Pets are often our first true love. They are a constant and offer us an unconditional stream of affection. They ease us through the time between human relationships, after all the break-ups, after all the trials of trysts gone awry. Pets ride shotgun on our journey through life and our imperfect quest to find “the one.”
Colloquially known as man’s best friend, it only stands to reason they should be man’s best man also, right?
When it comes to including your furry favorite in the big day, there are some things to consider. A good place to start is finding out whether your chosen venue allows pets and any applicable rules. If you plan to pronounce husband and wife al fresco, said rules may be a bit more lax. Next, spend some serious evaluative time on your dog’s temperament. Are they at all unpredictable in new situations or around new people? Do they obey basic commands? Are they known to be a sneaky food-stealer, a jumper or an affectionate face-kisser? There’s nothing like Lucy from “Peanuts” proclaiming, “Blech! My lips touched dog lips! Poison! Dog lips! Blech!” to ruin the moment.
Decide what role you want your pup to play. Perhaps they can escort the bride down the aisle or stand in as the “Dog of Honor” alongside other attendants during the ceremony. If you have a particularly well-behaved pup, let him be the ring bearer, carrying a satchel either around his neck or in his mouth. However, like other youthful ring bearers, it’s probably best if the actual symbols of commitment are tucked safely on board the bride and groom instead or in the hands of trustworthy attendants. A furry feminine can fill the role of flower girl by adorning her with a garland of on-theme blossoms.
Reesie Douthat and her husband, Alex, had three dogs and two horses in their 2020 wedding, which was profiled in NRV Magazine’s Jan-Feb 2021 issue. “We chose to have our animals in the wedding because they are a huge part of both of us. We have always been animal lovers.”
No matter what, it is certain you will want some evidence of the shenanigans. Give the photographer an early heads-up that you plan to include your pet in the special day. Decide exactly what shots you want and take care of the ones that include your canine first. You might consider hiring a photographer who has special experience with animals, as they are sure to have some creative suggestions of their own.
When Phillip and April Vaught got married 18 years ago, they definitely wanted Sky, their 5-year-old Dalmation with them. “we couldn’t have her in the church at the ceremony,” Phillip relates, “but she was waiting for us at the outdoor reception. She got in all the photos we could get her into wearing a dog collar tiara and veil.” The dog had been along for most of their more than five years’ dating, living with one of them or the other along the way.
Now it’s time to have fun with all the little details. Marthastewart.com suggests: “Name a cocktail after the dog or incorporate a photo into decor elements, like drink stirrers.” If you plan to have a head table with the wedding party, set up a ground-level “table” feast for the pup. Serve dog-shaped cookies as wedding favors or prepare actual ‘doggie bags’ of canine treats for guests to take home. Countryliving.com suggests printing out pictures of your four-legged friend with different numbers around their neck, then frame them to use as table numbers.
Another good message on a dog can be: “I Do, Too.” Take a picture of the dog with a “Thank You” sign and use it to print thank you notes after all the ceremonial dust has settled.
Overall, it’s best if your pet is a warm-hearted addition to the wedding festivities, not a stressful distraction. And it’s probably a good idea if they are seen and not heard (ahem, kind of like children). Consider giving someone the honored role of being the pet handler whose job it is to assure the animal is not neglected or overwhelmed, gets food, water and basic care when the bride and groom are otherwise engaged.
Wedding days contain a lot of moving parts. And like most “best laid plans,” things can go wrong and probably will. It’s important to remain flexible and laugh with the punches, easily switching gears when necessary.
Reesie Douthat recalls: “My husband’s dog, Newt, was supposed to go down the aisle with him but he was busy getting a stick and came down with me. Then they ideally were supposed to sit with us but with two of them not on a leash that didn’t go as planned. My heeler, Kayleigh, decided she wanted to roll around in the train of my dress. The photographer caught that in a few of her photos! It was quite comical.”
Just remember it’s all a new and exciting adventure for your pup, too. Even though you’ve found your forever love, remember they were your furever love, first.
“The fact that we got to have the things that mean most to us and represent us was very rewarding. They each have been through so many milestones in our lives,” Reesie concludes.
And should having your dog at the wedding and/or reception not be quite enough to honor his/her faithfulness and loyalty, you can name your first-born after the canine. “Our daughter, Hannah Sky, is now requesting to be called Sky instead of Hannah,” says her mom, as a dog she never met lives on in her name and her parents’ memories.
Nancy S. Moseley is a Blacksburg-based freelance writer who would absolutely consider having her four-legged best friend in her wedding. However, horses (and most animals larger than her) make her nervous. Well, so do weddings for that matter.
Text by Nancy S. Moseley