This article was sent on Tuesday to subscribers of The Mail, Motherboard’s pop-up newsletter about the USPS, election security, and democracy. Subscribe to get the next edition before it is published here, as well as exclusive articles and the paid zine.
Hey everyone, I hope you enjoyed the long weekend. We’ve had two pretty long editions of The Mail to start, so I figured this was a good week to keep things on the shorter side. This also gave me more time to report on something more substantial for next week which I’m excited about.
Speaking of things I’m excited about, we’re hard at work wrapping up the first edition of the zine. It’s going to be great. Subscribe now to make sure you get it.
And if you’ve been liking The Mail, please share it with others who might like it, too.
The first time I was introduced to the dog-chasing-mailman comedy gag was in a Seinfeld episode that aired in 1995. I didn’t see it for the first time in 1995. To be honest, I have no idea when I first saw it. Probably sometime in the early 2000s when I realized I could watch three consecutive hours of Simpsons and Seinfeld reruns every weekday between the hours of 5:30 and 8:30 p.m., something I did far more often that I care to admit.
In any event, in the Seinfeld episode in question, Kramer is mad at Newman for eating the last of the delicious Mackinaw peaches. In retaliation, he releases the local English bulldog Buford, who we are led to assume has long wanted to chase the mailman and will now finally get his chance.
“Look, Buford, it’s the mailman,” Kramer says as he undoes his leash. “You remember the mailman, don’t you?” And off Buford goes.
One of the things I was most surprised to learn when I started to report on the post office is the dog attacking the mail carrier issue is no joke. According to the USPS, 5,803 postal workers were attacked by dogs last year, down 400 from 2017. Every June, the USPS has Dog Bite Awareness Week, although I must admit I wasn’t aware of it until I started reporting on the post office.
Motherboard’s official position is that there are no bad dogs, just bad owners. The USPS seems to agree, calling dog bite attacks entirely preventable.
“Training, socializing and taking safety precautions with your dog can help ensure dog bites and attacks do not occur,” the USPS stated last Dog Bite Awareness Week. Basically, if owners did a better job training their dogs and didn’t put them in positions where they could charge at mail carriers, this wouldn’t be a problem. But, we do not live in a perfect world.
You were probably told as a kid not to pet strange dogs. The USPS has a similar policy, in that it instructs mail carriers to “consider all dogs as potentially hazardous,” according to rural letter carrier training materials I obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request. If there is a neighborhood dog “known to interfere with delivery of mail,” postal workers are to place this postcard just ahead of the dog’s home in case someone other than the usual carrier is delivering mail that day.
At the bottom, you’ll see the instruction for postmasters and station managers to “immediately forward this form under separate cover to the receiving office postmaster” if the customer moves “to alert carrier of new dog on route.” So these warning cards are, in theory, supposed to follow the dog its entire life.
Many letter carriers also carry dog repellent, which as far as I can tell is just pepper spray. The USPS has a manual for letter carriers on when and how to use this dog repellent. If a dog attacks, “Spray the repellent directly at the eyes, nose, and mouth of the attacking dog by pressing the control on top of the container,” the manual states. “Direct application must be made. The effective range is up to 10 feet. Effectiveness against trained attack dogs is not established.”
Like with pepper spray used on humans, the effect fades after 10 or 15 minutes. The manual also notes the USPS consulted with The American Kennel Club, the American Humane Association, the Popular Dogs Publishing Company, and the Humane Society of the United States to make sure there were no objections to using the repellent to ward off attacks.
The training materials include another piece of helpful advice: “When delivering to a mail slot, refrain from sticking your fingers through the slot. A dog may be located on the other side waiting for an opportunity to bite.”
That sounds like an absurd scenario to me—as the USPS itself acknowledges, dogs tend to bite for protective reasons, so it’s hard to see how it would feel threatened by a finger coming through a mail slot—but the underlying advice seems sound. Never stick your fingers in strange slots.
All that being said, many mail carriers have wonderful relationships with families they get to know over the decades they deliver mail to them, and that includes their dogs. Here’s a story my mom told me after the first newsletter edition went out:
“Speaking of superhero mail carriers, when I was a kid, our mail carrier, Mr. Wren, walked his route with a big leather bag. He was usually accompanied by Rex, a lovely Belgian Shepherd dog and, on occasion, by Pushkin, a German Shepherd, as well. The two dogs, in those days when dogs ran loose, followed him on his route just for the hell of it. So for all those carriers who have had to deal with mean and aggressive dogs, I’d like them to know about Mr. Wren, Rex, and Pushkin.”
Do you have any good pet and letter carrier stories? I’d love to hear them. Maybe we’ll include some in future newsletters. Email me at email@example.com or write me a letter (address below).
The Week In Mail
- Last week, Trump encouraged his supporters in North Carolina to commit a felony. He told them to vote by mail and then go vote in person on election day, too. Knowingly voting twice in an election is a felony. His framing was very clear: if they don’t let you vote twice the system works, if they do let you vote twice that’s two votes for Trump which is good for Trump. He later tried to claim this wasn’t what he meant but it absolutely was.
Aside from the fact that the president just told his supporters to go try and commit a crime and see if they get caught, I’ve said from the beginning that one of the vexing things about the vote-by-mail/USPS issue is Trump now has the power to claim an agency or process is illegitimate and then make it so even if it wasn’t true when he first started saying it. Plus, the very perception that he has that power and influence can, in itself, delegitimize our institutions even if he doesn’t actually do anything, because many people will stop trusting it, and trust is the cornerstone of robust public institutions. The fact that documented cases of attempted voter fraud by mail are astronomically low might change if Trump encourages his supporters to commit mass voter fraud. What would that mean for future elections?
- Louis DeJoy used his company to reimburse employees’ donations to Republican candidates, a violation of state and federal campaign laws, according to the Washington Post. This is the kind of thing people go to prison for, in theory.
- I vehemently disagree with the assertion in this other Washington Post story that politics is akin to logistics, but otherwise there is some useful background here about Louis DeJoy as a boss. Basically, he’s exactly the kind of boss you suspect he is.
- More DeJoy news: his former company made $286 million from USPS contracts since 2013.
- The USPS Office of Inspector General came out with a report about the USPS’s readiness for the upcoming election. Although some of the findings may sound alarming, they’re remarkably similar to ones from previous years’ audits and mostly have to do with getting local election officials to use trackable barcodes and earlier deadlines for mailing ballots back.
- I have started to notice a trend of articles pointing out that America has fucked up some other core infrastructure service in the same way it’s fucked up the USPS. This week’s edition is Amtrak.
- My colleagues at VICE reported on how the USPS has been a lifeline for independent music artists, although that doesn’t include the band Postal Service. However, The Mail officially extends an open invitation to Ben Gibbard to talk about the USPS.
- Trump’s campaign has taken out $200,000 in Facebook ads telling people (incorrectly) voting by mail is fraudulent and also has taken out $650,000 in Facebook ads encouraging his supporters to vote by mail.
- Two contrasting takes on how vote-by-mail went in last week’s primaries: thousands of Georgia voters say they never got their absentee ballots (although it’s not clear whose fault this was) and a Boston Globe columnist said vote-by-mail in Massachusetts was “how an election should be.”
- Among the many things that rely on the USPS to function: immigration proceedings.
A big THANK YOU to everyone who sent in postcards! I picked up a nice stack of them on Friday. They were such a treat to hold and read. Keep ’em coming!
Also, we have plans to do a mailbag Q&A somewhere down the line, but obviously we will only be taking questions via letter. We’ll do a more prominent request for questions later, but if you have any, feel free to start sending them in. Our address is:
VICE Media c/o Aaron Gordon
49 S 2nd St.
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Obviously, given today’s newsletter theme, I had to include the dog one. Also please note the five stamps adding up to 36-cent postage. Love it!
I also really liked this one of the post office in Albany. Thanks, Peter!