It’s neither snow nor rain – but can fleas stop the mail’s appointed rounds?
At first, Sherri Byrd thought it was just one of those things. She hadn’t received any mail for days. No bills, no cards from friends or family, not even junk mail.
Eventually she filed an official complaint with the post office and got her answer on Friday in the form of a letter from Postmaster Michelle Johnson. Byrd and nearly 50 neighbors along three blocks of Thornhill Drive near Kiefer Boulevard weren’t getting mail deliveries at their doorsteps, the letter said, because their yards have fleas.
Neighbors were told they would have to pick up their mail at their local post office until the issue was resolved. But Monday afternoon, the Postal Service relented, saying service would begin again immediately, with its carriers equipped with flea repellent.
The letter sent out last week noted that, since July, the local carrier “has been experiencing flea bites while making deliveries to mailboxes in the 3600 to 3800 block of Thornhill Drive. It has been determined the entire three-block area of Thornhill Drive is infested with fleas.”
According to the letter, the local post office station manager walked the three blocks with the mail carrier two weeks ago and also was bitten multiple times while crossing residents’ lawns to get to their mail boxes. This prompted the manager to cut off all mail delivery to the houses. Residents got the explanation letter a week and a half later.
At least one resident on the stretch of Thornhill Drive did not receive the notice: Alexander Muy said he hadn’t been getting his mail for two weeks and didn’t know about the flea issue until being informed about it on Sunday by a Bee reporter.
“I haven’t seen anything,” he said, about his mail. “I thought it was just going to show up one day.”
Meiko Patton, a USPS communications program specialist, said Monday that the station manager should have sent out a notice and called the Sacramento postmaster before cutting off deliveries. Instead, he halted the deliveries with no warning, and then tried to get in contact with the county to inform officials of the flea infestation. But, according to Patton, the manager didn’t get the correct contact information, and was unable to inform anyone of the issue.
“We are in the process of speaking to him, and giving him more training,” Patton said. “We made a mistake, we own up to the mistake, and we sincerely apologize to the residents.”
Patton said the mail delivery was stopped for nearly two weeks to ensure the safety of the mail carrier.
“We care about the safety of the employee,” Patton said. “If the employee doesn’t feel safe carrying mail, we are not going to force them to carry it.”
On Monday afternoon, Patton said by email that the policy was being changed and deliveries would resume.
“We hope the repellent works and that residents will take action to remedy the flea infestation,” she said.
But many people who live on those blocks say they have never had problems with fleas. Byrd walks her dogs up and down the street every morning - and she’s never been bitten. “To me, this is laughable,” she said. “I don’t know why they’re not delivering.”
Muy also said he has never been bothered by fleas.
“I got a dog and everything, so I would have noticed fleas. I haven’t seen anything,” he said.
While he acknowledged that one house on the street may have a flea problem, Muy said, “I’m pretty sure this whole block doesn’t have fleas.”
Other residents, however, acknowledged a problem and attributed it to the large presence of stray cats in the area.
“I contacted the pound because we have a lot of (stray) cats roaming this zip code,” said Victoria Yarbor, who regularly sprays her yard to avoid fleas. “The fleas are everywhere. Someone needs to come and spray this neighborhood.”
County Supervisor Don Nottoli, whose district includes the blocks on Thornhill Drive, said Monday he has never encountered a situation like this in his 20 years of public service. As of now, he said, there are no plans for the county to spray at any of the houses on Thornhill Drive.
“We’re not doing flea treatment on private property,” he said.
He suggested that residents “partner together and have a treatment of their lawns as appropriate.”
As for now, the residents on the street are likely hoping that the mail carrier’s flea repellent works.
“I just want my mail delivered,” Byrd said.