Ballard’s redevelopment: It’s a dog-eat-dog world

It might surprise you to learn that, in addition to ranking highly on the lists of best cities to live in, most literary cities and fittest and most-outdoorsy American Meccas, Seattle also ranks highly on a less desirable compilation.

According to the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), Seattle ranked third among cities for dog attacks in 2012, up from tenth in 2011. A May 14 press release issued by the USPS, says that Seattle improved in 2013, but not by much. We now rank 15th in the U.S. for dog aggressiveness, tied with Philadelphia and St. Louis.

May 18 kicks off National Dog Bite Prevention Week, an annual public awareness initiative of the USPS, supported by the American Veterinary Association.

The Postal Service is hosting an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., at which letter carriers will recount their dog attacks, medical professionals will provide tips on dog attack prevention and insurance representatives will discuss claims and homeowner liability. A renowned dog trainer will be on hand, along with Elle, a pit bull therapy dog and the American Humane Association’s 2013 Hero Dog of the Year.

In 2013, dogs nationwide attacked 5,581 USPS employees. Letter carriers, small children and the elderly are the most common victims of the estimated 4.5 million dog bites per year. It’s a serious problem. And it’s clearly on the minds of our city’s mail carriers.

On one of our recent warm, sunny days, just back from a two-week vacation, I was outside in my fenced-in yard with my small Havanese dog.

My mail carrier showed up, accompanied by a supervisor, whom she said was surveying the neighborhood.

My dog barked at her, as she handed my mail to me over the fence. “You have till the end of the week to move your mailbox outside of the fence,” she threatened. “Otherwise, I will stop delivering your mail.”

I was taken aback.

I work from home and on balmy days I let my dog run free in the yard, while I work from my front porch. My dog is never outside unattended. There’s been a lot of activity in recent months, because our Ballard street was rezoned. Houses are being snapped up and razed by developers, replaced by multi-family units. We are living in a constant construction zone, noisy and filled with contractors, builders and surveyors. My dog barks at all of the strangers who are violating the once-peaceful street I’ve lived on for nearly 20 years. I don’t blame him. Sometimes I feel like barking myself.

The day before our vacation was also sunny. My dog and I took advantage of the quiet of the construction worker’s lunch break and sat in the yard. As I took the mail from the carrier, she mentioned, “If your dog is going to be outside, you should think about moving your mailbox.” I explained that we were leaving for two weeks.

Newly returned, I was surprised the situation had escalated. I reminded her that we had just gotten back and asked the carrier why I was being given such short notice to move my mailbox. “Because otherwise, I don’t believe you will do it,” she said. “We’ve talked about this.”

“Once,” I reminded her.

I called the supervisor at the Ballard Post Office. “I am not complaining about my carrier’s concern for her safety and my need to comply with her request. I am calling to complain about her rudeness,” I explained.

The supervisor apologized. The next day, (80 degrees) though I was careful to keep my dog inside during delivery hours, my mail was not delivered.

I spoke to the supervisor again, who explained that my mail had been put on “dog hold” until my mailbox was moved. “How would I have known that?” I asked. “She gave me till the end of the week to move my box.” “We sent you a dog hold notification,” the supervisor told me. “How was it transmitted?”  I asked. “Through the mail,” was his reply.

I pointed out the ludicrousness of the USPS mailing me a dog hold notice that I would not receive because my mail was being held. “That’s just as ludicrous as you assuming your dog would not bite the mail carrier,” was his response.

I took hold of this issue like a dog with a bone, researching USPS dog policies. Though there are press releases and media kits issued each year about National Dog Bite Prevention week, I could find no useful information about “dog mail holds,” or the procedures that kick in when a mail carrier feels threatened. Neither my carrier, nor her supervisor, explained these to me. As far as they were concerned, I was just another selfish, oblivious dog owner.

It took a day for our electric drill to fully charge so we could move our mailbox. My mail was delivered the next day and contained neither the “dog hold” letter I had been promised nor the written apology I had requested, though I knew it was futile.

My remaining neighbors and I periodically gather to watch and commiserate, as houses on our street are torn down and replaced by, what one taciturn old man calls “chicken coops.” Nobody remembers receiving any notice in the mail about the rezoning and we can’t recall any public hearings.

Two more of my neighbors are leaving. We’re thinking of moving too, but so far the developers haven’t offered us enough money for us to be able to afford another comparable house in Seattle.

CNN Money recently ranked Seattle among the top ten cities people are moving to. If my Ballard neighborhood is any indication, single-family homes with dogs in the yard may one day be a thing of the past in Seattle. Maybe that means our dog attack statistics will continue to drop.  

But come to think of it, the future doesn’t look so good for the USPS either.

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