Darlene Wagner

On June 3, 2004, Darlene Wagner, a letter carrier, was delivering mail in Dresden, a small town in Ontario in central Canada. Darlene had been delivering mail for thirty years and was just two years from retirement.

Like all letter carriers, Darlene knew that dogs could be dangerous. In 1976, when she was working in British Columbia, she was attacked by a dog. She was bitten on her arm and had to have fourteen stitches. Despite this experience, she had never been afraid of dogs. In Dresden, she had two of her own.

On June 3, 2004, however, she went through a moment of terrible fear. On that day, she was working as a relief carrier . As she climbed the front steps of a house with mail in her hand, two pit bull dogs suddenly lunged through an open screen door and attacked her. Darlene ran down the steps trying to get away from the dogs. When she got to the bottom of the stairs, she ran across the sidewalk and toward the street. But before she reached the street, she tripped on the curb and fell. Both dogs pounced on her. One of the dogs tried to bite her face. When Darlene turned her head away, it tore her ear off.

Before the dogs could do any more damage, the woman who owned them pulled them away from Darlene. But she had already been badly injured. Apart from losing her ear, she had broken both wrists when she fell.

The doctors were not able to reattach Darlene’s ear. They told her that, later, they would attach an artificial one. And Darlene had other troubles after the attack. Her two broken wrists were in casts for six weeks, and when the casts were taken off, she had to go through a lot of physical therapy before she could use her arms properly again. Fortunately her son lives quite close by, just across the American border in Michigan. Darlene went to his home to recuperate.

When the dogs attacked Darlene, she was carrying a can of pepper spray. All Canadian letter carriers do this. This spray does not harm a dog, but if it gets into its eyes it is extremely painful, and frightens it away. To protect themselves with the spray, however, the letter carriers have to be able to get the can out of their pocket and aim it at the dog before it can bite them. Darlene did not have time to do this.

Of course, if she had been the regular carrier on the route, she would have known about the fierce dogs and would have had her spray can ready as she climbed up the stairs. But because she was only a relief carrier she was unaware of the danger.

Every year in Canada there are about 250 dog attacks on letter carriers. And, every year, several carriers are seriously injured. Pitbulls are responsible for quite a high percentage of these attacks, and, as a result, they have a bad reputation. 

A majority of the public think it would be a good idea for the government to ban pit bulls. A few months after Darlene was hurt, and after several other people in the province had been injured by pit bulls, the government of Ontario announced that they planned to ban this type of dog. They said they were going to write a law making it illegal for anyone to acquire a pit bull. People who already owned pit bulls would be allowed to keep them, but they would have to put a muzzle on their dogs when they took them into public.

Darlene is in favour of a ban on pit bulls. She knows that other dogs can be dangerous too. The dog that attacked her in 1976 was not a pit bull, but she believes pit bulls are especially dangerous.

The young son of the woman who owns the dogs didn’t agree, however. He said the dogs are friendly and had never attacked anyone before. He said he felt sorry for Darlene, but he added that one of his dogs had been attacked by another dog a month earlier. He thought that might have been why Darlene was bitten.

- information from: London Free Press, (London, Ontario), 04.06.04 (Teviah Moro and Brian Cleeve); CTV.ca, 04.08.31; Toronto Star, 04.10.18