Dog owners face FIVE YEARS in prison if their pet attacks a postal worker delivering letters through the letterbox, it has emerged.
The High Court has ruled that dog owners who fail to take steps to prevent their dogs from biting postal workers fingers though a letter box, whether the owners are at home or not, can be jailed.
Dog owners risk being convicted of an offence contrary to the Dangerous Dogs Act – and face a maximum of up to five years in prison.
The law change comes after a postman lost the tip of his finger when a dog bit him as his hand partially protruded though the letterbox whilst he was delivering mail.
The owner had left the dog alone at the address at the time.
The dog had not injured anyone before.
The court ruled that the decision applies to postal workers or anyone lawfully visiting the premises, such as someone delivering a free newspaper or distributing leaflets.
The Judge said that there will be a short time when someone exposes their fingers to a dog within the property.
If the dog injures that person, and the owner had allowed the dog to freely roam the house, the owner can be criminally liable.
The High Court ruling will effectively require dog owners to install letter box cages or otherwise keep dogs away from the front door or face prosecution if injury is caused to a person delivering to the house.
In the event of a conviction the court must order destruction of the dog, unless the owner proves it is no longer a danger to the public. The court also has power to disqualify persons from owning dogs and order unlimited compensation to the victim.
Since 2013, over 650 postal workers have been attacked while posting mail through the letterbox – some cases have resulted in the loss of fingertips and even amputation.
Angela Chapman, a postwoman of 13 years from Darlington, said: “ I was delivering mail on a new route and posted a letter through a letterbox. I wasn’t aware of a dog at the property and it didn’t bark as I approached the door. My hand didn’t actually go through the letterbox when I posted the mail, but the dog instantly latched on to the letter and pulled my hand into the letterbox. It bit onto my three fingers and wouldn’t let go. The dog’s owner didn’t come to my aid, so I had to literally pull my hand out of the dog’s grip. I went into shock and some neighbours who had heard me screaming called an ambulance and I was taken to hospital.
“I suffered irreversible nerve damage to my ring finger and have been left with a permanent tingling in my finger that gets worse in the winter. Also, the scar tissue means I can’t bend my fingers properly. Even as a dog owner, I am very wary of strange dogs now. The attack still affects me now, eight years on. Even if the smallest of dogs looks as though it is going to approach me, I start shaking and sweating. A simple letterbox gate would have prevented this happening to me.”
Dr Shaun Davis, Royal Mail Group Global Director of Safety, Health, Wellbeing & Sustainability said: “We know that the majority of dog owners are responsible and will do all they can to ensure their pet doesn’t harm anyone. However, even the most lovable dog can be a danger to postal staff. Dogs are territorial by nature and if they feel they need to protect their family, they can become unpredictable.”