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Dog's fate left up to a judge

A judge will decide the fate of a dog connected with an attack on a mail carrier. Helen Bednarski, 76, will learn Friday whether she gets to keep Prone, her 4-year-old shepherd-chow mix, or must relocate him outside city limits.

But no matter what becomes of Prone, the postmaster says curbside mail delivery is here to stay for residents of 59th Street N between 67th and 70th avenues.

"That carrier was attacked by three vicious dogs," said Postmaster Doug Burns, who ordered the switch about two weeks ago from walk-up to curbside. Residents who do not put up mailboxes can pick up their mail at the main branch. Special exceptions will be made for residents who are disabled.

The county originally ruled that all three of Bednarski's dogs should be euthanized but excused Prone after an appeal. "He might have taken a nip, but he wasn't involved to the extent to cause severe injury," Animal Services director Kenny Mitchell said.

Prone is back home now and was at Bednarski's house at 6955 59th St. N Wednesday. He came out of the house when called and barked and snarled at a visitor. As Bednarski noted, he also was wagging his tail. "You see how vicious and dangerous he is?" she said.

As the dog retreated to sit in the shade, his owner talked about losing work opportunities as a independent nurse's aide since a Times article appeared Oct. 26 about the dogs.

She said Prone sat at the bottom of the pecking order among the three dogs, that he was a follower by nature who cowered when Phoenix growled in his direction.

After Animal Services returned Prone to Bednarski, the post office said residents in that three-block area would need curbside boxes. Pinellas Park police then cited Bednarski for having an aggressive dog, an offense that could bring a fine of up to $300.

While the city cannot order a dog to be destroyed, it can mandate that the animal be relocated outside city limits, Pinellas Park spokesman Tim Caddell said. Bednarski was given that order when she was cited, but she has refused.

Letter carrier Rosemary Hanks missed almost no work time due to the attack, but she has struggled to rid herself of the memories. She drives now along 59th Street, where most residents have installed mailboxes, but she clutches her pepper spray tightly in her hand.

"I hear keys jangling on somebody's backpack, and I think it's a dog," said Hanks, 43.

Hanks said she is also distressed by the division the incident has caused in the neighborhood. One woman walked the route with her on her return. Others joke about their dogs being loose and recommend she hit them over the head with her mail sack. Still others seem to blame her for their curbside delivery, Hanks said, as if she had authored all of the events herself.

Then there is the sign at 6861 59th St. N. Mike Scavelli, who lives a block south of Bednarski, said he is unhappy both with Bednarski and the post office. In capital letters stenciled onto hard plastic, the sign reads: "U.S.P.S. WILL NOT DELIVER OUR MAIL A STUPID WOMAN AT 6955 59 ST. WILL NOT GET RID OF BAD DOG."

Scavelli, 45, said the post office should have waited until Bednarski's hearing before imposing curbside delivery, but he maintained that all three dogs should have been euthanized.

Barbara Whitner lives next door to Scavelli. She was putting the finishing touches Thursday on a new white plastic mailbox. "If it means the woman can keep her dog, it's okay," said Whitner, 54.

It takes the letter carrier about 15 minutes to deliver the mail on 59th Street. But since the attack and its fallout, Hanks has fought to stay on an even keel. "I just dread my job," she said.

Helen Bednarski and her dog, Prone, sit at her home in Pinellas Park. She is fighting a city order that the dog be removed from city limits after a mail carrier was attacked. A judge will decide the matter Friday.

Rosemary Hanks, a mail carrier in Pinellas Park, was bitten by three dogs while on her route near 59th Street N in September. Two of the dogs were euthanized; the third's fate has yet to be determined.

Rosemary Hanks is back on her mail route in Pinellas Park. She was attacked by three dogs while delivering mail near 59th Street N in September. The dogs bit her on both legs and the back of her head.