For a mail carrier looking to escape dog bites, New York City is the place to go, and California is the place to avoid.

The New York metropolitan area recorded no dog bites of letter carriers last year.

At the other end of the scale, the Santa Ana, Calif., area led the nation with 96 bitten carriers, and three of the top five spots for carriers to get bitten were in the Golden State.

That doesn't surprise Juan Barrios, a carrier in Long Beach, who needed 50 stitches on the right side of his face after being attacked by three dogs in 2001.

"I fought off two but one got in a lucky bite," Barrios said in a telephone interview.

"Unfortunately, the customers think because the dogs are docile to them, they will be docile to everybody else," said Barrios, who nearly lost an eye in the attack.

"Every animal needs to be protective, but its up to the customers to keep them trained," he added. "Here in California they just seem not to do it."

Some customers try to introduce their dogs to the regular carrier, but that still leaves the substitute carrier vulnerable, he noted.

Carriers are trained in how to defend themselves, he said, and are discouraged from petting or getting close to dogs.

The 2001 case wasn't the only time Barrios has been attacked, he said, but other times he has been able to defend himself with his mail sack or spray.

It's not unusual to hear jokes about carriers being bitten, but it's no laughing matter to them or the post office, which holds regular dog awareness programs.

Indeed, the post office kicks off dog bite awareness week on Thursday with a ceremony in Long Beach.

In 2006 some 3,184 letter carriers were bitten by dogs, the agency said, down slightly from 3,273 the year before.

After the New York metro area, next safest was Alaska with 2 bites, followed by Honolulu, 3 and Maine and Montana with 9 each.

Following Santa Ana's 96 bites were Houston, 94; Sacramento, 82; Los Angeles, 77 and South Florida, 71.

Dog bite advice from the post office:

— Don't run past a dog. The dog's natural instinct is to chase and catch prey.

— If a dog threatens you, don't scream. Avoid eye contact. Try to remain motionless until the dog leaves, then back away slowly until the dog is out of sight.

— Don't approach a strange dog, especially one that's tethered or confined.

— While letter carriers are discouraged from petting animals, people who choose to pet dogs should always let a dog see and sniff them before petting the animal.

— If you believe a dog is about to attack you, try to place something between yourself and the dog, such as a backpack or a bicycle.

— Owners should get their dogs obedience training.

— When a letter carrier comes to your home, keep your dog inside, away from the door.

— Don't let your child take mail from the letter carrier in the presence of your dog. Your dog's instinct is to protect the family.