On a sunny June day in 2004, Danny Branson and Kathy Buetow were playing fetch with their Australian Cattle Dogs when Branson pulled out his pocketknife and began slicing into one of the balls. “I looked over at him, wondering what the heck he was doing,” says Kathy Buetow (now Buetow Branson). He held the ball up to her ear and said there was something rattling inside and he had to find out what it was.
“What, are you kidding? You’re ruining a good tennis ball for something silly like that?” she said. Her surprise turned to annoyance when she saw that the ball was filled with stuffing. “I said, ‘Oh my gosh, we don’t want the kids ingesting that fluff!’ Of course, it took me only a few minutes and the blinding flash of diamonds to realize— finally!—what he was up to.” (The dogs were unimpressed by the elaborate proposal and looked up as if to say, “Throw the ball again, already!”)
A few months later, one of the impatient bystanders, Colby, was a tuxedo-wearing ring bearer in the couple’s lakeside wedding. Even better, the dogs joined the newlyweds on a honeymoon road trip from their Sidney, Ill., home to the Australian Cattle Dog Club of America National Specialty competition in Del Mar, Calif.
Dogs in the wedding? It hardly raises an eyebrow anymore. Eighteen percent of dog owners have or would include dogs in their wedding, according to an American Kennel Club survey. The reality is that dogs have become members of the family, and as such, many people want them to be a part of this important ritual as well. They participate as attendants and guests. They pose for wedding photos. They dance and socialize at receptions. And even if they aren’t up to crowds or are prohibited by a venue, they are often included in photos, on invitations and in keepsakes.
Given all this dog love, we figured it was time for Bark to venture into wedding planning, collecting wisdom from the trenches on ways to be sure—or as sure as you can be—that your dog-friendly nuptials are a howling success.
1. Treat pups as more than accessories. As cute as they are, especially in flowers and bow ties, dogs are members of the family and deserve the same attention and consideration.
Claire and Meg DeMarco’s Boston Terrier, Lexi (aka Lexington Rosebud DeMarco), was much more than their flower girl. “We wrote our own ceremony with the help of our celebrant, and it included many references to our becoming a family—Lexi is the evidence of that, and there were several times when we looked over at her during the ceremony,” the DeMarcos say about their 2008 wedding in Boston. “It may sound cheesy, but she definitely knew something special and important was happening.”
Adopted from a foster family only months before, the two-year-old pup in a pink carnation lei rose to the occasion. Well-behaved throughout, she calmed the DeMarcos’ jitters before, during and after the ceremony.
2. Find the right job for your pup. Not all dogs will blossom as flower pups or carry on as ring bearers. Your wedding —that day of days—is not the time to have expectations that might not be met. You’re stressed, distracted and (from your dog’s point of view) dressed funny— all that could affect the way he behaves.
During Sandy Portella Nelson’s outdoor wedding at her home in Fort Myers, Fla., last year, her four Italian Greyhounds stayed out of sight throughout the ceremony and much of the reception. But after everyone had dined, and before the cake-cutting, the DJ turned up the volume on “Who Let the Dogs Out,” and Dillon, Hopi, Romeo and Basille came blasting down the stairs.
“The guests loved it!” Nelson says. “A lot of them had heard many stories of the gang, so this just filled out the picture, so to speak. In fact, when it was time to put the dogs back in the house, guests asked if I would let them stay out for just a while longer.”
3. Recruit dog-loving pros for your team —especially the photographer (see tip 7), officiant and planner.