Got room for one more item on the checklist of such 20th century worries as inflation, recession, sullen children, acid rain, in-laws, outlaws, fear of cellulite, nuclear war or wintertime dandruff buildup?
* Does your dog have a record?
* Is Big Brother keeping a file on man's best friend?
There is a good chance that sometime in the near future your Lhasa apso may be in a sling. Your poodle's prowling habits may be on file with the feds. Your bulldog's vital statistics may wind up on the wall of the nearest post office.
As part of a crackdown on the dangerous dogs that make life miserable for mailmen, the U.S. Postal Service is taking names, addresses and descriptions of offensive canines. The background:
Every year an average of 7,000 postal employes, mostly neighborhood letter carriers, are bitten by dogs. An unknown number regularly are treed on their appointed rounds. Many have suffered broken arms or legs, or lost everything from their teeth to their trousers, trying to escape from dogs that are overzealous in guarding their turf or see red when they encounter postal gray.
In the past, postal workers have left unofficial notes for substitutes and colleagues telling of vicious dogs along the route. In some cases, mail delivery has been stopped and patrons who cannot curb their dogs' biting have had to come down to the nearest post office to pick up their letters. But mostly, things have been done informally -- until now.
The USPS recently adopted a new, hard line and decided to enforce a special set of 8-by-5-inch, bad-dog-warning cards.
The green card is the official "BAD DOG WARNING." It has a place for the dog's address, name "if known," a physical description, and a place for jotting down some of the animal's habits, such as whether the dog is chained, stays outside, and so forth.
Once the dog is assigned a green card, postal workers are instructed to observe several safety rules, including: avoid close encounters with the patron if his dog is nearby; do not feed the dog; beware of dogs behind screen doors; "avoid suprise attacks, announce your presence -- 'Mailman' ," and "never place fingers inside mail slots."
That green card stays where mail is sorted by neighborhood, so the carrier is reminded to stay alert near certain residences.
If all else fails, your dog may be listed on an orange card. This one is more to the point. It has a drawing of a snarling dog (it actually looks more like a wolf) and large, bold letters reading: "DO NOT deliver MAIL at this address."
Postal officials insist that they are not antidog. Indeed, they will tell you, they deal with a lot of dogs. But they are concerned about the safety of employes and the multimillion-dollar costs, from first aid to disability retirements, that result from dog bites.
If you want to keep your dog from being written up on a Postal Service card, Form 1778, teach your pet to keep its mouth shut when the mailman is around.
Once your dog gets one of those orange cards, you will not be troubled with junk mail, bills, or anything else. If you want your mail, you can go get it. But leave your dog at home.