How do you have a dog in your marriage? Hire a Pet Coordinator
This was supposed to be Pepper’s grand entrance.
Amy Fiala looked after the 2-year-old black lab while waiting for the wedding to start. Now was the time for the transfer. The bridesmaid, in her forest green dress, escorted Pepper down the aisle to hang out with the rest of the wedding party as her owners said “I do.”
Fiala knew exactly how this was supposed to happen. Pepper strutted down the aisle.
“Awwwwwweveryone would coo. They always do.
Then Pepper started sniffing the floor. Sniff. Sniff.
It could only mean one thing, and Fiala knew it would be a disaster. A large. One of the worst.
Pepper had to poop.
Fiala practically panicked. It couldn’t happen. Not here. After all, while you’re pledging your love to The One, you don’t want to see your dog become number two.
But that was why the bride hired Fiala. Pepper’s business was her business.
Let’s take a quick rideshe thought.
Austin’s 42-year-old wife directs A Wedding Tail by Services for dogs during play in Austin, Texas. She and her 10 employees work the wedding circuit, tending to the dogs on a couple’s big day.
Years ago, including a pet in an otherwise traditional wedding might have been pretty close to verboten. (What if he rushes the cake?)
As pets became part of the daily lives of couples, they started to appear in the biggest days of their lives.
But whether the animal belongs to half of the happy couple or both, the folks at the altar have their hands full. So the task of handling the dog of honor could have fallen to a distant cousin or a nephew with a pocket of jerky treats.
Now, paid wedding pet coordinators are offering to take the reins – well, usually the leash – with the promise that the pets will hit their marks, whether they come to the ceremony on a cart or they walk down the aisle to mom or dad on cue.
Their job is to make sure everything is orchestrated. That the best dog is cute, calm and freshly groomed (yes, you got that).
And of course, no bride or groom (or, gasp, in-laws) will never have to worry about pulling a doggie bag out of this variety.
Dogs are the most common non-homosapiens in the wedding party, says Gabriella Rello Duffy, editorial director of Brides. But Rello Duffy, whose site published an article on 50 ways to include pets in weddings, says he saw cats, horses and even birds make an appearance. The spread included at least one alpaca.
“It’s all about personalization,” she said. (A cat in a tuxedo? A pair of lovebirds? The possibilities seem endless.)
Some say COVID is playing a part in how many gigs wedding pet attendants get. Many people had pets during the height of the pandemic, said Clare Sheehan, wedding pet coordinator for The Pet Gal, which operates in Texas, Colorado and Hawaii. Now that they are getting married, they want their dogs to be part of the festivities, much to the delight of most guests.
Getting these animals to play their roles seamlessly isn’t as simple as it sounds. For this to work, it needs a dog mix psychology, experience, patience, problem solving and quick thinking.
Especially when nature calls.
Every second counted when Pepper made her intentions clear on the day of the wedding at a ranch outside Austin.
Classical music played as Fiala commandeered the bridesmaid’s leash, jogged 10 feet, and silently pleaded with Pepper to get her things done quickly.
Jar, jar, jarshe thought.
Pepper did. Fiala rushed to the bridesmaid just in time. Moments later, Fiala’s favorite part of every wedding happened, as she always has.
What exactly does a wedding pet attendant do?
When Jordi Booher decided to marry in 2021, there was never any question of his two golden retrievers being at the wedding.
The 31-year-old teacher from Lakeway, Texas was devoted to Ellie and Butters. She and her then-fiancé, Nick, had adopted the two during the pandemic.
The dogs did everything with the engaged couple. Booher even knows their birthdays (February 21 and March 21, in case you were thinking of sending a card).
“We put on little party hats and give them treats and take them to Petco to pick out their own toys,” Booher said.
But… take a few rambunctious retrievers – whose lives revolve around running, swimming and chasing balls – and turn them into docile members of the wedding party? It seemed an unlikely proposition.
The company is certainly not new. Wedding pet attendants have been around for at least a decade, if not longer, Rello Duffy said. But while hard numbers on the pet attendant industry are hard to come by, overall wedding spending has rebounded since the pandemic subsided, and pets are becoming more entrenched in wedding ceremonies.
Pet sitters don’t come cheap. Some charge $200 an hour or more. But it’s money well spent, she says, because caring for a pet on the big day is a big responsibility.
“A pet will really go a long way,” said Rello Duffy.
Don’t think they just show up to the ceremony and hope for the best. Many attendants interview couples beforehand, asking about their beloved dog’s personality, quirks, breed, age, fears, activity level – anything that might affect the ceremony or the dog. himself.
Attendants may also show up to walk the future star in the days leading up to the wedding. Is he a shooter? A speed demon? A sweet old soul just waiting to be hugged?
During this time, someone has to bring the dogs to the scene, burn off their energy with long walks, make sure their bladders are empty with frequent potty breaks. They need to be fed and watered.
And then the dog must be staged and pampered while waiting for its big moment. If they are wearing a tuxedo, flower collar, bow tie, or other costume, they must be dressed.
“Dogs in outfits are always a hit,” Sheehan said.
As for Booher’s wedding, Fiala had both Ellie and Butters in top form, complete with white bow ties.
Of course dogs will be dogs.
Pretty but stupid Butters practically dragged the bridesmaid down the aisle. The smart and stoic Ellie maintained her dignity.
The crowd loved it.
“I heard a lot of laughter in the audience,” Booher said.
How to prepare for the big day
That’s the kind of joy Fiala has always had about animals.
As a child, she spent every summer on her parents’ farm in Missouri. There were goats and chickens and horses and, of course, dogs. The Great Danes played outside while the Great Pyrenees watched over the goats.
“My father always knew how to find me in the stable with the horses or in the yard with our dogs,” Fiala said. “That’s exactly where I was.”
His mother-in-law taught him dog body language. Stressed dogs may pant, pin their ears, or tuck their tail. The mischievous quickly wag their tails, shake their buttocks or jump.
All of this plays a big part in handling dogs at a wedding, she said. “My job is to make sure the dog is happy and healthy and in good spirits.”
Fiala started her pet walking business in 2009 after spending three years as an account manager for Belo Media. But it wasn’t until after her own wedding in 2013 (where groom Rick, Great Dane Kya and Pomeranian Mr. Big were all in attendance) that she realized she might be onto something.
“I thought to myself, ‘There must be other crazy female dogs too!'” she said.
Since then, she has seen all kinds of dogs. Those who drop to the ground to rub their bellies. Those who begged for food at happy hour. Those who pose like divas for wedding photos and those who prefer to be at home taking a nap.
And then there was the one who almost got her out. When a couple traveled to downtown Austin to take photos of their wedding, Fiala accompanied their young, 60-pound Lab Shepherd. All was well until the group was separated by a red light, with the happy couple on one side of the street and their dog on the other.
“He went crazy,” Fiala said.
Fiala is a former fitness trainer and college football player, and she wore at least one size. Nevertheless, it was all she could do to stay up and keep the dog out of traffic.
But the pup and parents were soon reunited and all was well again. As it should be on a wedding day.
“I needed an Epsom salt bath after that,” Fiala said. “It was good. It’s all part of the territory.