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How to pull off a pet-inclusive wedding

A dog sitting in front of his owner in a wedding

Wedding planning can be a monumental task that often takes months (or longer) to do. On the big day, happy couples want to be surrounded by the ones most important to them. And for pet parents, that means their furry, fuzzy, sometimes unpredictable besties.

Including a pet in a wedding celebration is a meaningful and symbolic way to come together as a family. And with some smart, strategic planning, it can go off without a hitch.

For some guidance on how to make sure both humans and pets enjoy the big day, we spoke with Animal Care Expert, Lisa Sondergaard, who’s been planning her own pup-inclusive wedding.

Here’s some of the planning and preparation advice she had to share with us:

Four-legged wedding guest etiquette: Tell everyone

From the people who run the venue to your photographer and your guests, if you’re having a pet present at your wedding, make sure everyone knows.

Finding out if pets are permitted at your chosen venue is the first step.

Ask about their policies when it comes to non-human guests. At some venues, says Lisa, it's a hard no. “But we lucked out and all the venues we talked with said yes — with conditions,” she adds. “All of them said that as soon as there's food being served, pets can't be around, which I think is a pretty normal thing.”

Guests, too, should be given a heads up that your pet is attending part or all of the wedding. “Let all vendors and guests know that there's going to be a dog present,” Lisa recommends. “Some people forget and then [find out that] the photographer's afraid of dogs.” This is information you want everyone to have before the day of the wedding.

A cat sitting on the floor looking up

Do a dress rehearsal (or three)

Will your pet be walking down the aisle, either with you or someone else? Will they be wearing a wedding-themed outfit? Are you giving them the all-important task of Best Dog or Ring Bearer? If so, we have one word of advice: PRACTICE.

Pets who aren’t used to dressing up in elaborate outfits or carrying things might be thrown off by the experience.

Pet Valu offers a range of celebratory clothing options, making it easy to find something your pet will want to wear — whether it’s a tiny tux, a full flower girl dress or a simple wedding-themed bandana.

Pets may become impatient as they watch their people just…stand there…during the ceremony (like, is there a reason we aren’t playing fetch right now?). Lisa plans on bringing a bed for her dog Bruce so that he has a familiar, comfortable home base to hang out on, as vows are exchanged.

A new toy may also help keep a pet occupied. Pet Valu has a ton of event-themed toys, including a very wedding appropriate champagne launcher… just be sure to avoid items that squeak!

A cute puppy sitting on the floor

Enlist all the help

If you won’t be walking your pet down the aisle, make sure that someone your pet knows well is doing that task.

The same advice goes for when vows are exchanged. If your pet is being minded by someone they know and love, the likelihood of barking is probably going to decrease.

For Lisa’s wedding, Bruce will attend the ceremony and then head back to the hotel for his own private celebratory meal. If your pet has a regular walker or sitter, hire them for the day or even overnight so your BFF has someone familiar to hang out with.

Squirrel!

Remember: it’s a wedding and sometimes unexpected challenges arise.

To keep your pet safe and happy, it’s best to overplan and over prepare. Bring a spare leash. Bring toys and treats. Bring poop bags and know that your pet could decide they need one at the most inopportune time. (Hopefully not half way down the aisle.)

Most of all, bring your patience and understanding. A squirrel is a squirrel, even on your wedding day. Your pet doesn’t know the difference.

“They're like a child,” says Lisa. “Some dogs, when they’re faced with an aisle, no matter how many times they practice, they will try to greet every single person that they see, or try to eat the flowers, or run away. If there's bubbles, they might be afraid of bubbles.”

She continues with other what-ifs: “They might try and make a beeline to their owner as fast as possible and knock them over. They might just sit and not do anything,” she explains, adding, “You have to treat them like kids. You have to be able to roll with the punches.

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