So you are getting married – congratulations!
Your happiness is complete, and so is your family: you and your soon-to-be spouse, and your dog, of course! Your faithful companion of so many years, who shared your ups and downs and never let you down in his undying love and devotion. Your dog is a family member, like a child. Your dog will share the joy of the most important day in your life – unthinkable to exclude him/her, right?
Right. I agree. I feel the same way. But, unfortunately, not everybody does!
Plan ahead – way ahead!
For starters, if you are planning a ceremony at church or another house of worship, your four-legged companion cannot join you. Same at most indoor ceremony sites (unless you are lucky enough that your friends own a gorgeous mansion and will of course host your Great Day…). Overall, there are very few dog-friendly wedding venues, meaning your selection is limited. Your best bet is an outdoors ceremony and reception, but even public parks often have restrictions. In San Francisco, where I live, the presence of a dog in the ceremony and during the outdoor reception in a park has to be applied for and specially permitted.
An outdoors celebration, of course, restricts you to the fair-weather months in your specific region. Therefore, if you feel your wedding is not complete without your furry friend, as we felt, you need to plan early. And once you have identified a selection of possible venues, bring your dog along for site visits (at hotels and the like) and observe how the staff reacts to your dog. That will tell you a lot! When we first visited our front-runner venue, on a hot day, our dog exploited a split-second of our distraction to jump in their reflecting pool, emerging dripping wet and dirty – a nightmare! Our hostess’ reaction was not a hysterical scream, but a stack of towels… needless to say, we booked this venue!
Be prepared – think like a dog!
Wedding preparation time is stressful for everyone, even for your dog! As you well know, dogs are very sensitive and pick up the tension. Some may even develop psychosomatic reactions of all kinds. Wedding day itself can stress your dog to the limit. Just think of it: nobody has time to properly take care of him/her, the normal routine does not happen, instead there is a trip to some unfamiliar place that under normal circumstances would require extensive exploration including sniffing and marking. For incomprehensible reasons this is not allowed today. The regular caregivers are busy otherwise. Any dog except for the absolutely good-natured ones will try to enforce some attention, be it through barking, pawing, running away, rolling in the mud or any number of other behaviors that his/her humans somehow do not like.
Ceremony and celebration from your dog’s perspective
Once the ceremony is under way, it’s getting even trickier for you doggie: he/she is required to be quiet or even perform ring bearer duties. Once that is over, at the reception, all attention will be showered on the newlyweds and no attention at your dog who might find plenty of opportunity to wreak havoc with tablecloths and long gowns. The concluding festive dinner is, of course, the worst of all: just imagine he SMELLS!! As you will have heard, a dog’s olfactory brain (the part processing the sense of smell) is seven times the size we humans possess. A dog perceives the world through smell. And a banquet from which your doggie is excluded is torture, plain and simple!
One other thing: what we humans enjoy as music, might not exactly be to your dog’s liking. Dogs can hear much higher frequencies than humans, and ours is especially sensitive to certain famous sopranos. Hearing Maria Callas sing her high notes, our doggie rolls on the ground and covers his ears with his paws. Certain violin tunes, on the other hand, elicit in him the irrepressible urge to sing (aka howl) along… You might want to give this observation some consideration ahead of time!
Now that I have laid out before you a true horror scenario, I’ll have to come up with solutions. The most important step is to enlist help, in your doggie’s best interest, but just as much in your own. Your doggie needs his/her own caregiver throughout the day to ensure as much regular routine as possible.
Preferably this will be a dog walker your dog is already familiar and comfortable with. This way, your darling can take walks and naps as he/she is used to; there will be someone to keep her hydrated and well-fed, to keep her out of too much sun during an outside ceremony, and so much more! By the way, don’t forget sunscreen for rosy noses – and “doggles” for the fun of it if your dog likes them. They definitely look ultra-cool!
We invited our dog Buzz’s favorite dog walker, Liz, to come to our two-day destination wedding (three hours away) with us as our guest – and she’d take care of Buzz on the day of the wedding, through ceremony and reception, then take him for a walk and a nap, and be back for our dinner on the loggia, where she was seated a little away from the main table with her charge. There, they both feasted on Filet Mignon! And when it was getting late, the two of them quietly retreated to her dog-friendly hotel room for the night, giving the grown-ups time to party. It proved the perfect solution, and Liz loved her mini-vacation. I’d really recommend something like this plan to all dog-lovers on their way to the altar!
And now the fun part!
Since everybody’s dressing up on wedding day, you may think of dressing up your doggie to match. That’s great! There are so many fun outfits to choose from, both for doggie boys and girls, starting with bowties and barrettes and going on to full tuxedoes and tutus. The sky’s the limit! Or perhaps also your dog’s size (what looks adorable and totally cute on a Maltese might look a bit, well, ridiculous on a Great Dane…). And dogs with a thick coat like ours might feel quite uncomfortable in their unfamiliar finery and try their best to shake it off. With Buzz, we didn’t even try. He got an extra bath for a shiny fur and was just his gorgeous self.
Being dog-people, at least some of the friends you’re inviting will be dog-people, too. Don’t forget the doggie favors for the attending dog parents to take home – in our case, these were probably more sought-after than the “people favors!” For the human guests, we gave away home-made limoncello packed in little paper handlebags, and for the doggies the bags looked quite the same – except for lots of little dog stickers! Big success; not one was left over!
And afterwards – the Honeymoon!
With dog or without?
This one time, maybe, without – right? But where to leave your furry friend? Lucky you if your parents, siblings or best friends can’t wait to borrow your four-legged partner for however long your honeymoon lasts! Otherwise… another “plan ahead” item to take care of. Find a reputable kennel or dog hotel (e.g. in the San Francisco Bay Area, there is the “wag” hotel, check it out!) or find a dog sitter who’ll stay in your home with Fido. Just make sure this dog sitter will actually be home most of the time and will not leave your dog alone all day! Best of course is a word-of-mouth recommendation; in any case, you could ask your vet. Make sure the dog sitter of your choice is insured and bonded and check his/her references. What actually worked best for us was a dog walker who offered to invite our dog to her home as a single house guest and to take him on her regular walks with other dogs. This way, our dog was rarely if ever alone and returned well exercised and socialized – needless to say, he is still excited to see this dog walker! If you want to go this route, make sure to give it a few trial runs well ahead of time so that your doggie already feels at home with the dog walker BEFORE you leave him/her there for longer. That way you may also take a peek at your darling’s temporary home.
And lastly, make arrangements with your vet. Let him/her know that you are going away, and leave the dates, your contact information and the name of your dog’s caregiver in the office. Also leave a signed statement what to do in case your dog should need treatment, who will make any decisions if you can’t be reached – and preferably also leave your credit card authorization. That way you have the peace of mind that if the unforeseen happens, your doggie will be in good hands, and everything will be done to ensure his/her safety.
And with this, the road map is laid out for you – get excited, get going, and have a day like no other!