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Dog bite: Postal workers claim dog bite ordinances aren’t effective after recent attack

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dog bite

INJURIES — Joene Johnson incurs injuries to her face during a recent dog attack while delivering mail. She likely will need plastic surgery to repair the damage to her nose.

Earlier this month a dog attacked a local postal worker, leaving her with serious injuries to her face. The attack itself, and the aftermath, have caused the area’s National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 33 members to call for more changes to Kokomo’s ordinances.

On Jan. 11, letter carrier Joene Johnson was finishing her mail route. West Woodland Avenue served as her final street for deliveries, and her shift was drawing to a close. However, her workday ended at the hospital.

Johnson said she was aware of a dog that was housed on the 700 block of West Woodland Avenue. It had jumped on the door of the home as she made deliveries before, but it never had attacked her. In fact, in her 20 years working as a letter carrier, she never had been attacked. She’d been bitten before but never to the point where she would qualify the event as an attack. That changed on Jan. 11.

In her recounting of events, Johnson delivered mail to the home of the dog in question, a large animal described as a mountain cur in the official police report. As she moved toward the next home on the route, she heard a scream, and before she knew, it the dog was on her.

“I heard somebody screaming, and this dog came running,” said Johnson. “It was the fastest dog I’ve ever seen. It was the scariest thing. I’m a dog lover. I have dogs. My kids have dogs … It’s just, this dog was something else. It came running as fast as it could around the fence that divided the yards, out of its yard and onto the property and came straight for me.”

Without time to reach her mace, Johnson said the dog repeatedly launched at her neck, eventually succeeding in knocking her off her feet. At that point, the dog bit the letter carrier, catching her forehead with its upper teeth and its lower teeth went below her nostrils. In closing its mouth, the dog’s teeth tore through her nose.

According to Johnson, a neighbor intervened and succeeded in getting the dog off of her. An ambulance came, as did police, and she was transported to St. Vincent Kokomo’s emergency room for treatment. The tally of damage included injuries to her nose, which may require surgery from a plastic surgeon, and potential nerve damage.

The attack, and what followed, has postal workers ready to urge the city of Kokomo to revisit its dog ordinances.

The aftermath

According to the Howard County Health Department and the Kokomo Humane Society’s Animal Care and Control, certain procedures are supposed to be followed after an animal bite. All mammal bites in the county are supposed to be reported to the health department and, subsequently, animal control. That process is supposed to start with the hospitals, according to representatives of the health department and animal control.

However, in Johnson’s case that didn’t happen. The health department had no record of the incident, and neither did animal control.

According to animal control employee Jackie Koontz, several events led to the issues in it being reported. Koontz said an animal control officer was dispatched to the scene of Johnson’s attack on Jan. 11; however, by the time he arrived at the scene of the attack, Johnson already had been transported to the hospital. He attempted to follow-up with a representative of the letter carrier but couldn’t get proper contact information for Johnson. At that point he assumed a report would be received from the hospital, per procedure, and he could follow up at that point. That didn’t happen, and the animal control officer never followed up on the incident. The attack essentially fell through the cracks.

The issue here was that several things should happen after an animal attack. For one, a rabies quarantine is to be performed to ensure the animal wasn’t infected with the virus. The local health department is responsible for that portion of the follow up, but since a report never was received from St. Vincent, that didn’t occur.

Also, dog attacks are required to be evaluated by animal control so the dog, if necessary, can be classified by local ordinances. There are two classifications that can be used for a dog in Kokomo. One is the classification of potentially dangerous. Under local code, a dog can be deemed potentially dangerous if it, unprovoked, “engages in any behavior that requires a defensive action by any person to prevent bodily injury when the person and the dog are off the dog owner’s property,” bites a person causing a “less severe injury,” has killed or injured another domestic animal off the owner’s property, menaces a person, or runs at large.

Animal control is the agency responsible for classifying a dog when necessary, and dogs meeting these criteria are to be neutered or spayed within 30 days, cannot be kept outside without being in an enclosed pen, must be microchipped, and owners are to display warning signs on their property as well. The dog also must be muzzled and leashed when it’s outside of its enclosure.

The other classification that can be used is qualifying a dog as vicious. Vicious dogs cannot be kept in Howard County. Dogs meet these criteria when they’ve caused serious injury or death in a human being or have been used for the purpose of dogfighting or trained for dogfighting. If a dog is deemed vicious it’s required to be moved outside of Howard County or euthanized.

The portions of the local legislation involving a potentially dangerous dog came into effect in 2014, which arose after another postal worker was attacked that year.

That individual, Vicki Emry, said she still has lasting damage to her finger, which was broken by dog bite when she was working as a letter carrier.

Now, Emry, Johnson, and former NALC Branch 33 President Pam Jones said they will be visiting Kokomo Common Council meetings in the coming months to push for further revisions to the local code.

“We have had multiple bites. We do not have to be bit by every dog in the city,” said Jones. “There’s just no reason why the dog ordinances aren’t enforced and why we don’t make them stronger.”

To Johnson, the lack of follow-up action after her attack reinforced the need for better enforcement of the local ordinance as well.

Similarly, Emry said she wanted something done to hold rental property owners responsible in the case of an attack. Legal recourse through civil suits, she said, is nearly impossible against dog owners who reside in rental properties because they don’t normally carry the corresponding insurance that could pay for medical treatment and lost work after an attack. Her attack occurred due to a dog owned by a property renter, and she said she couldn’t get an attorney to take her case for that reason

Kokomo Common Council President Lynn Rudolph said he was open to discussing the issue with the letter carriers, but at this point it was unclear what changes would be considered by the council.