When envisioning your wedding day, after listing off your maid-of honor, best man and wedding party members, does your furry (or feathered?) best friend, Fido, make the top of the list? For many couples, the ceremony includes a family pet. There are several ways to include your pets in your wedding, whether in a formal role, as ring bearer or flower dog, or more informally as an honored guest. Pets help personalize the affair.


Brides and grooms who can’t foresee experiencing this special day without all family members represented are finding ways of incorporating pets and other members of the animal kingdom into their ceremony.  From butterflies to goldfish to doves, the range of animals able to help out when called upon is impressive. But the most popular, is man’s best friend. He’s the loyal, highly social and loving dog.


When considering including your pet in the ceremony, there are a few issues to consider. Does the venue allow animals? Are animals appropriate for your wedding? It’s important to distinguish your undying love for your pet from the reality of the day’s logistics. Remember that a farmhouse or private home affair is usually more conducive to the animal factor, compared to a luxury hotel.


Perhaps you’ve chosen a reception site that bans animals. A simple alternative is to have your dog meet you at the doors of the ceremony site (escorted by a pet handler), to accompany you and your procession to the reception site. This allows your pet to participate while never breaking the rules.


Not all pets are suitable for wedding participation. Couples should be honest with each other about their pet’s temperament and determine their level of aggressiveness. It’s better to know sooner than later whether the animal will noisily interrupt the ceremony or steal guests’ food. Weddings can make some animals uncomfortable. Couples should assess how their pet behaves around large, noisy crowds and assume this will be his usual public reaction.


The type of animal you have may also help dictate his role in the wedding. Some couples with smaller, less social pets such as ferrets, guinea pigs or lizards 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 cage.


Once it’s agreed that the pet is officially a part of the big day, the couple must next decide his role. Lately, dogs have been seen as ring bearers and flower dogs. As ring bearer, there must be extreme trust that the dog can fulfill the important task of shuttling the ring to the prospective bride or groom. As flower dog, the dog can carry the flowers easily in his mouth, as long as the flowers won’t be passed along to a human wedding participant. Oftentimes, a mellow, older dog is more qualified for these particular jobs. Other roles that dogs have fulfilled include accompanying the bride down the aisle and standing as maid-of-honor and best man. Small dogs have played the role of bride’s bouquet, where the bride carried her tiny, furry friend instead of a flower bouquet.


Be prepared for the wrath of your mothers, your great-aunts and anyone else who believe that animals have no place in a church and especially at a wedding ceremony. Be prepared also for your good friends and family to remember the presence of your beloved pet over everything else that day. Our pets should share the major events of our lives, despite what Aunt Betty thinks.


Once you agree to include your pet, you should inform your attendants, officiant and vendors of the pet’s participation. Some may refuse to participate in a ceremony that includes animals and you want to make sure everyone shares your enthusiasm for your pet’s role in the special day.


When dressing your pooch, remember to have him groomed before the wedding, to ensure he puts his best paw forward. Keep adornments to a minimal and don’t make him wear them for longer than is really necessary. A simple flower-adorned collar or bow-tie collar conveys the festive message without going overboard.


If you are considering including your pet, hire a pet handler whose job solely is to care for the pet. They will release the pet down the aisle, (depending on its breed and prior practice) calm its nerves and feed it. Delegating the pet-handling task to a friend or a professional will alleviate unnecessary stress. You avoid leaving the pet alone in an unfamiliar place and reduce the stress of constantly monitoring the animal’s behavior. There will already be several areas where your attention will be requested and not having to watch Fido is one to check off the to-do list.


After contemplating the outcome, some couples have chosen to include their animals by displaying framed pet photographs near the guest book, referring to them in the program or using the pet’s image to decorate favor packages. Another unique way to include a pet in the ceremony without them physically being there is by creating cuff links using the pet’s photo. This way, the pet is still a part of the ceremony, right on the groom’s arm.


It‘s a good idea to bring your pet to the site before the wedding day and verify there are no potential hazards, including pesticides, toxic plants and other creatures that might threaten or distract your pet. In order to alleviate any uncertainties, include your pet in the rehearsal to practice his part. Have a plan where to keep the animal in air conditioning if it’s a hot month, since animals usually can’t handle the heat.


The traditional ‘throwing of the rice or birdseed’ at the end of wedding ceremonies has evolved and now the send-off can include bubble blowing or the release of colorful butterflies. It’s a unique and beautiful addition to any wedding, as hundreds of the colorful insects launch into the air to punctuate the ceremony.


Before ordering your butterflies, it is important to remember that butterflies are susceptible to low temperatures. For a proper exit, it is recommended that the wedding take place in spring or summer. You don’t want to be remembered for the dead-butterfly send-off.


If butterflies don’t make your heart flutter or you already have planned a January wedding, perhaps you could send doves flying through the sky. For centuries doves have represented peace and love – a very fitting wedding theme. Releasing a dozen doves as the bride and groom exit the building is sure to make the wedding memorable.


Even goldfish are making their mark on the wedding circuit -- as reception centerpieces. A small glass bowl filled with water, colored stones and a lively swimming goldfish makes a charming, inexpensive decoration, as well as a great conversation topic. The bowl and fish can be given as a gift to guests.


Flexibility is key when including pets in wedding ceremonies. Animals are individuals and it’s impossible to predict their next move. An ability to adapt to unexpected situations and a relaxed attitude is vital.  If you have difficulty loosening the leash, you might think twice about tasking Fido with the responsibility of flower dog.


Most importantly, the choice to include your pet should be tasteful. The bride is the wedding’s star and your pet shouldn’t inadvertently steal the limelight. It’s a day to share with family and friends and in some cases, the family pet.

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