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March 15 , 2002
Wag the Dog
Pack journalists feed off PG&E letter.
Was Pacific Gas and Electric's recent customer mailing of a dog-bite letter and meter-reading schedule a selfless attempt to protect its employees from vicious canines? Or was the notice to dog owners a catty move to get the California press off the scent of Pacific Gas and Electric's bankruptcy proceedings?
Nosy minds want to know.
Ken Lay certainly hoped to muzzle some of the negative press about him when his wife, Linda, wept on NBC's in late January about how distraught she was over Enron's bankruptcy and the downturn in her husband's financial prospects.
In California, officials from bankrupt Pacific Gas and Electric may have hoped public sympathy for its rank-and-file meter readers, who had been attacked by dogs more than 800 times over the past 10 years, would trickle up the corporate ladder.
"Personally, I wish I fully understood why PG&E is investing all this energy in this," says Alan LoFaso, chief of staff for California State Assemblywoman Carole Migden, author of last year's legislation expanding dog-bite liability. "Maybe they want their name in the newspaper on things other than articles about bankruptcy."
Indeed, Pacific Gas and Electric must have been pleased when reporters up and down the state doggedly pursued the meter-reader angle to the dog-bite legislation. Mailing notices to customers was a relatively economical method of drawing millions of dog owners' attention to the problem. The fact that Californians already were riveted to the issue in the wake of the mauling death of Diane Whipple in San Francisco didn't hurt efforts to spread the word about the importance of properly supervising your dog.
It was the Migden-sponsored law that spurred the utility to send out notices informing dog owners that they could be subject to expanded criminal liability if their dog attacks a meter reader or any other utility worker who needs access to their property.
In its letter, Pacific Gas and Electric highlighted Whipple's death along with the severe injuries suffered by a boy in Oakland who was attacked by a dog last year. "Every month, our meter readers must enter yards or homes to read gas or electric meters," the Pacific Gas and Electric letter said. "And every month, our meter readers meet dogs that try to keep them from doing their job." In the same notice, the utility included a schedule of when meters are read and asked customers to restrain, tie up or move the dog on that day.
Pacific Gas and Electric spokesman Jason Alderman, who calls himself "Mr. Dog" because of all the media inquiries he's handled in response to his company's dog-bite letter, explains there were 44 reported dog bites of Pacific Gas and Electric meter readers last year, and those are only the ones serious enough for the employee to file for worker's compensation. Many other dog attacks occur against meter readers that are not included in official statistics because they may not require the employee to miss any work, he says.
The letter apparently