Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Pet sitter safety

I’ve thought a lot about personal safety lately, especially since Chelsea King, a young girl in our town, was attacked and murdered while jogging on the local trails. Most pet sitters are women, and we are at risk by the nature of the work that we do.

We go alone to consultations and pet sitting visits, entering unknown homes owned by unknown people. And often we make visits late at night. 99.9% of the time that isn’t going to be a problem, but it pays to be aware of our surroundings and take steps to keep safe.

• Carry a flashlight–a big one. Cute little keychain lights are nice, but a big light covers a larger area, and you can also use it as a weapon if you need to.

• Leave your schedule somewhere at home so your movements can be tracked. If you disappear you want someone to come looking for you, and to know where to look.

• If you arrive at a home for the first time and are not comfortable, listen to your inner voice. Leave. Is the client located in a bad neighborhood? Make it clear you won’t do visits after dark. Decide if you want to go there at all. If you're afraid to walk the dog, that's a good indicator. Sometimes we do things we shouldn't because we want to please people. 

• A sign on your car is good advertising. It also advertises that your client isn’t home. As soon as you leave a burglar can break in. If you come at the same times every day, your movements are easier to track, and someone could lie in wait for you.

• If you arrive at a home and it looks like someone has broken in, call the police. Don’t explore until you are sure no one is inside. I have encountered break-ins and vandalism at homes, and it is terrifying. Call the animals to come out to you; don’t go in after them.

• Ask the owners if someone else is expected to enter the home while they are gone. I’ve been surprised by housekeepers and relatives. You want to be comfortable that anyone who comes in is authorized. I’ve arrived and seen signs someone has been in the home since I was last there, and it is unnerving. Call the owners and tell them if something doesn’t seem right.

• Remember to lock the doors when you leave!

• Leave a light on so the interior of the house will be lighted when you return at night. Watch for shadows moving within as you approach the house. 

In my other blog, Everything Pets, I recently wrote about safety on the trails. If you are walking a dog, you are less likely to be attacked, if only because dogs are too much trouble for an attacker to deal with. Big black dogs get a bad rap, but sometimes they are the perfect deterrent.

On the other hand, dogs are a perfect icebreaker, and strangers will approach you on the street to pet your dog or visit. Be wary, and don’t assume everyone who approaches you is a new-found friend. Attackers don’t wear signs. They look and act totally normal until they grab you. It’s a shame we can’t openly trust everyone we meet, but it is the sad truth.

I found this excellent list of safety tips on the Phoenix Police Dept. web site:

And a complete list of personal safety articles:

With all that has happened, I realize I am vulnerable. I thought I lived in a safe area and had nothing to worry about. I was naïve, and the murder of Chelsea King proved it. I plan to take a self-defense class and improve my physical fitness to better protect myself. You might want to do the same thing so you can be a safe pet sitter.

Photo above: Roxy and Otto are wonderful, sweet dogs, but they are naturally protective. Most strangers will not bother you when you are walking a Doberman Pinscher. 

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

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