We have talked about handling pets in our care safely by using the right equipment, the right techniques and when to say enough is enough until we are blue in the face. And it is important to keep talking about those things, but what about our safety? What about making sure you safeguard yourself and your staff from being a victim of a violent crime?
A large majority of groomers are female. Most of us work alone or with limited staff and that within itself puts us at risk. It does not take much to prepare yourself in the event of an incident—and better yet—to take a few steps to avoid the risk as much as possible. While devastating, COVID-19 has created a unique opportunity for groomers to take precautions that may not have been thought of before.
Here are some additional safety measures that you need to take in order to protect yourself and your staff:
1 LOCK YOUR DOORS
This may seem elementary, but you will be surprised at how many groomers and mobiles do not take the time to lock up when they enter the shop or start a client. If you are in a shop, having a remote-control lock that allows a client to enter or leave only if you hit a release button can prevent someone from walking into your shop when you are not paying attention. Locking the doors to the cab section of your mobile unit will prevent someone from entering your vehicle while you are bathing or drying.
Have a co-worker or a person close to you (if you work alone) check in with you periodically, just to make sure that you are okay. It does not have to be anything elaborate, just a quick “hi” and “bye.”
Some groomers burn the midnight oil. Exiting your salon or mobile during late-night hours can put you at risk. People are always watching, whether you are paying attention or not. If you are working late, try to have a trusted friend or spouse meet you before you leave. When I used to work at a big-box store, I would schedule both a bather and a groomer to close.
If you are a mobile or house-call groomer, having an assistant with you while you work can be helpful. If you cannot afford an assistant, make sure that you have a check-in person that you can alert via text message when you are leaving and when you arrive home.
Grooming software can be particularly helpful for mobiles and house-call groomers. With some, a co-worker or family member should be able to see where you are scheduled to be at any given time. If you were involved in an accident and were able to communicate with First Responders, your team would know where to look for you according to your schedule. If you use a manual appointment book, take a picture of your daily schedule and send it to a family member for a point of reference.
4 THE PETS
The greatest defense for any groomer is the dogs that they work with. Dogs are the best alarm system that has ever been made. You can have a knock-down, drag-out fight with Fido for his nails, but if someone shows up at your door, enters your work area or gets too close to your vehicle, they will react. Cats can sometimes alert you as well. If their body language changes, take a minute to stop what you are doing and look around to see if there is anything there. Sometimes we can be so tired or in a hurry that we neglect the warning signs that animals are showing us.
Taking a self-defense class is a great idea. Check out your local area, some Police Departments and YMCA/YWCA’s offer the class for a small fee. If you are caught off guard and in closed quarters, you may have to result to hand-to-hand combat. No matter what neighborhood you service, learn how to protect yourself while you are on duty or not.
This can be a touchy subject, but I am going to attempt to address it with delicacy and an objective perspective. Learning how to handle a weapon properly and safely is essential, in addition to being well versed on the permit requirements to carry a weapon in each state.
I have several weapons in my home, but not in my mobile van. Why? First, I don’t need something else to clean hair out of. Second, I am clumsy. The thought of a weapon discharging in my van, hitting the propane tank and Proud Mary going up in flames terrifies me. Guns tend to give people a false sense of security that can work against you. If someone gets the drop on you, you can be in for a fight trying to keep an assailant from gaining control of your weapon.
In one of the self-defense classes, the Training Officer taught us about the use of mace. We learned that mace transfers. Meaning, while you can be spraying an assailant, you can also be hit with backwash or spread, and it can end up disabling you. When using mace, wind is NOT your friend—even a slight breeze. He further taught us that a chemical like wasp spray, brake cleaner, blade coolant or a lubricant like WD-40 are just as effective. Chemicals burn the eyes and can give you enough time to escape or use other weapons like shears in a soft tissue spot to defend yourself.
8 Common Sense/Intuition
When I first went mobile, I recall an incident where a customer’s husband would always make me uncomfortable. When she was present, he would leer at me across the table or from across the yard while I was grooming the dogs. One time she was not home when I arrived. I took the first dog in the truck, locked the doors and began to work. I had not had the dog in the truck five minutes before he was pulling on the driver’s side door. I opened the sliding window and asked him what he wanted. His reply was, “He needed to talk to me.” He tried every door; the passenger side door, the side door to the grooming area, the back utility door and back to the driver’s side door again. While he was occupied with the front door, I let the dog out the side door and quickly locked it again. I saw him run full speed to the salon door. I made my way to the driver’s seat and started the engine. He ran back to the driver’s side door now banging on the window to let him in. I threw Proud Mary in reverse and punched it! By the time I smashed the mailbox, he had let go.
How could the above situation been avoided? Had I followed my intuition or “first mind,” I would have left the moment I found out that his wife was not present. But I was new to mobile, I had to make budget and I did not want to miss the money for two large-sized dogs. The thing that kept me safe was that my doors were locked. Had I neglected to do that one simple thing, I cannot imagine what could have happened. All money is not good money. If you feel uncomfortable in any situation, leave.
I would like to caution about meeting someone that you do not know and have never groomed their pet before in a different location other than their home. If they are outside of your service area then the answer should be, “No, I am sorry I do not service that area.” Things happen in busy truck stops and parking lots all the time, either because people are not comprehending what they are seeing or they do not care. Do not place yourself in a compromising position for a few dollars.
In closing, I do not want you to be so paranoid that you are afraid to do your job. I do want, however, to give you some things to think about that will keep you safe.
When I started in the business 19 years ago, you could not tell me that groomers were not invincible; we never get old, we never take lunch or vacations, we never die and dog bites don’t matter. That simply is not true. We are people. We are loving, caring people that do a sometimes underappreciated job. We must take the necessary precautions to keep doing the job we love safely. ✂️