Ruta Smith

Many young couples consider their dogs to be like their children, and when it’s time to walk down the aisle together, more and more couples are choosing to include their furry friends in the big day. Though this trend isn’t new, it has gained a lot of staying power in the last five years — and it’s usually attributed to the way that millennials think about their pets.

Despite the criticism from older generations that millennials aren’t focused on owning property, a research study conducted by Harris Poll in 2017 found that 33 percent of millennials who have purchased homes did so because they wanted more room for their dog. Overall, having room for a dog figured in as a larger factor than getting married (25 percent) and expecting a child (19 percent). When a group of millennials who are not homeowners were asked about their reasons for wanting to someday purchase property, 42 percent also cited “room for a dog” as a top reason. Who ever said millennials were selfish?

We may love our avocado toasts and mimosa carafes, but we also love our animals, and it shows. Mallory Cooper, the owner of Charleston Dog Walker, which offers dog walking, sitting, and wedding services, has noticed the trend. “I think it’s such a great option for a wedding ceremony because, for a lot of young couples, the first step of making a relationship more serious is getting a puppy together,” she explains. “Once they get engaged and start planning the wedding, the puppy is really part of their family and they want their dog there with them to celebrate.”

Millennials are certainly hopping on board with having their dogs in their wedding ceremonies, and couples of all ages are starting to pick up on the trend. Charleston wedding planner Michael Winship says that about 50 percent of his couples want to include their dogs in their wedding in some capacity. “I think it has to do with the venues in Charleston,” he explains. “A lot of people want to get married here because of our outdoor spaces, and these venues that are allowing couples to bring their fur babies into the ceremony really help.”

A dog owner himself, Winship has helped dozens of couples make their doggie wedding dreams come true since starting his company Charleston Wedding Planner 18 years ago, though he thinks the trend has really picked up in the last five years. “People can go on Pinterest or Google now and they see all of these photos of dogs being part of the wedding, and they want that,” he says. “But, I don’t think it’s just a trend. I think we’re going to continue seeing this for a long time to come.”

Winship enjoys working closely with couples that want their pets at the wedding because he feels as though it allows him a certain level of creativity. Another local dog walker, Jessica Taylor, is Winship’s go-to girl for all things dog care-related, and Taylor has recently begun getting into the dog wedding services business, too. “Your dog is really your best friend,” she says. “They’re always there even when no one else is, so it makes sense why so many people want their dogs in the ceremony or even just for pictures. You want those forever photos with your dog because your dog completes your home, so why not have it complete your wedding?”

Cooper says her company has seen dozens of different ways couples have made their dogs an important part of the big day, from attending the photoshoot before the ceremony to actually being the ring bearer or the flower girl. “The most unique example I’ve seen is a few people have had their dog be the best man,” Cooper says, chuckling. “It’s the cutest thing ever. And, of course, they are always dressed up. Sometimes with a flower leash or a bow tie. One couple even got a doggie tuxedo made for the wedding.”

Aside from his wedding planning, Winship also officiates weddings for couples, and he’s started to use a new method of getting the dogs involved in the ceremonies. For couples who each had their own dog prior to their relationship, Winship will incorporate each into the vows, asking the bride or groom if they will take both their partner and their partner’s dog to be their lawfully wedded spouse. “It’s not uncommon to do this for people who have children and are becoming blended families,” he explains. “It’s the same for the dogs, we’re helping to really make them a part of the family.”

While seeing the dog at the wedding is a joyful addition to the day for both the couple and their guests, it’s not all fetch and games. There’s a lot of preparation that goes into planning for the dog’s role in the wedding to ensure that the pet itself is comfortable and that the ceremony runs smoothly. The first step for both Cooper and Taylor is to have an in-depth conversation with the couple to get a solid understanding of the dog’s behavior, so they know what to expect at the wedding. “I want to know everything about the dog,” says Taylor. “I don’t want to have to bother the bride or groom at any point that day, so I need to know things like the dog’s temperament, whether they have any allergies or sensitivities, if they take medication, if there’s water near the venue, are they going to go nuts and try to jump in? I just want to be as prepared as possible.”

Winship, Taylor, and Cooper all agree that couples need to understand that weddings can be exhausting and sometimes stressful for dogs, which is why they recommend really considering your dog’s personality before deciding to include them. Some dogs are well-suited to stay through the ceremony and even the reception while others are better off staying for just the ceremony or the photos before being taken home.

Cooper’s company will work with couples to determine how they want the dog to be involved. Then, they will help care for the dog before the service and give the bridesmaid or groomsmen some direction on how to handle the dog as they walk down the aisle. After the ceremony, Cooper or one of her employees will take the dog back home or stay with the dog during the cocktail hour, allowing guests the chance to come say hello. “It’s a bit of a novelty for the guests,” she says. “They’ll get there and be like, ‘Oh my God, their dog is here!’ and then they usually end up saying something like, ‘Oh, but it makes so much sense. They love their dog so much, this is so them.’ And people love it.”

If you’re planning your own wedding, and you want your dog to be a part of the big day too, better go ahead and have someone designated to care for the dog. Let your family have the day off, hire one of these experienced dog sitters to make your wedding day complete. “For so many people, their dogs are their children,” says Winship. “They have been with the couple since they’ve been together, and a lot of people bring their dogs into their relationships, so it’s a real priority to have them there.”

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