Paulette Tuunanen says she still can’t go into downtown Fryeburg without scanning the street for the man who attacked her in her pet grooming shop, hitting her with a resin dog statue and stabbing her with her own grooming shears.

But the nightmares come less frequently, she says, and her 2-year-old daughter no longer asks if she’ll have to hide in the dog crate because “the bad man” is coming.

Tuunanen has seen an outpouring of support, especially from the tight-knit animal care community, in the seven weeks since she reported a bizarre attack at her shop in the garage behind her house.

But there are skeptics, too, in part because police haven’t tracked down a suspect despite a strikingly precise description, and because there are no other witnesses or evidence pointing investigators to a culprit.

Police asked Tuunanen whether she might be withholding details, possibly to protect somebody. They said later that there’s no evidence her story is untrue and they were just being thorough and following up on every lead.

Tuunanen still needs thousands of dollars in dental work because two of her teeth were broken in the assault. One of her eyes was swollen from a blow and still bothers her, and she still has visible stab wounds along one arm.

Tuunanen told police, and later reporters, a detailed and disturbing account of the attack on March 18:

She was working in her shop that afternoon when a man carrying a dog wrapped in a blanket came to the door and asked for help. The dog was whining in pain, with a newborn puppy lodged in the birth canal, she said.

The man, wearing a thick canvas coat and snowmobile gloves with long cuffs, smelled of gasoline and pig manure, she said. He had bad acne and a missing tooth. He told her the dog had been “carrying on for some time,” then he grabbed the partially born puppy and yanked on it, pulling it apart, she said.

“It looked like what he had in his hand was the top half of the puppy,” she said.

He screamed and swore and demanded that she help him. As the dog flailed in the blanket, she stepped back into the shop and ushered her daughter into one of the dog cages and draped a towel over it, she said.

She started to call a veterinarian, she said, triggering a violent response as the man said he said he wasn’t “going back,” which Tuunanen took to mean jail.

He punched her, forced his way into the shop and grabbed a resin statue of a bulldog, she said, hitting her head with it until it broke. The attack continued in an adjacent bathroom, where the man stabbed her with piece of broken glass from a picture that had shattered, she said. She pulled grooming shears from her pocket and tried to ward him off, but he grabbed them and stabbed her thigh.

Tuunanen said she lost consciousness momentarily, and when she regained it she heard the man rummaging in the office. Then the office got quiet except for her 2-year-old screaming and dogs barking. She saw that the front door was open and the bundle with the dog in it was gone.

The man had grabbed cash from the office and left, she said.

Tuunanen found her cellphone and called her 24-year-old daughter, who was in the house next door. The daughter didn’t see or hear anything, Tuunanen said.

She said she didn’t call 911 right away because “you don’t always have great feelings with the police department” and she wanted to summon her daughter first. She also didn’t want an ambulance, fearing it would cost too much because she has no health insurance.

She said she believes the man wanted to get help for his dog, not rob her, but it appeared he was on drugs and agitated. Her house would be hard to find for a random crime. She lives off the main roads, near an access road to Lovewell Pond.

Acting Police Chief Joshua Potvin said police have invested extensive resources in the case and continue to investigate tips as they come in. “We don’t have a lot to go on putting someone at the scene,” he said in an interview last week.

Police asked for a DNA swab from Tuunanen’s cheek to compare her DNA profile with the blood on the shears, she said. Even though the blood appears to have come from her, they want to check for other trace evidence that might lead them to a suspect, she said.

Potvin said they received some evidence from the scene and are evaluating it to determine what gets sent to the state crime lab, or possibly even the FBI, for further analysis.

He said it is “unusual,” given the violence of the assault and the distress the dog was in, that there would not be more physical evidence from the suspect. Tuunanen notes that the man wore gloves and a thick canvas coat.

Potvin also said that, despite Tuunanen’s grisly description of the puppy’s head being severed, no blood or other fluids spilled onto the floor.

Tuunanen said she was insulted when police asked whether she was holding anything back. “I gave them as much of a description as I possibly could,” she said. “Once my glasses came off, I couldn’t really see anything.”

Potvin said it was not his intent to insult her.

“People withhold information from police all the time for various reasons. I just wanted to cover with her the possibility,” he said.

Tuunanen has been shown photo lineups but is nervous about casting suspicion on someone who isn’t her attacker. She said that recalling details get harder over time.

Tuunanen said there are constant reminders of the assault, even when well-meaning people ask her how she is doing. Nighttime is worse, because she dwells on it.

And she worries about the fate of the pregnant dog.

She has received tremendous support from other groomers, who offered to cover for her if she couldn’t work. One sent her a replacement apron and shears. But the experience has shaken her outlook.

“Does it make sense my soul hurts?” she asked, “I always try to be there for others. I don’t mind giving, but to be taken from hurts like crazy.”

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:[email protected]Twitter: @Mainehenchman

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.