Megan Polley is Stillwater’s go-to pet sitter, a profession she crafted from her passion for animals, and now 10 years later she continues to provide support for local families’ four-legged friends.
It all started humbly enough: Like many high school students, Megan Polley looked for part-time jobs that would help her along the way. At age 16, she began working in boarding kennels in Stillwater.
“I’ve always had a love of animals,” Polley says. After graduating from Stillwater High School, she went away to college at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point and got a degree in psychology, and when it was time to look for a career, she was still unsure. She attended an eight-month program in California to learn to train service dogs at Bergin University of Canine Studies.
“I came back with the idea to work in the service-dog field, but it’s a lot of volunteer work, and I needed money, so I handed out fliers for pet sitting. My idea was I’d just do this for a while to make a little bit of money and go do the service-dog business, but it just took off,” says Polley, who lives in Stillwater with her husband, Joe, and 1-year-old daughter, Josephine “JoJo” Cebula. “I like being my own boss.”
Polley’s business, While You Were Away, is insured and registered with Pet Sitters International, a register of professional pet sitters. Most of her business has been word-of-mouth. “I grew up in Stillwater, so being in the area, we have just known people over the years,” Polley says, adding that her mom, who is a office administrator at a local school, also helps out when needed.
Polley admits it’s not a typical job. “It’s pretty much every day, and the hours are all over the place,” she says and adds that her typical client is usually someone on vacation, which can be anywhere from a few days to weeks at a time.
Polley can handle six to seven families at one time. “For a dog, three to four visits a day for a minimum of a half-hour are typical. If it’s a cat family, it’s usually one visit per day,” she says. She spends her time feeding, walking and playing with the animals. Polley also is a full-service house sitter—watering plants, getting mail and turning on lights, and she understands handling alarm systems and even smoke detectors going off.
“We do consider ourselves professionals. Some people think anyone can do this, like the kid next door, and all it is is walking the dog and giving them water,” she says, “[but] there can be little ailments with the animals, something that someone might not notice if they didn’t have that experience of many years of caregiving.”
For the past six years, Polley has taken care of Linda Nehring’s pets. Currently they have two dogs, Lalu, a shepherd mix, and Todo, a Cairn terrier, as well as four cats. “We like to have our pets at home, because they are more comfortable and less inclined to be stressed,” says Nehring, who calls on Polley as many as nine times a year. “We usually plan our trips around her schedule. When we return home, our pets are always calm, and that makes us happy.”
Planning a Getaway?
If you are considering whether to hire a professional pet sitter, Megan Polley advises considering your animal’s temperament. “Some dogs are not good to be left alone and do better in a kennel,” she says. She also suggests thinking about who can handle an emergency if something happens to your pet while you are away. Professional pet sitters should also be insured and background-checked.