldn’t let go. The dog’s owner didn’t come to my aid, so I had to literally pull my hand out of the dog’s grip.
“I went into shock and some neighbours who had heard me screaming called an ambulance and I was taken to hospital.
“I suffered irreversible nerve damage to my ring finger and have been left with a permanent tingling in my finger that gets worse in the winter. Also, the scar tissue means I can’t bend my fingers properly.
“Even as a dog owner, I am very wary of strange dogs now. The attack still affects me now, eight years on.
“Even if the smallest of dogs looks as though it is going to approach me, I start shaking and sweating. A simple letterbox gate would have prevented this happening to me.”
Dr Shaun Davis, Royal Mail Group global director of safety, health, wellbeing and sustainability, said: “We know that the majority of dog owners are responsible and will do all they can to ensure their pet doesn’t harm anyone.
“However, even the most lovable dog can be a danger to postal staff. Dogs are territorial by nature and if they feel they need to protect their family, they can become unpredictable.”
In 2014, Royal Mail successfully lobbied for changes to the Dangerous Dog Act. This amendment to legislation ensured that postmen and women were given legal protection if attacked by dogs when legitimately on private property, including a customer’s garden.
Tougher penalties were also imposed for irresponsible dog owners.
Previously, legal protection following attacks by dogs did not extend “beyond the garden gate”. This legal loophole was a particular issue for postmen and women, who each visit hundreds of private addresses every day on their delivery rounds.
Royal Mail commenced the action following a number of devastating injuries to its staff.
There are more than 2,000 attacks on postal workers every year and over 150 of those attacks result in permanent and sometimes life changing injuries.
Top Tips for Dog Owners
Here are some ideas to help your postman or postwoman deliver your post in safety:
- If your dog likes to attack your mail, consider installing a letterbox covering. It will protect your post and your postman’s or postwoman’s fingers.
- Remember to deploy the letterbox covering if you’re going out and your dog has access to the hallway/front door.
- Ensure your dog is out of the way before the postman or woman arrives. Place your pet in the back garden or a faraway room.
- If you have a back garden, please close off the access, in case your dog could get around to the front when the postman calls.
- Dog attacks can happen when you’ve opened the door to sign for an item. Please keep your dog in another room before answering the door and make sure children don’t open the door, as dogs can push by them and attack.
- Give your dog some food or a toy to occupy them while your mail is being delivered.
- Wait 10 minutes after your mail has arrived to let your pet back into your hallway. Keep everything as calm and low-key as possible.
- If it’s not practical for you to keep your dog away from a postman or postwoman delivering your mail, please consider fitting a secure mailbox on the edge of your property.
- Ensure your dog is micro-chipped, wearing a collar and tag, and that your contact details on the tag and microchip are up to date.