When my husband and I married 35 years ago we had a dog named Jason that we both adored and two Siamese cats named J.J. and Jesse that I adored (Ted came around to being a cat servant later and is an excellent one today to Mendy and our female cat, The Divine Ms. Maude). But we had not given a single thought to including our beloved pets in our wedding ceremony. For one thing, both the ceremony and reception were held at the Bronx Zoo, so our pets wouldn’t have been allowed; but even if they had been the distraction of wildfowl wandering among the guests, the close proximity of very large beasts (in their open exhibits), aromas of Chicken Scaloppini, the temptation of sampling the wedding cake and all the people gathered around would have set off this trio and caused pandemonium.
That said, as a pet and wildlife lover I completely understand if a couple wishes to include their treasured pet(s) in their wedding ceremony. But, like young children, pets can be unpredictable, even if they are normally well-trained and well-behaved and you think you know them. Keep in mind, as well, that there might be changes happening in their living situations in the wake of their humans getting hitched, and too much change and excitement in a short period might not put pets at their best.
If you choose to go down this path (or aisle) with one or more of your pets, remember that they often adhere to a different set of etiquette rules than we humans do. That said, here are some ideas and tips:
- Maybe leave the cats at home. Felines generally are more independent and less cooperative than dogs (although there are exceptions). As much as you would love to have the kitties in the actual ceremony, they likely will not be terribly receptive to what they view as folderol. So, unless you’re getting married in your living room where they’re are used to hanging out, consider how uncomfortable your cats might be in a strange setting with a crowd of people and possibly having to wear fancy duds to boot. On the other hand, donning your wedding attire and arranging various wedding paraphernalia and (attempting to) dressing up your felines for a photo session at home prior to the big day can be a lot of fun for everyone. This is a safe and non-threatening way to make your pals a memorable part of your celebration and produce photos to include in your album. Be sure to provide plenty of treats, catnip, pats and praise!
- Include the dogs, which are generally more compliant. But take into account your canine’s personality (high strung or low key), response to commands (obeys you and others willingly and immediately), friendliness (doesn’t attack, bite or intimidate), age and state of health. The latter is important because you don’t want to put strain on your best friend if it’s hard for her or him to get around or if she or he has a condition that could worsen under stress. If you can check off all the positives you might be successful in adorning your pal and incorporating him or her into your wedding procession and/or ceremony.
- Birds, horses and more exotic or unusual pets should be included only if they are healthy, well trained and comfortable around people. You don’t want your pets, guests, officiant, caterers, staff or anyone to be harmed or frightened. Your bird gone berserk and zooming around the chapel, a chimpanzee jumping into the wedding cake or a horse trampling the rose garden at the country club might not go over well, although you might laugh about it later (on your 20th wedding anniversary when your friends are speaking to you again and you’ve paid off the damages). Select a wedding venue that is conducive to accommodating such pets.
- Check with your wedding party, officiant and ceremony and reception venues. You want to clear Fido’s participation with the members of your wedding party to ensure that no one is allergic to or fearful of dogs (or cats, horses, birds, etc.). Then, give your officiant a heads up, if you have already selected one. And, of course, check with your wedding site manager regarding the policy for allowing pets on the premises and including them in the ceremony and reception. Be prepared just in case you’re asked to pay extra for liability insurance or additional staff to handle any “accidents” or other cleanups.
- If your pets aren’t allowed at the wedding venue, ask if you could bring your dog, horse or other animal by on a day prior to the wedding for a photo shoot, conducted by yourself or your wedding photographer. If that’s not possible, you can take photos immediately after the ceremony or prior to the wedding (see bullet #1 above) at home or in a beautiful pet-friendly outdoor setting. You might have to create or recreate your wedding ceremony, but there’s always a way to make sure that your pet is included and memorialized in this special milestone of your life, so let your imagination flourish.
- Prepare your pet with training and rehearsal sessions. As an etiquette consultant and trainer, I appreciate a pet with good manners. If your wedding is far enough in the future that you have time to enroll your dog in obedience school, do so. But, even well behaved dogs require preparation and training to be a member of the wedding party. The American Kennel Club has a Canine Good Citizen’s Program that you might wish to look into for your wedding attendant-to-be pooch. If you will be including horses or unusual pets you likely know professional trainers who can help you prepare them for their important roles on your big day; if not, contact the people from whom you obtained your pet for guidance on training.
- Mention that your pet(s) will be in your wedding party in your save-the-date or invitation or on your website to alert those guests who are allergic, so that they can prepare or reply accordingly.
I asked Maude and Mendy’s veterinarian, Dr. Cynthia Eldredge, about including pets in weddings. She recalled, “One of my classmates at veterinary school had a very well trained young dog, and they put the little rings on his collar and they got married in the back yard, and when it was time for the rings he whistled and the dog just trotted down the aisle and he took the rings off the collar and there it was, so that was adorable and cute. My other girlfriend at veterinary school had a horse and also got married in the back yard – I see a theme here – as she rode the horse into the wedding sidesaddle.”
Next I asked Dr. Eldredge what she thought about giving pets tranquilizers to help them remain calm and better cope while participating in a wedding. She advised against doing so, saying that it’s difficult to determine the exact dosage that will be beneficial, resulting in the tranquilizer possibly having a negative effect on the animal. She explained that sedatives can lower inhibitions and cause a dog to bite or make the animal feel too sluggish to participate. Dr. Eldredge said that if a pet is high-strung or nervous to begin with it probably isn’t a candidate to be included in a wedding ceremony.
Using common sense, being well prepared and above all considering the well-being of your pets, guests as well as your own are the keys to successfully and joyfully putting pets on parade — or not — in celebration of your wedding.