In the old days, which for Joey Cook and Daniel Crawford means a couple of years ago, the job of meter reader had some real challenges.
Unlike today, when water and light meters can be read by remote devices installed on the new meters, a meter reader was required to reach each meter personally.
“We’d walk six, seven miles a day,” Crawford said. “In the summer, it was just brutal.”
But that wasn’t the worst part of the job, said the two Columbus Light and Water employees.
“Dogs,” Cook said. “That was absolutely the worst part of the job.”
This week is National Dog Bite Prevention Week and the American Veterinary Medical Association has compiled some data about how prevalent dog bites are in the U.S. According to the data, there a 70 million dogs in the U.S., with 36.5 percent of all households owning at least one dog. The average number of annual dog bites reported is 4.5 million and dog bites account for one-third of all homeowners’ liability claims — $570 million in paid claims last year alone.
“We see about one dog bite case a month,” said Lauri Sansing, director of Emergency Services at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle. “Usually, it’s a family pet and the victim is a family member, often children. In most cases, it’s not a vicious bite, though. A dog might get his tail stepped on or a child might get a bite when the dog is feeding, those kinds of things.”
While children are the most common dog bite victims, for others — utility and delivery workers — it is considered an occupational hazard.
While CLW has installed new water and electricity meters that can be read remotely, Cook and Crawford still sometimes must enter a property when a meter malfunctions or other equipment problems arise.
“Every day, we’re going on at least one or two properties,” Cook said. “So, we’re still running into dogs.”
For the U.S. Postal Service, there is no remote means of delivering the mail, which means encounters with dogs are sometimes unavoidable.
Last year, dogs attacked 6,755 postal employees nationwide — more than 200 higher than the year before.
“It is something we have to worry about,” said Columbus Postmaster Reba Jenkins. “I wouldn’t say it’s common — we’ll have one or two a year, then maybe none the next year, then a couple more the year after that. But it’s enough of a concern that we’ve developed policies to keep our letter-carriers safe.”
Letter carriers are most susceptible to dog attacks in rural areas where dogs are likely to run free.
“Normally, the letter carriers report to us if there is a dog that’s aggressive,” Jenkins said. “We’ll call the customer and have them secure the dog. Until that happens, we’ll delay delivery until the dog has been secured. Sometimes, the best solution is for the customer to get a post office box for delivery.”
‘You can’t really assume anything’
Cook and Crawford, who have been with CLW for 15 years, said they’ve developed strategies for dealing with dogs as part of their daily work.
“Usually, if the dog is acting aggressive, you can get your partner to distract the dog while you go read the meter,” Crawford said. “But there’s no one way to do it. You pretty much have to figure it out as you go. We’ve had dogs that jumped fences, busted out fences, all sorts of things.”
Cook said no two dogs react quite the same way. In fact, he said, the same dog can be docile or aggressive, depending on circumstances.
“I’ve had dogs that were calm as can be, and then the owner comes out and the dog goes ballistic,” Cook said. “Then, I’ve seen just the opposite. A dog is acting real aggressive, but calms down as soon as the owner comes out. Little dogs can be aggressive, sometimes even more aggressive that big dogs. So you can’t really assume anything.”
But, by far, the most dangerous dog is the one you don’t think exists, Cook said.
“You’ve been going onto a property for 10 years and there’s never been a dog,” he said. “Then a new owner moves in and he has a dog. That really catches you off-guard. You’re not even thinking about a dog and, all the sudden, here’s a dog coming out from under the house running at you.”
The worst of the worst
CLW recently completed replacing all of its meters in the city. That, said general manager Todd Gale, has helped make the life of a meter reader far less dangerous.
“In my 10 years here, I think we had, maybe, three serious bites, but every meter reader has been nipped at or chased,” Gale said, “It was a big issue. Now that we have the new meters, it’s a lot less stressful job for those guys.”
After years of encounters, Crawford and Cook have figured out a way to deal with most of the dogs on their routes. Both have been bitten but never had serious injuries.
But they confess there are some dogs they just can’t conquer.
“There are a lot of places in Columbus where we just couldn’t get on the property and we’d have to do estimates on their meters,” Crawford said.
The worst of the worst?
“Ah, man, it has to be that black chow,” Crawford said.
“On King Street,” Cook said, finishing Crawford’s sentence.
“That dog was so mean, we never could get on the property,” Crawford said. “We’d spray him with mace and he would just lick it off. It was the worst dog in the city of Columbus.
“I like dogs,” Cook said. “But I hated that dog.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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