In Hindu imagery, Dattatreya, who symbolizes the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, is always depicted accompanied by dogs, symbols of fidelity and devotion. In Mesoamerica, the dog-god, Xolotl, was believed to serve as a leader and guardian to humans travelling the underworld (which, most married folks can attest, marriage’s rockier shoals sometimes feel like). To this day, dogs continue to be hailed and respected as protectors and partners, so it’s little wonder that when it comes to milestone moments in people’s lives, our furry friends are often guests of honour. One particular celebration seeing ever-increasing canine participation is the wedding ceremony.
Colleen Paige, a pet-lifestyle expert and wedding planner specializing in dog-inclusive ceremonies, points out that many of us consider our dogs to be family, making them a natural addition to the wedding party.
“A dog is an important part of a couple’s relationship and they want to include them in the wedding just as they would include anybody else they really loved,” she says. Now a pro at the art of incorporating couples’ pets into their weddings, she can look back and laugh at some memorable experiences—a dog peeing on a wedding dress, for one—that have taught her it takes a lot of work to design a ceremony that ends happily for the couple, the wedding guests, and the dog.
Paige remembers one of the first experiences of her career as a lesson in trusting your instincts. When commissioned to plan a wedding that included 50 dogs on the guest list, she learned that some requests just begged for a “no.” This dogloving bride had made up her mind that she wanted the dogs in the wedding ceremony to have just as much fun as the people. Before the wedding, the guests thought it would be a good idea to let the dogs expend their energy playing at the beach. As one might guess, instead of calming the dogs, frolicking in the sand proved to be the key ingredient in a recipe for disaster. Not only was the flower girl knocked over by a rambunctious, hyped-up dog, but as the bride walked down the aisle, she was greeted midway with a dirty, sandy, wet dog-hug. Paige quickly learned Rule #1: Always keep the dogs on leash.
David Tutera, host of WE TV’s primetime show My Fair Wedding and event planner to the stars (past clients include Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Lopez, and Elton John), also follows a rule: preparedness is the key to success. Looking back at a roster of weddings that involved animals such as elephants and horses, Tutera says that planning a wedding with a dog did not daunt him at all.
“Like any other wedding element, it’s important first to educate yourself on the topic, and once you figure out the considerations that need to be made for a pet, it’s no problem,” he says. He asserts that if you follow Rule #2: Know what you’re getting into, you’ll be prepared for any eventuality. Which is important, because with dogs, even the best-laid plans may not go off as planned.
Just ask Jon and Tamara Peterson of Carmel, CA, for whom Paige planned a dog-inclusive wedding. Even after months of training sessions and a flawless rehearsal, on the big day, their two Dachshunds noisily play-fought their way down the aisle. Half way to the altar, they came to a stop, one sitting on the other’s head. But to the bride and groom, it turned out to be a memorable, if unplanned, part of the day. As long as you have a sense of humour and are prepared for the possibility of some canine hijinx or perhaps even upstaging, proceed as desired. Otherwise, tread with caution or your white wedding may be marred by muddy paw prints.
The Ceremony In an effort to prevent any unexpected reactions from the dog, Tutera suggests that for the wedding day, you should have someone whom your dog knows and trusts take charge of her, making sure that she is clean and well-groomed, and walking her through the area of the ceremony to let her give the whole space a good sniff.
However, all the preparation in the world cannot guarantee that everything will flow smoothly when the actual wedding day comes. This is when the next rule kicks in—Rule #3: Have a Plan B in case the dog is overwhelmed and unable to cooperate.
“You have to be prepared that at the last minute your pet might not be capable of participating,” says Paige. “Because if you’re not ready and something happens with the pet, you run the risk of feeling like the wedding is ruined.”
It is also important to provide a place for your dog to rest in case she gets nervous or is over-stimulated by all the commotion, and to have plenty of fresh water for her to drink. Which brings us to perhaps one of the most important considerations: bathroom breaks. Have an area for your dog to relieve herself and someone in charge of taking her there to do so. Rule #4: Happy dog, happy wedding.
One aspect that couples often forget to consider is how Fifi’s wedding attire will make her feel. While it might be tempting to cover your dog in lace and sequins, it might not be the best idea for a warm summer wedding or if she is uncomfortable wearing clothes. According to Paige, “If it is really hot, a full tuxedo on a dog is brutal. Weather should dictate the wedding couture.” Rule #5? Dress for success.
Another important detail to take into account is how the other people at the wedding will feel about having the couple’s four-legged friend wagging her tail around the altar and the canapés. Rule #6: Give guests a heads up. Paige recommends that, in the invitation, you advise your guests of your dog’s participation. That way, if anyone is afraid of the dog or has severe allergies, they can let you know and request to be seated far away from your dog. However, as Tutera points out, animals can feel like family members and, as such, easily make it on the guest list, so guests should be prepared if they are attending a wedding where the couple is known to have a tight relationship with their pets.
Many people choose not to have their dogs involved in the wedding reception, mainly because they don’t want to worry about checking up on Fido on top of making sure Uncle Larry isn’t sharing too many family secrets. Paige advises that if you do want to have your dog present at the reception, you hire someone (or ask a very, very dedicated member of the wedding party) to look after the dog and always keep him leashed and in sight. A wedding reception can be the devil’s playground for a dog. Whoever is taking care of him should be entrusted with ensuring that he doesn’t eat anything he ought not to (cooked bones, chocolate, gum, fatty foods…). Alcoholic drinks are also a source of hazard because not only does booze pose a serious threat to a dog’s liver or pancreas, it is also known to induce the Chicken Dance amongst humans, putting Fido at risk of getting kicked, elbowed, or stepped on by revelers. Rule #7: Alcohol and rowdy guests are everywhere and you have a responsibility to ensure they’re not posing any threat to your dog.
Though including dogs in a wedding certainly takes extra care, consideration, and flexibility, for many, the extra effort is well worth it, as Kishin and Liliana Kirpalani can attest.
“Overall it’s easy, you just have to be committed to it,” says Kishin.
Before their ceremony, Kishin and Burt, his French Bulldog took their last walk along the beach as single men, while Liliana and her Shih Tzu, Baby, were getting ready to walk down the aisle. What was once a rocky relationship between a bumptious Frenchie and a quiet, polite Shih Tzu had turned into a nurturing relationship that mirrored the one being formalized by the bride and groom. Burt was walked down the aisle by Kishin, and Baby was accompanied by one of Liliana’s bridesmaids. The two pups stood proudly next to the altar while Kishin vowed: “I will give water and lots of treats to Liliana and Baby for as long as we shall live.”
For Kishin and Liliana, the decision to include their dogs in the wedding was easy.
“They are like our children and we couldn’t imagine not having them included in our most special day together,” says Kishin. “We wouldn’t have done it without them.”