When Amanda and Jeffrey Mullen were preparing for their wedding in 2010, Amanda Mullen knew that she wanted her pets to play a big part. After all, she is the director of the Humane Society’s Longmeadow Rescue Ranch. Her dog, Dakota, played the biggest role. “We’re both animal lovers, and animals are a big part of my life and career, so I thought it was appropriate to have her there for the wedding, just like you want to share it with your other family members,” she says.

And while Mullen’s horses and chickens weren’t physically at the wedding, they made appearances in unique ways. For example, the flower girls threw feathers from their chicken coup instead of flower petals. This worked particularly well, since the wedding was outdoors at The Studio at St. Albans. “We gathered the feathers over several months. It was a windy day, so there was a lot of excitement and the kids had fun throwing them! We also tied the feathers into the invitations and the napkins at the table settings.”

The most important thing about incorporating pets into a wedding is to keep the stress levels as low as possible—both for you and your pet—and Mullen says the smartest thing she did was to hire a dog handler she trusts. The owner of The Dog House, where Mullen regularly boards Dakota, met them at the venue and watched her throughout the day. “Dakota went down the aisle and sat near my brother; she was relaxed during the ceremony. Then, she walked back out with the other bridesmaids.” Dakota also stayed for pictures; and when her part was over, the handler brought her back to the kennel, where she stayed while the couple went on their honeymoon. The best part? “I have all these pictures and memories of her being there. I’ve had Dakota since she was just a few months old, and she’s 11 years old now. We’re not sure how long we’ll have her around, but we have these pictures of her at the biggest event of our lives.”

Want to include pets in your big day? We got these tips from event and wedding planner Katie Fogerty, of Kate & Co.:

• Train, train, train your animal. Make sure they come to the rehearsal and run through it several times. Practice makes perfect.

• Make sure to notify the right people, such as the photographer and the venue.

• Assign a pet sitter for the day.

• Make sure to bring food and water. And remember plenty of treats: Dogs work really well when you bribe them to do what you want!

• Some pets make a great ring bearer or flower girl. You could do a beautiful flower basket for the pet to carry down the aisle. If you use them as a ring bearer, you can do a DIY ring pillow around their neck. If you do this, though, use fake rings rather than tying on the real rings. Have the best man stick the real rings in his pocket.

• For a dog on a leash, you can put a nice thick ribbon around their collar and flowers up the leash that match the wedding colors.

• For pets that don’t do well on a leash, paint and decorate a wagon in your color scheme, and put a ‘Here comes the bride’ sign on the back. Then have a mature flower girl, ring bearer or junior bridesmaid pull the wagon with the pets inside.

Even the best-trained animal, be it a dog, cat, potbelly pig or horse, can get overwhelmed in large groups, so Fogerty has these tips for including your pets in spirit:

• If you’re a pet person, chances are your friends are, too. Use a pet-friendly hotel and indicate that on your invitations with the accommodation information.

• There are a lot of animal-inspired venues such as the Saint Louis Zoo that are great locations for animal lovers.

• Snap photos of your pets holding a sign around their neck or in their mouth with the table numbers. Then frame them and place them on the tables.

• In lieu of favors, make a donation to your favorite animal charity.

• Do a dessert buffet and include treats for your guests’ pets. You can have a sign that says something like “A treat for your and your four-legged friend, too.”

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