Decade-long post office 'dog hold' leads to federal lawsuit

SEATTLE -- To the untrained eye, Ilsa seems a little slow and a little tired. But shedding hair and a toothy grin perhaps hide some darker purpose.

“They keep on bringing it back to dogs. And I just want to get my mail,” said Ballard homeowner Randall  Ehrlich.

He is now suing the United States Postal Service for being on a “dog hold” that prevents him from receiving mail, and has been for nearly a decade.

“The regular mail carrier will not deliver to my residence,” Ehrlich said one of the people named in the suit.

Ehrlich was placed on what's called a "dog hold" because the previous dog, now dead, was deemed threatening by the carrier and USPS.

Yet nothing changed when the dog was fostered out, when there was no dog even living in the house, and even now with low-key Ilsa.

Since the slot is next to his door, Ehrlich tried playing along with the complaints and installed a box near his sidewalk.

“I thought it was a reasonable compromise,” he said.

It wasn’t.

“It is not a very common complaint that I get,” said Bellingham animal attorney Adam Karp.

He's now helping Ehrlich sue over the excuse of Ilsa and the Ballard mail blackout.

“So essentially, they make the decisions unilaterally and there's no appeal from that,” Karp said.

We wanted to see what the USPS could explain about the "dog hold." Maybe it's just one mail carrier that's been a problem.  Maybe Ehrlich was wrong, and his dogs in the last decade have been terrors.

Yet neighbors tell us Ehrlich isn't alone, because there are others on the blackout list.

But the post office wouldn't elaborate because of the lawsuit.

"However, it is important to note that the safety of our employees is paramount at the U.S. Postal Service when we make operational decisions affecting customer service and delivery practices,” a statement read.

We explained the situation to Michael Offield, a former postal service safety advocate who made decisions similar to the Ballard situation. He says this is extraordinary.

“Oh god,” he lamented as he laughed and put his head in his hands.

He agreed with the attorney Karp that there were some personal problems at the Ballard USPS in his day and thinks this might just be laziness to save a few seconds every day on the route.

“Well, this is the postal service. Our last name is service,” Offield said.

But let's follow the logic.

Let's say Ilsa was just in a good mood when a camera was stuck in her face, or all dogs are a concern for the carriers on that block.

So we went next door.

And found the same kind of mailbox. At the same kind of house.

And the same size dog -- Oliver -- and Lisa Sorensen. She had heard about the drama and hesitated even talking to us.

“And we've tried to stay on the good side, to be honest, to keep getting our mail,” Sorensen said.

Worry on the streets and a case heading to court that will decide if the Ballard blackout is for real or not.

“I`d rather not be doing this. I`d rather just be getting my mail. And I've found no other recourse,” Ehrlich said.