By Dawne Belloise
Meg Burns’ path wasn’t always clear but she found her calling in Crested Butte. Growing up in Jamestown, N.Y., she had an exceptionally happy childhood living on 15 acres in the country where, she smiles, she was a total water baby. When she was a child, her family would boat on the Allegheny reservoir and go tubing, and she was a prolific swimmer, which was her favorite pastime. In the evenings, they’d have campfires and cook dinner around the lake. Meg raised pigs and sheep during her 4-H years. Her father raised pheasants, chickens and turkeys so she was constantly around animals, and this most likely had an influence on her chosen future.
Being an independent youth, Meg liked her autonomy, so being forced into the schedules, rules and restrictions of school life just wasn’t her cup of tea. Although she was liked, she didn’t have a lot of close friends in school—she just didn’t feel that she connected, and since she didn’t enjoy school anyway, when an opportunity arose to move down under, she bolted halfway through her senior year.
“One of my older brothers was living in Australia and I went to his wedding in January and wound up staying until June,” she says. She finished her high school studies there, graduating in 2004 and upon her return to the States, had no inkling of what she wanted to do.
She began by attending SUNY–Buffalo for a year, thinking she wanted to go into journalism, but moved to Denver to be closer to her brothers. After a brief year at the CU–Denver campus, Meg received a business degree at Western State College in Gunnison in 2008. She had discovered the valley when visiting with her brother who owned property on the mountain. “I had already made friends and knew people here. I had wanted to move to Crested Butte because every time I came up here I didn’t want to leave,” she confesses.
Her brother met Cory Dwan, who is a Crested Butte local still, while climbing and decided to start a real estate investment company, Crested Butte Development Group. Meg got hired to work for them, so, she recalls, “It was easy to move here since I had a job and a place to live.” By 2008, Meg already had a tight group of friends and was entrenched in the Buttian lifestyle, hiking and enjoying all those things that keep community here. “I loved all the sunshine, the climate, the views and the community, being able to ride my townie around and bump into people I know all the time.”
From 2009 through 2016, Meg started a series of administrative assistant jobs, working at a variety of retail shops and Bank of the West, covering everything from real estate and property management but mostly bookkeeping.
In 2010, she found the path she was looking for when a couple with two dogs needed a dog-sitter. Eight years later, not only is she still dog-sitting for them, but she now has 80 other clients. It kicked off her pet-sitting career and business.
“I love animals, both domestic and wild,” she explains and shows a tattoo of a black bear on her leg. Pet Au Pairs was officially launched in April 2016 and the service took off to the point that she had to hire staff: Matti Brown, Jolene Szuba, Emily Flick, Janet Martin, and Katy Kay, with Ellen Patten at the south end of the valley for Gunnison pets.
Meg has recently added another aspect to the successful business: She offers dog training to owners. “I trained with two international trainers,” she says of the seminars and workshops she attended. “I also keep updated with videos, reading and practice, and working with dogs. I got into dog training because there are so many dogs out there that end up being put down or re-homed for minor to major behavior issues that can be corrected with training. I want to empower owners to feel more confident and help them create a stronger bond with their dogs. Dogs need leaders and guidance and they need to be shown or taught what’s expected of them,” Meg explains.
Meg’s favorite aspect about her business is that she’s forming a bond with all these animals and she gets to play outside in paradise with them. “There’s a significant joy that comes from playing with them and watching them have fun, while making sure they’re happy and healthy. The whole reason that I started the business was so that owners could leave town and have peace of mind. I have a GPS-based app I use so clients can see every time we’ve been at their house. It tracks your whole walk with their dogs, you can take photos with it and when you’re done with the walk and visit, it sends all that info to the client.”
Meg met local Matti Brown in a Denver bar in 2006 when she was out for a drink with her brother and they struck up a random conversation with Matti about Crested Butte. “We were just acquaintances until 2011 when mutual friends of ours had a baby and we were both in the delivery room.” Meg smiles that they started dating the following year after they decided to fly off to Paris together as friends and discovered their mutual love of architecture, art and history. They returned as a couple. Since then, the couple has taken six international adventures together, visiting Amsterdam, Brussels, and Italy, the latter a favorite where Meg swoons that, “We both fell deeply in love with Cinque Terre and if we ever wanted to run away and disappear, that’s where we’d go. The Amalfi Coast was also amazing and we did some great hiking along the trail of old paper mills and up into the hills.” In 2014, they traveled to Thailand, snorkeling, feeding and bathing elephants, petting tigers and scooting around Ko Lanta Island on a moped. They explored the ancient cities of Peru in 2015 and the following year toured Ireland. Last year, they explored Switzerland and Austria. Of all the amazing sights they saw, she muses that the highlight of all of these trips has been that a cat always seems to find Matti, “No matter where we go, I have numerous photos of different cats that have helped themselves into his lap.”
She and Matti were rescued by two cats who now let the couple reside with them. Gabbi is a Siamese that won Matti’s heart. “He went in to Mountain Mutts, picked her up and she snuggled right in. Kailash we adopted in 2015—she’s named after a mountain in the Tibet autonomous region of China, but we named her Itty Bitty because she was so tiny. She’s more Burmese, long-haired and not so tiny anymore,” Meg laughs.
Meg loves being a contributing member of the community. That’s what keeps her here, along with having family close by. “I feel like it took a long time to build a successful business that I really enjoy doing, and Matti’s been my rock, so supportive and encouraging. I don’t think I’d be where I’m at without him. Everything I do is centered on gratitude and positive thinking and I truly believe that the universe has given me everything that I’ve asked for because every day I’m grateful for everything I have. I put a lot of energy into making sure I look at everything in life in a positive light.”
For more information about Meg’s dog-sitting services visit Petaupairs.com and for dog training: mindfulpawscb.com.