Jess Box is a self confessed dog lover – she has two rescue mutts of her own –but when she clocks on for work her approach to man’s best friend is much more hands off.
“I’m not scared of dogs,” says Jess, who has been delivering the post for nine years. “I would consider myself out of work to be a dog- friendly person. I love dogs, but at work it’s completely different. If I was to see a dog I would go the other way.”
This cautious approach is down to the fact that Hemel Hempstead and the HP postcode area had one of the worst rates for dog attacks on postmen and women – there were 19 from April 2012 to April this year, second to only Harrow in the local area, which had 21 incidents.
The figures prompted bosses at Hemel Hempstead’s giant mail centre on the industrial estate – which covers the Home Counties North patch as well as delivering to addresses in the West Herts area – to introduce a scheme to drive down the number of dog attacks.
Dog lover Jess is at the helm of the project.
Research found that dogs living in rural areas were the worst offenders, with Bovingdon and Flaunden at the top of the list, so this was the first area to be tackled.
Bennetts End, Gadebridge and Boxmoor have also now been targeted as part of the programme, which continues to be rolled out.
As part of this a standard Royal Mail letter went out to householders with dogs and Jess admits that it didn’t go down well with all of them.
“Initially it was really bad. People took the letter as if we were saying: ‘You’re a bad dog owner’, which wasn’t what we were saying,” said Jess, who delivers to the Adeyfield area.
The letter was rewritten locally and Jess has personally replied to all those who got in touch.
She said: “We are not telling you that your dog is bad, we’re just asking you, for the postman’s safety, not to let your dog out.
“The ideal thing is to have your dog behind a closed door.”
Delivery people based at the Maxted Road mail centre have suffered bites to the legs, stomach and chest and one lost the tip on his forefinger.
Press officer Sally Hopkins said: “As well as the physical injuries, for some people it can traumatise them. Even one dog attack is one too many.”
To prevent the loss of fingers Royal Mail provides staff with postal pegs – just like tongs – to use to deliver mail through letterboxes where there’s a dog at home.
But it’s parcels that pose the biggest problem.
“Christmas is our worst time because we have got all of the parcels to deliver,” said Jess. “90 per cent of accidents happen when the door is opened.”
School holidays also increase the risk. Jess said: “Children are out in the garden playing with the dog or the children answer the door and they don’t think about the dog.”
As well as making owners aware of the risk, Jess has also been educating the postmen and women about the potential dangers that four legged friends can pose.
Dacorum’s dog warden has given advice on dealing with dogs and the signs of aggression that can be spotted before an animal strikes.
Every home with a dog has been recorded and the pet given a risk rating, based on the number of dogs at the property and the breed.
The list is posted on work stations within the Royal Mail centre and on the inside of vans so that deliverers can refer to it on their rounds.
“We have to aware of every dog that is on that delivery,” said Jess.
Postmen and women are also given safety advice – for example, if they think the dog is in the garden they should rattle the gate before going any further. If the dog is running free, they will pass by, and the mail will be sent out again the next day.
If a dog does launch an attack, the first move should be to put your postal bag – or pouch as it’s known in the trade – between you and the offending animal.
That’s something Jess has had to put into action to prevent herself from being bitten in the past.
And the Royal Mail is flexible, too – if for some reason you can’t secure your dog when the postie comes calling, you can give an alternative delivery point and there are also allocated pick up points.
But things are definitely improving. The centre’s last recorded dog attack was way back in April.
Jess said: “The figures have come down massively. I think the results speak for themselves.”
>Delivery staff arrive at the sorting office from about 6am and head out on their rounds between 9am and 9.30am.
> On average staff spend around four and a half hours posting mail and about three hours sorting.
>Most mail is machine sorted but some still has to be done by hand.
>There are 52,000 delivery points across the Dacorum area.
>Around 100,000 parcels were delivered to homes in the area each week in the run up to Christmas.