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November 21, 2016

Pet Sitting and Personal Safety

By: Hillary Brown

When you think about the potential dangers of pet sitting, the first thing that comes to mind is probably animal bites. But our Atlanta, Georgia dog sitters spend a lot of time walking into unfamiliar houses, which can present more frightening situations.

Critter Sitters recently held our annual meeting, part of which was a presentation by Ken Berman of Safe Shot Atlanta on personal safety. Berman does firearms training as part of his job, but over and over, he emphasized the fact that he doesn’t recommend that for everyone. Instead, the best thing you can do is to make a reaction plan and practice it. If you’ve come up with a plan before you face a dangerous situation and (even more so) if you’ve spent some time practicing it, then your conscious mind won’t have to plan in the middle of a “fight or flight” response. Berman said to be sure to include the idea of “winning” in whatever plan you make. He believes it makes people much more successful.

Safety Factors for Atlanta, Georgia Dog Sitters to Consider

Berman pointed out that pet sitters are much more likely to walk in on a burglar than their clients are because, of course, people who want to steal your stuff tend to wait until they think you’re out of town. Our sitters never wear their company t-shirts while on a job, of course, for security reasons, and they don’t use a Critter Sitters magnet on their cars for the same reason. He said that it’s easy, especially if you’re making many pet sitting stops in a day, to tune out a little bit as you’re pulling up to a house, and pleaded with his audience not to do that. Don’t even talk on the phone or send a text as you’re arriving at a job, he said. It’s too easy to miss something that might be unusual and could alert you to someone hiding inside.

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Details can be telling, and if you observe them and modify your behavior accordingly, you’ll be safer. If you see a strange car in the driveway, for example, put your hand on the hood to see if it’s warm (meaning it hasn’t been there long) or cold. Either way, call your client and ask whose car it is. It could be a friend parking there to make the house seem lived in, but it might not be! Over and over, Berman repeated that it was better to be safe than sorry. People are often nervous about calling 911, but he said the police are much happier to respond to a false alarm than to a real one. If the hair on the back of your neck is standing up, pay attention to it and back away from a potential threat rather than walking forward into it or taking a “wait and see” approach.

Understand When to Call 911

One great tip was to implement a buddy system, checking in before and after every visit. If your buddy doesn’t check in after a job, call her to make sure she’s okay. Several smartphone apps (Berman mentioned Watch Me 911, Street Safe and Moby) can help with these check-ins so you’re not always calling, and many include a button to dial 911. Berman also suggested you set up a safe or alert word or phrase with your buddy, to communicate alarm without alerting someone else in the house. For example, you could agree to say, “the owners are having a great time in Hawaii” if you need your buddy to call 911.

Berman demonstrated how to give yourself a wider frame of view when going around a corner (stay away from the wall) and recommended you keep your hands free when possible as you’re entering a client’s home. When he talks to realtors, he advocates leaving the keys in the door, opening it and backing away to see if there’s anything unusual going on inside. Of course, that doesn’t work with pets, some of whom will try to bolt even if the door is cracked. Instead, pet sitters can wedge themselves into the doorway but not enter the room entirely. If you can even take a look before you walk in, you’ll be better off. If you must make a phone call or send a text before your job (checking in with your buddy, for example), keep your keys in the ignition and your car in gear so that you’ll be ready to leave in a hurry.

But what if the worst happens and you do walk in on a criminal? Berman spent a good bit of time discussing pepper spray, which he recommends strongly over firearms for the average person. First, it covers a much wider range than a gun. If you hold your spray at eye level and sweep it in a semicircle, you’ll probably hit what you’re aiming at. Second, you can recover from a mistake with pepper spray much more easily than with firearms. There’s a particular brand he recommends, DPS X-Stream, because of its long range, although he said he doesn’t recommend the key-chain versions because you don’t have access to them while you’re driving.

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Rely on an Atlanta Pet Sitter to Handle Your Home and Pets With Care

Was Berman’s talk frightening? It certainly was, but the tips he offered were a good way to overcome that fear and be more prepared for the future.

Critter Sitters has offered sessions like this one to its sitters for many years out of concern for their safety. Fortunately, in over 40 years, we have never had an incident.