Gentle Care Animal Hospital

Gentle Care Animal Hospital

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Puppy love: More pets partake in even formal weddings

Wedding attendants are going to the dogs.

Pet-loving couples are increasingly including their dogs (and other pets, to a much lesser degree) in the wedding parties of some very formal weddings — decking them out in silk and satin and including them in the receiving line, on the program and in the portraits.

"Many people think of their pets as family members, and they wouldn't think of having a special day like this without that member," says Celina Bojorquez, co-owner of Beverly Hills Mutt Club, purveyor of upscale accessories like doggie tuxedos ($70 and up) and couture dresses ($170 to $500).

The shop has outfitted canines for scores of weddings in the last couple of years. Not all have been done up in full-dress regalia; some have merely donned accessories for a little special-day elegance. Bojorquez has sold dog-besotted soon-to-weds silk ties and bow ties for their four-legged pals, satin bandanas, crystal leads and collars, and, in one case, a gold harness and leash to match the bride's gold dress.

Though pets have long been part of casual weddings in meadows, on mountaintops and at the seashore, their participation in chichi affairs at the most ornate churches and refined locales is a more recent phenomenon.

Increased numbers not withstanding, not everyone is completely enchanted with the notion of animals in the aisles or at the altar. Many locales prohibit them; many families and wedding planners discourage their participation.

Lynda Barness of I Do Wedding Consulting in Philadelphia always warns couples of the potential perils — "animals are animals, and they can do animal things," she says — and so far all her clients have concluded that including pets in the wedding party isn't necessary. "But as part of the portraits, that's just fine."

Her concerns range from potty issues to a dog acting up because it's not used to being in a room with 300 people to the fact that "the bride and the groom and others in the wedding party have enough to tend to that day."

Also, "if a dog isn't used to wearing a top hat, there may be issues."

Beth Anstandig of Los Gatos, Calif., acknowledges there may be matters to work out but says having her own two border collies involved made her wedding day even more special. "The guests loved it," she says. And she and her husband cherish the photos featuring the dogs — especially because both have since died.

"We are so happy to be able to look back and remember them as they were on that day."

He's a loved one, too

"The family was a little skeptical," Kaycee English says with a chuckle about the moment last year when she announced that Bowser, the Australian shepherd pup she and John English had fallen for on, would be part of her fancy wedding. "Bowser had instantly become a family member." They adopted him from Purrs and Pups Animal Rescue in Riverdale, N.J., weeks before their wedding day.

"The people I loved would be there, and there was no way Bowser wouldn't be," says English, of Freehold, N.J., who works for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. So she bought Bowser a canine ring-bearer outfit, and he pulled off his wedding-day role without incident (dissolving a worried dad's concern about crazy-dog potential and lost rings).

No pets? 'Unimaginable'

Los Gatos, Calif., psychotherapist Beth Anstandig was something of a trendsetter when, five years ago, she informed her stunned parents that her beloved border collies, Levi, 11, and blue-eyed Frank, 9, would be attending her very fancy, very formal wedding.

The dogs had joined her on road trips, seen her through grad school, accompanied her to classes when she was a teacher and "helped me grow up," she says. It would have been "unimaginable" to have such an important day without them.

Her fiancé, Eric Killough, had grown to love the dogs, too. He joked that he intended to have an "adoption ceremony" to formalize his relationship with them.

On the wedding day, a groomsman walked Levi and Frank down the aisle to the altar, and there they remained quietly throughout the vows. "They weren't there because it was cute to have them there," Anstandig says. "They were there because they belonged there. It would have felt incomplete without them."

Speak now or forever hold your pooch

Jessica Sempek of Skokie, Ill., encountered some "naysayers who thought it was strange" when the topic of Emmie and Lady Bug being part of the ceremony arose during the planning of her elegant wedding to Scott Stewart last summer. But those voices were quickly silenced.

"We have two of the most amazing girls," Sempek says. The couple adopted the two mixed-breed Kentucky-born rescues months apart from Heavenly Hearts Rescue of Southeastern Wisconsin.

When the couple — she works for the American Medical Association, he's a hospice nurse — exchanged vows, the two dogs were at the altar. They were walked down the aisle on rhinestone leashes by the groom's nephew.

By Sharon L. Peters, Special for USA TODAY

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