WASHINGTON -- You might call him your best friend. The post office calls him Public Enemy No. 1.
Dogs bite more than 2 million people a year, with letter carriers, meter readers, elderly folks and children being attacked most.
"It may sound humorous to some people, but not to the 2,782 letter carriers who were bitten by dogs last year," said William J. Henderson, executive vice president of the U.S. Postal Service.
Using posters, TV ads and postcards, the Postal Service and Humane Society of the United States plan to hound the public with tips on dog training and ways to avoid bites during the first National Dog Bite Prevention Week, June 12 to 17.
Letter carriers from around the country told war stories yesterday of yipping Chihuahuas and vicious pit bulls. One woman lost part of her ear to a dog's fangs. Another lost the tip of her finger. Dog bites cost thousands of dollars in lost work time and medical care.
Deno Campbell, a Beltsville postman, sports a 2-inch scar on his cheek from his run-in with a 130-pound great Dane-German shepherd cross. The dog sneaked up on him when he was stuffing envelopes into a mail slot.
"It was hand-to-mouth combat," he said. The two battled in the azalea bushes until Mr. Campbell reached the sidewalk and escaped. When the dust had settled, Mr. Campbell had a gash in his cheek that required 45 stitches and plastic surgery.
A 270-pound former college football linebacker, Mr. Campbell said he had never been as frightened before of anything.
It was a year before he was willing to walk the postal beat again. And now he carries a personal alarm that shrieks into the ears of any threatening dogs.
"People say so often, 'He won't bite,' " Mr. Campbell said. "I want to say, 'Will you please understand that he has teeth?' "
Experts say the fault lies mostly with owners who fail to train their dogs to socialize with people.
Randall Lockwood, an animal behaviorist at the Humane Society, said dogs tend to attack when they are not used to strangers or feel that their territory is threatened.
Another thing an owner can do to prevent bites is to neuter or spay the pooch. Unsterilized dogs, he said, are three times as likely to bite.