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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

21 June 2005 Issue

By Judith Marie Gansen

(See related safety article from March 31, 2003 Issue "Protecting Those We Love From Terrorism"

As animal advocates we are as public as much as we choose to be.  But in the age of information technology it is becoming increasingly difficult to remain private.  Lists with our personal information can be bought and sold easily now.  Especially knowing that, being safety conscious makes sense for everyone.

Remember that in addition to being the first line of defense for your children and loved ones, any animals living in your home rely on you too.  It still shocks me how complacent people are--both men and women--until they become a victim.  Knowledge is power as well as protection!  Never make the assumption that you "live in a good neighborhood" or think "it won't happen to me."  That is exactly the attitude criminals are looking for.  It still shocks me how many people I see leaving their pets in a car on a hot day --never leave children or pets in any car!  Not only because cars heat up so fast inside in the summer and can kill them, but also because pedophiles and pet thieves are out there too waiting for an opportunity, even if you have to just run into the bank for a minute.  Sadly that is all the time that is needed.  With young children and pets--ALWAYS have them close by and in your sight when in public.

If Moving to a New Area

First of all, any time my husband and myself have moved we first check out the area we may move to.  I contact the local police (ask to speak to a command officer if possible) and just ask how much activity do they see in that area to see what kind of area it is.  You can contact the county sheriff and the state police too.  Never call the emergency line for this obviously.  Newspapers sometimes print maps of criminal activity too.  While it helps to talk to people in the area, I guarantee you most won't know what really goes on there.  Most crimes don't even make it to the news or newspapers.

Before you move in
to any place--

1.  Good deadbolt locks on all doors--I mean before the furniture comes in.  Put "double keyed" deadbolts on any door that has a window (this prevents anyone from knocking out the glass and reaching in and unlocking the door)--keep a spare key by the floor on a nail or in a box--in case of fire and you are crawling at night on the floor to stay away from smoke. This is where you would want to find the key to unlock that door from the inside.  The kind of locks still found in some older mobile homes, apartments and houses can be popped with a credit card.  Don't waste your money on chain locks--they are easily broken.  For sliding doors buy a steel rod (best) or long piece of wood to keep in the track when the door is locked--there are also locks made especially for sliding doors. Check with law enforcement for the most effective ones.  If you have a double front door there is a way to put in screws into the hinges so the doors can't be taken off to gain entry.

2. Have a crime prevention officer come and give you tips on things you can do to make your residence safer.  Most areas have them or may send out a regular officer if they don't--it's free.  Take notes and do as many of the suggestions as possible.  Then contact your fire department and ask for a walk through from them.  They have helped me to see something I didn't before.  Things like dry brush being too close to the house--keeping a clear area around the perimeter of your house especially if you live in the country, never put combustible items for storage under basement stairs, keep gasoline cans in a separate building like a shed not attached to the house, or you may need to remove a tree that can come down during a storm onto the house.  Remember learning about "spontaneous combustion" in science class?  Not long ago in our area a house burned down because someone working on crafts forgot that science lesson--that oily rags can set themselves on fire with no spark needed!

3.  A dog's best friend is a good "backyard only" fence (frontyard gates people will never remember to close)--we keep chains with padlocks on the gates to remind us as well as others that those gates need to be kept closed.   If you are moving to a new house try to get a fence up right away if you can.  Being in new surroundings is scary to many pets and with all the commotion of moving it's also easy for them to get loose.  A fence is also a great psychological deterent to a burglar--because it means there may be a dog inside it.  Watch out for using "Beware of Dog" signs--I read that in some cases this suggests to a court that you may have a vicious dog (silly, isn't it?).  Instead we have one that says "Woof" (found at Planet Dog:
have also seen "Dogs inside fence," etc.  Those dog electric fences work ok if you can't afford anything else, but will not prevent another dog or person from coming into your yard and stealing or harming your pet or stop them from getting bitten.  I have also read accounts of dogs going through them if they want to get out badly enough.  I don't like these devices at all (would you have one on your child?  stay in the yard or you get zapped?) but I can see sometimes where people may have no other choice.

4.  Be sure to petproof the house and yard before pets enter.  Especially puppies are vulnerable--get down on the ground and look at the world the puppy sees, just like you would for a child.  While unpacking and it is hectic, it is best to put your pet in a quiet place or have someone petsit. 

4. I also right away put up a list of important numbers by the phones including emergency numbers, animal control, humane societies, rescues as well as ASPCA poison numbers and a close vet until I find the right vet for us.  Accidents happen more often while you are temporarily disorganized--our one dog who we lovingly call the "terminator" can chew through a box in a few seconds if she wants to--think of all the harmful things in those boxes (the ASPCA poison site recently added grapes and raisins to things like chocolate and onions as being toxic to dogs).  Write the names of your closest "cross streets" by your phone--a dispatcher will usually ask for this.  Oddly enough there are sometimes streets with the same name in one city or county (don't people naming new streets ever check to see if there is already a street named "Reed" street in the area before they make a new one?  Duh!)

5.  NEVER put your name on your mailbox--only your house number  (street name is good too).  Large reflective numbers will help emergency vehicles find your house easier both night and day.  If your name is on there, a potential burglar just needs to look you up in the phone book to hit your house when they call and no one answers.

6.  For animal advocates or women living alone, getting a p.o. box is a good idea too.  Always have a man do the recording on the answering machine--whether one lives there or not.  Never say "we are not home..."  say instead:  "We can't come to the phone right now.."  Try to avoid advertising that you are a female living alone.  Put as little personal info on your checks as possible (NEVER social security number or driver's license number).  Stores may need to write down your driver's license but you don't need to advertise the number when you mail a bill or order something.

7.  If you can afford one, an alarm system is a great idea--the best kind is one that is hooked up to a national company who will call the police or fire if needed.  Watch out for alarm salespeople telling you they can put in a "pet alley."  Their solution to pets in the house was very disappointing to me and unrealistic.  No wonder there are so many false alarms happening.  Police agencies don't need them and may eventually charge you for them.  Even with a "pet alley" or "pet zone" cats and small dogs can jump up on the back of couches or countertops and can set them off.  It's best to have pets in a separate area so they won't set them off at all.  The alarm company wanted us to protect every window in the basement at a huge cost but I pointed out that one motion detector in front of the basement stairs would set off the alarm just as easily.  One thing I love about our system is that if we should have a fire when we are not home, our dogs would have a better chance of being rescued because of quicker response time.  You also get a reduction in home insurance premiums too. 

If you choose to put in an inside kennel, I would decide where to put it depending on where you live.  If I lived in a tornado-prone area for instance, I would put it up in my basement so pets are protected during a tornado warning if we can't be home.  If you live close to a flood prone area (rivers especially) then upstairs may be best.  Storms continue to get worse as our earth changes and I read they are even considering adjusting home building codes because of this.  Most communities have disaster preparedness information for free or check out the Red Cross website.

8.  Be sure you have smoke detectors (updated ones that detect both fire and smoke) and if you have gas in your house, have carbon monoxide detectors put in.

9.  Motion lights put up outside are great too.  There are 2 kinds that I know of.

10. If you just moved to the country especially, learn about lightening rods.  We put in a very long metal pipe that is attached to our house and should the house get struck by lightening, the pipe will be the "ground" and it will likely go down that pipe instead of blowing out our well pump or worse.  It is fairly easy and cheap to do this but there are also companies who specialize in lightening protection.  Some utilities also offer "whole house surge protectors" which help to protect computers and appliances from power surges.  It's a good idea during lightening storms to unplug TV's, computers and other expensive electrical devices.  A home generator is a great idea to have as a backup power supply.

Your Personal Info

As animal advocates, sometimes we ruffle some feathers.  When writing letters to the editor to educate or complain, if you are female you can use your maiden name.  Having things like caller ID will help to alert you to any "anonymous" calls.  My phone company told me that as long as I have the time the call came in (if a harasser), they have the number on record and you can file a report.

Our Phone Book Disaster

Imagine my shock when we got our new phone book a few years back and all of a sudden our name and address (we never put our address in the phone book) are printed for the whole world to see.  I was livid.  I called the phone company who said they worked off a different list that year and somehow it did not show that I wanted this confidential.  To make matters worse, another phone company copied the same list so our address was in two books!  I wrote both phone book companies scathing letters threatening to sue them if it happens again and asked them what would a woman do if she were being stalked by a former husband or boyfriend--if this happened to us it could happen to one of them.  What shocked me was that for many years our address was not ever printed and then all of a sudden it was.  Surprise!!  I learned to always check the new listing every time the new book comes.  It won't help if it's wrong, but at least you will be warned.

Internet Safety

Much is already out there about safety on the internet, but don't assume because someone gets into an animal list or chat room that they are really for animals.  Never give our your personal info--being suspicious keeps people safe.  You can be cautious without being paranoid, but alittle paranoia doesn't hurt either! 

Mail Theft

This happened to us years ago and is not fun to go through.  I had to contact everyone I could think of who sends us mail to alert them.  It can affect your credit--you could be late on a bill and not know it.  It is far more common a crime than people realize especially now with identity theft on the rise.  Mail can be stolen from a mailbox on a corner or from your home or business where mail is left for pickup. 

In our case, both incoming and outgoing mail was stolen.  A neighbor up the road found my husband's mail to his professor torn open in a ditch and that's how we found out.  We were pretty sure we knew who was doing it but could never prove it.  My husband wanted to "stake out" the mailbox and catch the thief.  We now have a locked mailbox--the best is pretty pricey at about $100.  It is vandal resistant, heavy steel.  It has a door like a typical corner mailbox so it is easy for the rural mail carrier.  The mail drops down into the locked compartment and you open it with the key.  A p.o. box is another solution but a hassle to go get the mail.  Be cautious about doing other things like bricking in your mailbox to stop vandals--a car swerving or skidding on ice and hitting it can cause a lawsuit.  We need to protect our mail without harming others.   It's best to take your important mail to a post office if you can.

If You Are Female

Unfortunately, I saw enough violence and rape cases while working as a secretary for law enforcement to know there are many predators out there.  Rape is a crime of violence--it is NEVER about sex!!  EVERY woman in this world should take some form of self-defense and rape prevention--my sister and I took a class together.  It's a personal decision and a matter of where you live (practically and legally) whether or not you choose to carry any kind of weapon.  You don't necessarily have to be a martial arts expert--your mental attitude is the most important thing.  Believe you will survive a situation and keep in control of your thinking and push fear aside.  Women have gotten out of situations by using their brains.  One woman was about to be raped and stuck her finger down her throat and vomited all over the attacker--he fled right away.  Another woman locked in a trunk thought to mess with the wiring for the brake lights--an alert officer pulled the car over and the woman was saved.  Train children to THINK and to get out of any situation they feel uncomfortable in. Barking dogs are not only your best friend but good crime prevention for everyone too. 


A weather monitor is one of the best $8-$40 investments you will make.  They give an alarm off in case of tornados or other natural or manmade disasters--you can set them to going all the time or on "alert."  Give one as a gift to someone you love.  The more expensive kinds can be programmed so the alarm only goes off for your area.  There are battery only small ones to carry in your car or even your purse.  I keep one in our cars.  If driving around and the sky gets dark, I pull over and turn it on. 

When at home I have found different TV and radio stations have different response times to alert the public to severe weather.  I once clocked a 15 minutes lapse in time from one TV station to another alerting people of a tornado warning--that goof could have cost lives.  The weather radios almost ALWAYS go off first.  Three to five or more minutes later the TV stations and radio get the info but I still put the TV on right away too because soon the weather person will come on and show me a map of exactly where the storms are heading.  That's precious time we need to get everyone, including pets, into the basement.   Always know where you are physically in your county--if you are in a corner of a county, severe weather could hit your area before an alarm goes off for your county.  Notice what goes on in surrounding counties.

We have our own "emergency shelter" set up in a small room (furthest from any windows) with all kinds of emergency supplies and I have leashes attached to very secure areas where each dog gets secured to.  (remember a pet may freak out no matter how well trained if an emergency happens).  Once in awhile we have a "tornado drill" and each dog has learned when they get attached to this area they get a super special treat so they don't freak out when the real thing may happen.  I keep extra Bach Flower Rescue Remedy down there too for people and pets a well as bottled water, pet food and dishes (avoid putting anything in glass containers).  I keep old clean blankets inside those plastic storage tubs.

Recently, we added some outlets down there.  I found these wonderful emergency lights by First Alert that you plug into the outlet.  I bought several and now if the power goes out, they go on and I have a lighted path to our emergency shelter.  While handling the dogs I would not have to also carry a flashlight.  Gives me great peace of mind plus you can pull them out and use them as a flashlight if you want to.  If you live in an area of great tornado activity and can afford to, you can have an underground or tornado shelter built--there is also the kind you can bury underground for houses without basements.  It's cheapest to build one when a house is being built of course.

For a pet with health issues who can't take stairs or if you are person who can't lift easily, keep an orange safety dog vest handy, the kind that has a handle on it--it attaches quickly and you can more easily carry a dog down stairs.  A homemade device could be made for this too.

Never assume there is only one tornado--there can be 2 or many others.  Tornadoes don't always show up on radar either .  One thing being studied is that if you have a TV on (antenna kind) and the picture goes black but the sound stays on, you may have a tornado close by.  This proved true for us one time.  The latest article I read mentioned that they may change the safety rules for tornadoes saying that it may be better to flee the area.  We will wait for further information and study on that before we change our safety procedures.

Detective J.J. Bittenbinder - Safety Expert

For the best info on taking responsibility for your personal safety as well as protecting your loved ones, please check out the following site:    or

I have seen Det. JJ on public television specials--he is a renowned speaker with books and videos out to teach people crime prevention.  He has many combined years of police experience in homicide and dealing with violence.  I was very impressed with his knowledge--he was very entertaining too even though dealing with a subject most of us prefer not to think about.  Teach safety to your children or have a family safety get together.  With young children you can make it a game.  His idea is that the bad guys have a plan so we need to be sure we do too.  It doesn't have to be all gloom and doom and it may just save a life.  We are a fun-loving society but you can still have fun and will enjoy it more when you have peace of mind through awareness!

Staff:  Animals in Print  (free online animal publication)

Pawprints, Footprints & Animal Chatter (my editorials on mostly animal issues--if you email me please indicate in the subject column it is about one of my articles so it doesn't get deleted as spam--thanks)
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