Animals are newest guests of honor at weddings — and the photos aren’t bad either
A highlight of Eli and Zach’s wedding was the flapping chicken.
For their big day at a farm in Cobleskill, N.Y., the couple was intent on wrangling a hen for photos, so their photographer, Tracey Buyce, did what needed to be done.
“I held her first so if she went to the bathroom it was on me and not the bride,” Buyce said.
A brief chase around the coop led to one of Buyce’s favorite photos — man and wife, with a fidgeting hen trying to flee its perch on the bride’s arm.
If you’re reading this and dying to hold a chicken in your wedding finest, you’re not alone. With couples indulging their wildest wedding fantasies, this often means that a member of the animal kingdom — family pet, say, or exotic stand-in — is part of the celebration.
“We always try to accommodate whatever the bride and groom have in mind and to exceed their expectations,” said Lori Gregory of Mountain Peaks Therapy Llamas and Alpacas. “For several outdoor weddings, our animals have greeted guests as they arrived, then grazed off to the side of the ceremony to be available for children to pet.”
Gregory is the handler for Rojo and Smokey, therapy llamas who are guests at weddings in their home state of Washington. The two take part in ceremonies and pose for photos with wedding parties. They also dress for the occasion: Rojo wears groom’s attire while Smokey dons a veil and white garland around her long, furry neck.
Gregory confirms that over the past few years four-legged wedding guests have soared in popularity. When Gregory’s daughter married in 2011 with their ungulates present, the trend hadn’t taken off. But since 2013, Gregory has fielded 28 requests for wedding llamas.
Animals now represent a growing sector of the wedding industry. Buyce’s chicken shot is featured prominently on her website to set apart her business, which specializes in wedding and family photography with animals (she’s based in upstate New York, but will travel to Connecticut). Some 80 percent of her clients have pets, she said.
“I want clients who are animal lovers,” Buyce said. “It breaks the ice right away when you start to talk about your love of animals.”
Often Buyce’s clients want to use their own animals, but not always. Buyce recently brought Moose, her horse, to a wedding she photographed in Saratoga. “This bride,” Buyce said, “her dream was to have wedding photos with a horse. So we got him there and he performed really well.” Minus nibbling the groom’s beard — which made for a great photo.
Sometimes, the animals couples want can’t be found on a farm.
In 2013, a couple made headlines for having a 4.5-ton elephant, Taj, at their opulent Vegas nuptials. In Indian culture, the animal is considered good luck, but animal rights activists disapproved of the gesture, which cost the couple $10,000.
If an elephant isn’t in your budget, take a cue from couples who have been snapped alongside less exotic species — like penguins, owls and butterflies.
Engaged couples looking for an animal fix can visit Silverman’s Farm in Easton, which allows couples to take engagement photos alongside their goats, sheep and emu.
If barnyard animals don’t do it for you, the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport — Connecticut’s only zoo — is available for weddings. It’s home to a slew of beasts, including red pandas, amur leopards and bison.
Leashes and garland
Weddings involve a ton of planning, and that no less applies to pets. Ren Davis has all the boxes checked for her upcoming nuptials — including her dog Kenzo’s attire.
For the leash, “we bought some cotton rope and dyed it green, and he will wear a tie and nice new collar,” Davis said. “I’m also going to try and make some floral garland to go around the leash.” To top it off, Kenzo will don a GoPro camera to capture the day from a dog’s-eye perspective.
Davis is a Milwaukee, Wis.-based wedding photographer and no stranger to working with animals. Among the strangest: a sloth at an animal conservancy who was brought out briefly for photos.
Of the 29 weddings Davis documented in 2015, three or four had pets, she said. But Davis expects that number to rise in 2016. “About 50 percent of couples have included animals in their engagement sessions,” she said, “so once they get their photos back and realize how wonderful it was, I expect they’ll have them in their weddings.”
Experts recommend choosing pet attire that isn’t flashy and reflects the tone of the wedding. Both Davis and Buyce suggest a long walk before the event and choosing a designated pet wrangler — either a professional sitter or friend. Pets should be professionally groomed no sooner than a week before the nuptials, since grooming causes increased shedding for several days.
Dogs should also be familiar with the wedding venue. When Emily Denaro and Alex Semkow tied the knot last summer at Tarrywile Mansion in Danbury, they did it with dog Max in tow. The venue is special: the couple had their first date at Tarrywile Park, and Semkow brought Max. Max was named “best man/dog” just a few years later.
“It was a no-brainer,” said Denaro, who added that the smiley golden retriever was on his best behavior for the big day. “He was the perfect gentleman,” she said.
Besides being cute, pets have the added benefit of calming nerves on what is typically a stressful day. “Usually this is the first time couples have been documented so heavily,” Davis said, “so having an animal there is a really good icebreaker.”
Most importantly, the experience should be fun for everyone. Susan Kaminsky, a Fairfield County dog trainer whose business is The Country Dog, stresses that pets who get the most out of weddings are well trained and comfortable being around lots of people. More to the point: he or she should be a willing participant.
“I would only trust a trained dog to go down the aisle, and not one who hasn’t experienced social events and noises,” Kaminsky said. “You don’t want to force them to do something they’re uncomfortable with.”