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When my fiancé Blair and I started courting, the event that sealed the deal for me was when he met Ernest. Blair was sitting on the stoop of my apartment building, I opened the front gate, and Ernest pretty much bounded into Blair’s welcoming arms. Ernest is my—now our—12-years-young Lab/Beagle mix. A year later, Blair proposed while we were walking Ernest in Riverside Park. Ernest has been there for it all. Of course, when we began discussing wedding plans, we talked about how to involve Ernest in our big day.
It turns out that we are far from the only couple wishing to include four-legged children in their nuptials. Here is what we have learned about including Ernest in our wedding:
Be mindful of your dog’s temperament. If your dog doesn’t like a big crowd and you are having more than 25 guests, you might find some other way to include your barker in the wedding. One couple I know has a particularly feisty Springer Spaniel and decided the best way to include Lola was to have her pose with them in their engagement photo that was to be printed in the local newspaper along with their announcement. You can also acknowledge your dog in your choice of wedding favors.
I went to a great wedding where little bags of dog-shaped cookies accompanied by a note let each guest know that a gift in their name had been given to the animal shelter where the couple rescued their dog. Also remember that your dog needs to be comfortable being handled by someone else, and that appointing a designated dog handler is a great way to make sure that your dog is never left in a lurch. (Or alone in sniffing distance of that delicious wedding cake.)
If you think your dog can handle the wedding, make sure your venue is dog friendly. Loft spaces and private homes are your best bets for indoor spaces. It is illegal to bring dogs into restaurants for health code reasons; most public buildings—city halls, courthouses—have similar laws. Even many churches and synagogues won’t let you walk your pooch down the aisle, but even if your dog can’t be a part of the ceremony, it may be able to attend the reception. Again, check with your reception venue to make sure.
Most outdoor sites can accommodate a dog with no problem. Just make sure to keep a bowl of fresh water nearby and to have that designated dog handler give your pup a spin around the block—before pooch leads you down the aisle. (Our dear Ernest will mark anything outside, I mean anything—so we are getting married inside, at a loft.) At the same time you check with your venue, make sure you check with your officiant; some may not preside over a ceremony that includes pets. It’s also a good idea to take your dog to the venue a day or two before the wedding, as a familiar space will be more comfortable on the big day.
You must also decide what role your dog will play. Many companies now make special ring-bearing pillows that will attach to your dog’s collar. If you are crafty, you can attach any small ring-bearing pillow to a length of ribbon tied around your dog’s neck. Your dog can simply accompany an attendant down the aisle. Consider buying a special collar that coordinates with your wedding party’s attire. Mrs. Bones  offers a huge selection of brocade collars in different widths, and Designing Dogs  has handmade collars that can be personalized with your pup’s name. You could also ask your florist to design a wreath of flowers for your dog to wear. Make sure whatever your dog is going to wear that you give it a trial run before the big event, especially if your dog isn’t used to “dressing up.” My friend Lisa-Erika found a tiny tux for her Miniature Yorkie, and then she plopped Buddy on a pillow in a pretty basket carried by her maid of honor.
Finally, remember to bring your dog supplies (food, water, treats, brush, whatever you need) and to have a designated driver for your dog. I know Ernest won’t be interested in dancing the night away with us, so after the ceremony he’ll be given a nice long walk and then be whisked home, where he’ll find a nice, big bone next to his water bowl. I hope he will consider it a wedding gift.
Photographs by Eric Meffley, Faniel Snyder and Alice G. Patterson