The two sides in this controversy agree on only two points: A letter carrier came to the door to deliver mail. The carrier kicked the householder's dog.

The householder says the dog is middle-aged and that it did nothing more than put its nose through the door and bark. The carrier says the dog came through the door and attacked him outside the house.

The householder says there was no reason for the carrier to kick the dog. He calls the carrier's conduct criminally abusive. The carrier says he has been bitten quite regularly during his service as a letter carrier, and that the dog's conduct led him to believe the was about to be attacked again. He adds that on several occasions he had informed the householder that the dog was hostile and should not be permitted outside unleashed.

There are also outher points of variance in the two stories, and I see no way for any person to form an impartial judgement about this specific case without calling witnesses and taking sworn testimony in an attempt to establish the truth about what actually happened.

However, the basic issue involved here does merit some comment because it arises frequently and causes much trouble, especially among people who would otherwise be good neighbors.

One person owns a dog that has a natural instinct to run free. The other person encounters a dog that is running free. He is frightened by the dog's appearance of hostility, or, worse yet, is attacked by an animal that really is hostile. The dog's owner is irate because he is sure his loving pet would never hurt anybody unless provoked. The victim is even more angry to find that not only has he been subjected to danger but now he is being accused of having started the trouble. It's enough to turn neighbors into enemies.

The almost univesal rule in urban areas is that those who want to keep dogs must take care not to inflict their pets on others. If the dog is off its owner's property, it must be on a leash or, in some jurisdictions, under the owner's immediate control, whatever that means.

Unfortunately, many pet owners think leash laws are unwise, unnecessary (at least for their own docile animals), and impractical. They know what the law is but do not complay as a matter of deliberate policy.

If you talk to them about the matter they will assure you that their Fido is just the sweetest little thing on earth and that his antics can be safely ignored because Fido never bit anybody in his life. Personally, I find this kind of third-party testimonial to Fido's character and intentions about as reassuring as having an amimal trainer tell me that when his tiger snarls at me, he is expressing affection. When Fido comes at me with his teeth bared, I have no choice except to begin thinking in terms of defending myself.

I am not a letter carrier, but I have been bitten by dogs on several occasions and have found three themes common to all of these incidents: I did not enjoy any of them. All the dogs that bit me were considered by their owners to be non-biting dogs. All the owners were sure I must have provoked the bitting.

For years, I owned dogs. I like dogs, and all my dogs liked me. None ever bit me.

But my dog didn't always like the letter carriers, trash collectors and other humans who came to my house. Nor did they always have the good manners to confine their droppings to my property. So I came to the reluctant conclusion that an urban area is not an ideal habitat for dogs, and I gave up the pleasure of having them share my home.

I do not presume to suggest the same course to to othes. But if they wish to keep dogs, I do wish they'd keep them under control as the law requires.