When Kelly Curry was planning her wedding, she knew her dogs Charlie, Zoey and Izzy were going to be in it, and that her friends would expect no less.
"They'd be surprised if they weren't there," says Curry.
The question was how to make it work. She happened to see a social-media post about a pet wedding service, Pawfect for You ("Wedding Day Pet Care and Chauffeur"), which offered to do it all: pick the dogs up, wrangle them during the event, and bring them home again safely, letting the bridal couple enjoy their perfect day with no worries.
"I thought it was a joke," said Curry, who was married in October 2017 in Haddam, Connecticut. It wasn't, and she got in touch with Pawfect for You's owner, Veronica Silva.
"We had them there for everything except for the reception — for the pictures, and they walked down with bridesmaids and groomsmen," Curry says.
One potential complication was the elderly Charlie, who'd always been a bit of a handful and had recently gone blind. "I explained to her that he had issues," Curry says, "and she gladly accepted to take him, and she did a great job with him."
It's hard for brides and grooms to find a friend who can handle their pup all day on the wedding day, says Silva.
"How do you coordinate this when everyone you know is at your wedding and anyone close to you is in your wedding party? How can they go home, pick up the dog, bring the dog over for pictures, coordinate how the dog walks down the aisle?" says Silva. "And then you're stuck with, everyone's sitting down for dinner, how can I get the dog back home without imposing on someone?"
Having a dog in a wedding is about more than the dog. For one thing, it's about timing.
"Dogwalkers commit to a window, not a specific time, which is normally fine, but weddings are different," says Silva. "Some of the timelines I've seen from professional wedding planners are down to the minute, and we have to be cognizant of that."
Lara Leinen, whose company, Doggy Social MN , services the Twin Cities area and Wisconsin, had a previous career as a wedding planner, so she knows what goes into it.
"I'm working on the back end with all the vendors to make sure the couple's day is perfect," for them and the dog, she says. "I want it to be stress-free for everyone involved. I reach out and let them know who I am and what I'm doing and that if timelines get off, let me know and we'll roll with the punches."
She makes sure the pet is getting potty breaks, water, etc. "I'm constantly paying attention to the energy of the animals and making sure that they're happy," Leinen says.
The handler also helps ensure that pets play their roles comfortably and efficiently.
"We walk around with chicken, cheese, turkey, proscuitto in our pockets," says Silva. That helps with the photos in particular, especially with those tight timelines: "We need to make sure we're not taking a hundred shots trying to get the dog to look at the camera."
Not so long ago, the idea of having your pet in your wedding might have sounded eccentric, but not anymore. Leinen feels that her clients make good choices based on knowing their pets. If they're not up to crowds, the plan is made accordingly.
"One couple, their dog had a severe case of anxiety," she says. "So we decided we'd only be there for the first look and the pictures for 20 minutes — just the couple and their dogs, no bridal party or anyone else."
Such sensible choices mean the "pet" in a wedding is almost always a dog. Silva has had some inquiries about cats but no one's gone through with it. Leinen has her first feline wedding client scheduled for May, with a cat who's comfortable riding in a backpack carrier.
"And if at any point in time we feel it's too much for the animal, we have the OK from the couple to back out — we're going to change course and do something different," she says. After all, "they're busy getting married."
And while many couples, like Curry, have their dogs walk down the aisle, there are also many who just have them there briefly for photos, and then the handler takes them home. That may be a more limited sort of involvement, but it might be the most important.
"For most couples, one of those images with their dog in it — that is going to be their favorite photo," says Leinen. "Maybe not their favorite moment — maybe later when they're dancing alone with their significant other on their wedding night will be the most significant moment to them. But picture-wise, it's the dog picture."