When groomer Paulette Tuunanum, owner/operator of Creature Comforts, began work that fateful morning she never envisioned the horror that awaited her. Creature Comforts is a home-based grooming salon in the quiet, rural community of Fryeburg, Maine. Paulette works alone and had never been concerned for her safety, but that was about to change in a drastic fashion.

That morning, a stranger appeared at her salon door carrying an obviously pregnant dog that was in labor and having difficulty whelping her pups. He burst in and demanded that Paulette help the dog deliver her puppies. Paulette went into the next room to get some clean towels and to call a veterinarian to get help for the dog. When the man saw her on the phone, he became enraged shouting… “Why did you call the police… I’m not going back there!” and with that, he started hitting Paulette.

He knocked her into the tiny bathroom and as she fell against the toilet, Paulette felt the rounded handles of the grooming scissors that she had in her smock pocket. She pulled them out and tried to defend herself – but her assailant got the scissors away from her and began to stab and slash at Paulette. Even though the telephone call that she was trying to make was to a veterinarian, Paulette screamed, “The police will be here any second!”

The man stopped assaulting Paulette, grabbed the money from a donation jar on her counter and money from Paulette’s purse, then he scooped up his dog and disappeared. He has never been found. Paulette has recovered from her physical wounds, and although she says that this was a freak incident and that she will not allow it to make her live in fear – she will never forget that day.

HOW SAFE ARE YOU?

Many groomers, like Paulette, work alone. Mobile groomers and house call groomers often meet new clients in unfamiliar surroundings. But whether you are in a salon or in some other situation, your personal safety must be uppermost in your mind. What can you do to keep yourself safe?

If you are a mobile or house call groomer and you are meeting a new client, try to have someone go with you. If that is not possible, make sure that somebody knows where you are at all times. Phone a person that you trust when you arrive at a client’s home and again when you leave it.

Daryl Conner, owner/operator of FairWinds Grooming Studio, has been a salon owner, mobile groomer, and house-call groomer at different times during her grooming career. She recalls an incident that happened to her when she was doing house-call grooming…

“The client was a man… a pilot that had a huge house,” shares Daryl. “He was very much in my personal space while I worked, and all the hair on the back of my neck stood up. This was the first time I realized that I needed to listen to my body’s reactions to people even when my mind over-rode the messages. My head said, ‘He is a wealthy professional man, he must be ok.’ My body said, ‘Get the heck out of here!’ I declined to make future appointments for him.”

Daryl continues, “Learn to listen to your senses and trust your instincts. If you feel scared, nervous, or suspicious, remove yourself from the situation. Think up some excuse to trot out ahead of time… upset stomach, family emergency, etc. It is better to be wrong than to be hurt!”

Some of your most important defense tools are awareness and action. Find out if mace or pepper spray is legal in your area. If it is, keep one on your key ring. If it is not, keep a can of wasp spray on your counter or in your tack box. It looks innocent enough, but it will spray a good distance and will temporarily disable an attacker so that you can make an escape. Even if all you have is a can of hairspray – spray a burst of it into your attacker’s eyes.

If you have a gun for protection, you better know how to use it – and if you are going to carry it with you, make sure that you have a concealed carry permit.

Everyone can benefit from taking a self-defense course. Knowing what to do (and what NOT to do) in an emergency situation can make all the difference.

If you are a salon owner who works alone, there are a lot of things that you can do to increase your safety…

Install security cameras inside and outside of your establishment. Have an alarm system put in – some of them can install a ‘panic’ button that you simply press if you need help. You have probably never thought about it, but wearing a medical alert necklace can connect you to help at the press of a button.

Good outdoor lighting is a big deterrent to criminal activity. If you are alone and have to close your business at the end of the workday, don’t allow yourself to become a target. As you walk to your car, keep your finger ready to press the panic button on your car’s key ring.

Most people assume that groomers have cash in their salons and will be leaving with it at the end of the day. Vary your routine. Don’t leave at the same time each night. If you find yourself in a dangerous situation, don’t freeze up – act. Don’t hesitate to blow a loud whistle, yell ‘fire’ or ‘help’.

However, if you are robbed, and you have no opportunity to prevent it, don’t resist. Money can be replaced – you can’t.

Almost everyone has a cell phone. A quick and efficient way to obtain emergency help is by getting a personal security system put on it.

“The Guardian MPS (mobile personal safety) system allows users to download an application into their phones that can help guard their safety in many situations,” explains by Rob Rae, Vice President of Business Development of Guardian MPS.

“For example, if you are a mobile groomer or house call groomer, you frequently meet new people and go to unfamiliar places,” Mr. Rae continues. “Before you (the user) go into an appointment, you log in to your service. You then leave details of the location and the amount of time that you expect to be there. If you are later than expected, and do not log out, Guardian MPS will call your cell number to verify your safety.  If the service does not get an answer with the correct pin number after two attempts, they follow an emergency protocol that you have pre-selected.”

There is also a panic activation service with the system. The user can trigger a panic alarm from their device. Once you hit the panic button, it will use GPS to track your location, contact the nearest 911 location, and if possible, get a live audio feed from your cell phone to help ascertain the emergency.

As a rule, we groomers are a very trusting group of people. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be aware of the dangers that may be lurking as we go about our everyday routines. And it certainly doesn’t mean that we can’t educate ourselves about the best ways and the tools that are available to keep ourselves safe. Take a moment and see what changes you can make to help keep yourself safe.