How to incorporate your pets into your wedding day

It’s a moment wedding guests greet with anticipation — the bride walking down the aisle. Speaking to her personality, Jessi Soares chose to ride bareback down the aisle on her horse, Zula’s Flying Angel. 

Those who knew Soares were well aware of her special bond with “Ange” and expected nothing less. “She shaped me into the person I am,” Soares says. “I got her when she was 6 months old, and I didn’t even have my driver’s license yet.” Soares’ betrothed, Kristina Gatta, was onboard with Ange participating in the ceremony. “When Kris joined my life, she married my horse, too,” Soares says. “The two of them have their own, unique relationship. Ange is a big part of our lives.” 

By the time the wedding took place in 2014, Ange was 14. The saddlebred thoroughbred cross had years of experience competing in equine events. As a result, Soares says, “Nothing freaked her out.”

Still, the couple approached Ange’s participation in the wedding carefully. “Horses are routine-based animals and very sensitive,” Soares says. Keeping in mind the 250 wedding guests, specific steps were taken pre-wedding. “For couples considering having beloved pets in their wedding, practice and patience are of the utmost importance,” Soares advises.

Wedding traditionalists might scoff, but animal participation in wedding ceremonies is increasingly common. Of course, adding sometimes-unpredictable non-human participants brings its own set of challenges.

In Ange’s case, several practice sessions were staged with the horse. “I can’t tell you how many times we set up chairs and had our friends show up as we practiced the routine of walking down the aisle and having Ange wear something to simulate the flowers she’d have around her neck,” she says. Possible things Ange might encounter were brought into the mix. “Our friends would jump up and down, hoot and holler, and wave things.” Practicing during inclement weather came into play, too. “We wanted to desensitize her to possibilities to build her confidence and get her ready.” The patience component of the couple’s approach, “Knowing, hey, she might not get it right on the first try.”

Guest safety came under consideration. “We’d attended a wedding with a boa constrictor,” Soares says. “The whole time, I was wondering if the snake would lash out and bite someone because the music was bumping, and everyone was moving so fast.” To make Ange’s presence at the wedding less intimidating to guests, Soares and Gatta spread chairs apart, and put elderly and slow-moving guests on outside rows for easy exits.

Incorporating beloved animals can make your wedding day even more special.

Jacklyn Greenberg/JAGstudios/Jacklyn Greenberg

Also strategic was choosing a wedding photographer experienced in working with animals. Jacklyn Greenberg of JAGstudios was called in for her expertise. “We’ve photographed weddings with horses, dogs, parrots, bunnies, goats, a beluga …” Greenberg says. “It’s important that a photographer working with animals is aware of everything from the clicks of the camera to the energy they put forth.” 

Introducing the pet to the photographer and camera equipment is critical. At JAGstudios, they don’t use flashes when photographing animals, making for a more organic experience. And, “It’s good to have extra time — whether at an engagement shoot or the wedding — built in because animals are somewhat unpredictable.” 

Greenberg was there for just such a fleeting moment during Soares and Gatta’s wedding. “Jess’ dress had a long train that was draped over Ange’s rump,” she recalls. “I was taking photographs of details of the dress, the flowers, and the shoes when I felt their energies shift.” Intuition kicking in, Greenberg quickly moved the train away. “Jess could have easily been tossed off right before she rode down the aisle.”

Highly recommended is having someone tending to the pet during wedding festivities. Greenberg says, “It’s nice if there’s another person — especially someone who can read animals and knows how to care for them — to help, be that a handler, friend or member of the wedding party.” 

Incorporating beloved animals can make your wedding day even more special.

Incorporating beloved animals can make your wedding day even more special.

Jacklyn Greenberg/JAGstudios/Jacklyn Greenberg

Laurie Ruttenberg, owner/president of Lucky Dog Resort in Middletown, Rhode Island, offers just such a service for New England couples. On their menu — beyond boarding, training and grooming — is Wedding Valet. For years, the business has been working with couples and their pets. This has seen them providing puppuccinos and pet massages at bridal showers to being a companion to pets at myriad wedding venues. 

Gauging a pet’s temperament when around crowds is important. “Weddings are very high-energy environments,” Ruttenberg says. “Dogs are creatures of habit, so this type of energetic exchange can cause them to shut down.” The Wedding Valet’s job, “We make sure the dog is comfy, happy, feels safe, and trusts us as their valet.” For this final component, Wedding Valet spends time getting to know pets prior to events.

Ruttenberg has seen mishaps with pets at weddings, “A pup with separation anxiety that got overly excited upon seeing his mom,” and successes, “One couple trained their dog for months so it would ride a remote-controlled convertible BMW into their reception.”

Yes, Greenberg says, “Pets always steal the show.” And that’s the point. “People love their animals and want them to be part of their wedding day, just as much as they’re part of their lives. There’s so much love there; it makes everyone happy.

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