By Jeanne Bonner, CNN
Dog attacks like the one that took the life of a mail carrier in Florida are a common hazard of the job, with thousands of postal workers attacked every year, according to the United States Postal Service.
A 61-year-old postal carrier died after being attacked by five dogs in rural northern Florida over the weekend, sheriff’s officials said. Last year the state ranked among the top 10 for such attacks, with more than 5,400 postal workers across the US victimized in 2021 alone, according to data released by the USPS in June.
The postal worker who was killed, Pamela Jane Rock of Melrose, was in the Interlachen Lakes Estates area on Sunday after her vehicle broke down, according to the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office.
The assault on Rock was especially gruesome, with authorities not ruling out criminal charges against the owner of the dogs.
There were 201 dog attacks reported last year in Florida, according to USPS. California led the state rankings in dog attacks on postal workers with 656 assaults in 2021, followed by Texas with 368 such incidents. Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan rounded out the top five states for canine attacks. The full rankings can be found here at the US Postal Service’s website.
Cleveland topped the list of cities with the most dog attacks on postal workers, with 58 assaults in 2021, USPS said. Other cities cited by the postal service include Houston, Louisville and Los Angeles.
Residents in the rural Florida area where the deadly assault happened say they heard a woman scream for help. When they went outside, they found Rock on the ground with five dogs attacking her, witnesses told the sheriff’s office.
Neighbors and the owners had to physically remove the dogs from Rock, according to Putnam County Sheriff Chief Deputy Colonel Joseph Wells. By the time deputies arrived, the postal carrier was on the ground, bleeding severely, the sheriff’s office said.
Rock was taken to a nearby hospital and then flown to a trauma center in Gainesville where she died on Monday evening, the sheriff’s office said.
An initial investigation revealed the dogs escaped from a fenced yard after they were able to move rocks lining the fence, according to Wells.
“We are in frequent communications with the state attorney’s office as we explore options as far as possible criminal cases as this case continues,” he said.
After the attack, animal control workers took custody of the dogs that witnesses identified as being involved in the attack. The owner relinquished custody of the dogs, and they were to be euthanized humanely, according to the sheriff’s office.
Postal workers are trained to anticipate interactions with dogs along their route, the USPS says. They are taught not to startle a dog and their training has them keeping their eyes on the canines while never feeding or petting them.
But there are steps dog owners can take to reduce the possibility their dogs will attack.
In a June news release touting the postal service’s annual National Dog Bite Awareness Week public service campaign, USPS employee safety and health awareness manager Leeann Theriault said the responsibility ultimately lies with dog owners.
“Every year, thousands of postal employees are attacked by dogs as they deliver America’s mail,” Theriault said. “And while it’s a dog’s natural instinct to protect their family and home, we ask all customers to act responsibly by taking safety precautions with their dogs while the mail is being delivered.”
The USPS recommends keeping dogs inside the house, behind a fence, away from the door or on a leash when postal workers drop off mail. The postal service also recommends that children do not take mail directly from the postal carrier as dogs could view the carrier as a threat.
In addition, the postal service says since many people know approximately when their mail is delivered, they can anticipate the arrival of a postal worker by securing dogs beforehand.
™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.
CNN’s Amanda Watts and Amy Simonson contributed to this report.