There are those couples who wouldn’t think of banning their favorite creature from their wedding, whether it is a dog, a cat, or a parakeet. They would rather drop one of their family members from the invitation list than their beloved pets. Aunt Martha meet Bowser.
Then there are the vast majority of animal lovers whose anxiety over their pets’ unpredictable behavior keeps them from extending an invitation to them. There are also those who waffle back and forth on the matter. They would love to include their furry friends in the wedding day festivities, but for one reason or another can’t fully commit to it.
Make no mistake. With thoughtful consideration, you can include your pet and leave it up to your wedding photographer to consider capturing the special guest’s reaction to this most unique day.
Animals create excellent photographic opportunities. Whether it is during the actual ceremony, the reception or when you’re getting ready, pets can add a measure of spontaneity and fun to the photographs. WPJA award winner Ira Lippke notes, “[Pets] add a degree of personality to the wedding and keep it from being a run-of-the-mill type of event.”
In most cases, the pet attending the wedding happens to be a dog, since canines are most easily trained and socialized. So how do you know if your Fido is ready for his close-up? First, it’s important that you know how he reacts in a variety of situations. If you’re considering including him in the ceremony, know how he responds to large groups of people. Is he easily distracted? Can you (or an appointed individual) command his attention? Does he respond to basic commands, such as heel, sit, stay, etc.? WPJA Medallion recipient Julie Gelfand says, “You need to know whether the dog is going to be cooperative, so [the event] doesn’t turn into a joke. If the bride and groom want dignity in the processional, they need a dog who heels and is obedient.”
Gelfand’s award-winning photograph of a yellow Labrador standing in front of the bridesmaids exemplifies the model four-legged flower girl. The wedding took place outdoors, as many of the ones that include pets do, and the dog was adorned with a flower-covered collar. She was extremely well behaved, walking down the aisle with one of the bridesmaids, and she stood attentive and poised throughout the entire ceremony. Gelfand says that she took the photograph during the actual ceremony while the dog, entranced by the audience, looked out at them.
You can do all the planning and rehearsing with your furry friend, but in the end you may have to hold your breath and cross your fingers. Gelfand says, “It’s like sending a three-year-old flower girl down the aisle. You hope you’ve done everything you can so that it works well and then you just sit back and watch.” Although you never know what may come of it, a pet taking hold of the leash, so to speak, may result in a wonderful photograph.
WPJA award winner John Zich discovered this first-hand when he captured a bride’s black Labrador, Betty, leaping towards her. The Chicago, IL, USA-based photographer explains, “Betty was the ring bearer, and for much of the ceremony she was held in the back. When the time came to exchange the rings and her name was called, she ran down the aisle and landed a wet kiss on the bride.” The audience fell into laughter and Zich captured the kisses up close, resulting in two winning images. The first picture is of Betty’s initial leap towards the bride, while in the second, someone has gotten hold of her leash and she continues to lavish the bride with kisses.
The pet’s toy or bedding can be helpful in fostering a sense of comfort and security. Lippke recalls one wedding in which the bride and groom helped to keep their small dog in line by placing a familiar pillow next to them during the ceremony. When the dog walked down the aisle, he knew to go straight to the pillow and sat there contentedly from the processional to the recessional.
It’s always a good idea to put someone other than the marrying couple in charge of the dog. “It should be someone that the pet feels comfortable with,” Gelfand notes. And if you think watching over your pet would be too much responsibility for one of your guests to shoulder, then your pet isn’t ready to walk the processional.
With all the activity going on, it’s important to create as comfortable an environment for the animal as possible. This means putting him on a leash if that’s what he’s accustomed to. Give him a small role in the wedding, just enough for that fun and clever photograph.
If your furry friend isn’t ready for an audience, there are other ways you can include him in your wedding festivities and the accompanying pictures. Having him hang around while the bridal party gets ready for the big day is one. However, be sure that your pet can be trusted with all the mesh/lace and expensive gowns/dresses. Fido chewing up the dress an hour before the ceremony could be a big disaster.
Lippke discovered a wonderful photographic opportunity when one of his clients invited her small white pup into her hotel room while she and her bridesmaids got dressed. The resulting award-winning photo captures the dog with the bride’s purple panties dangling from his mouth. Lippke recalls that the bride did not notice what her pup had captured when he documented the moment. The dog continued to walk around the room with his prize before finding a nice sitting spot on the train of her dress.
Gelfand, an animal lover herself, is always excited when her clients choose to include their pets in the day’s events. Even if it’s just for a short while, it can make a big statement. She says, “The pictures of animals in the ‘getting ready’ room can be very funny. Here’s a time when the bride is getting ready, and the pet is a mark of normalcy, looking around wondering what is going on around here. It’s an excellent place for humor.” Gelfand has also photographed cats who often find their way into the ‘getting ready’ room, and with their customary aloofness can provide an added layer of interest.
Pets play a large role in many peoples’ lives, and for some couples it makes sense to consider including them in the wedding activities. They can provide another aspect to the day, and subsequently to your photographs, creating memories and moments that last.
—by Lauren Ragland for the Wedding Photojournalist Association