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Pets in Your Wedding

Martha Stewart Weddings, Volume 25 2003

As you think about who will be with you on your wedding day, those who are closest to you are likely the first to come to mind. For many , that includes a family pet. There are lots of ways to involve furry (or feathered) friends in your celebration, whether in a formal role -- as ring bearers or flower dogs, for example -- or simply as honored guests.

Determine Your Pet's Role
If you're thinking of including a pet in your wedding, there are a few things to consider. Is it appropriate for the kind of ceremony you're having? "An animal fits a certain type of affair, one at a farmhouse or a private estate, perhaps, but probably not at a fancy hotel," says Sasha Souza, a California event designer.

If the venue does not allow pets, try to find a compromise. Michael Zorek and Shelly Friedland wanted their beagle-whippet mix, Scooter, to participate in their wedding in New York City, but neither the temple in which they were marrying nor their reception site would allow pets. So the couple had Scooter meet them at the doors of the temple (escorted by a hired dog walker), then accompany them and their guests in a procession to the reception site five blocks away. Scooter wore a bow-tie collar with a tuxedo bib for the jaunt. "People got a big kick out of it," says Michael. "We made the evening news."

The type of animal you have may also help dictate his role in the wedding. Some couples with smaller, less social pets such as lizards, ferrets, or guinea pigs are content simply to have the animal present at the wedding; they may ask someone to hold the pet during the ceremony or keep the animal nearby in its habitat or cage. Not all pets are suited to a wedding, and it’s important to assess the temperament of yours. Is he friendly or aggressive? Does he make a lot of noise? Does he steal food? If your pet's disposition doesn't lend itself to this type of situation, don't try to train him in the weeks leading up to your wedding.

Be Flexible
Once you've decided how to include your pet, be prepared to be flexible on the wedding day. "You can't force it," says Marc Morrone, owner of Parrots of the World pet store in Rockville Centre, New York. "If you expect your pet to perform a certain feat, have a backup plan in case he doesn't do it."

Also, consider your own personality. A relaxed attitude is crucial. During the outdoor ceremony of Sarah St. Onge and Andrew Howell in St. Helena, California, Sarah’s dog, Piper, suddenly began barking. "She saw a squirrel," says Andrew. "But the barks were well timed," adds Sarah. "Piper punctuated the wedding vows and added an element of humor." And it's warm, lighthearted surprises like this that make a wedding memorable.

Planning with a Pet in Mind
Inform Your Attendants
Well in advance, inform attendants and vendors that your pet will play a role, and discuss special measures you'd like them to take. Also notify your officiant. Some may refuse to preside over a wedding that includes pets.

Never Leave Your Pet Alone
Consider hiring a handler with whom the pet is already acquainted, or have a friend be responsible for the pet during the wedding.

Anticipate Potential Hazards
Ask at the wedding site about pesticides or toxic plants on the grounds, and about creatures that might distract or threaten your pet. If your florist is adorning your pet's collar, be sure she uses nontoxic materials. And keep pets, especially dogs, someplace safe during the reception so guests won't feed them. Certain wedding fare, including chocolate, alcohol, and meat with bones, can be dangerous.

Practice Makes Perfect
Bring your pet to the site before the wedding day, and have him come to the rehearsal to practice his part if he will be participating in the ceremony.

The Other "Groom"
Take the animal to the groomer before the wedding so he'll look his best. Keep adornments minimal and easy for the pet to wear. Don't make him wear them for longer than is necessary.