While Patrick and Koi Beard were dating, they included their pups in as many outings as possible, and even threw birthday parties for them. So when the couple decided to tie the knot, they wanted to include Buddy and Bella — Labrador-pit bull siblings — in their nuptials.
“They pretty much were our children, and we really wanted them to be part of our wedding,” Koi says. “They've always been very spoiled.”
On July 19, 2014, Koi and Patrick were married on the lawn of St. Mary’s Chapel in Kenner’s Rivertown neighborhood. Buddy and Bella, who were nearly 2 years old at the time, wore formal canine couture, wagging their tails and greeting friends at the ceremony.
Bella dazzled in a white dress and a delicate veil, partially crafted by Koi, while a dapper Buddy donned a suit that cost nearly $240 — a “ridiculous amount of money,” Koi says.
“But who's counting?” Patrick asks with a smile. Since many elements of their wedding were homemade, the couple found other ways to minimize their budget and create a wedding with a rustic feel, he says.
“It [cost] more than my husband's tux, but it was worth it,” Koi says, adding that Buddy’s suit was accessorized with the same tie worn by Patrick’s groomsmen.
Before the ceremony, a close friend of the Beards dressed Buddy and Bella and brought them to the venue.
“Somebody else was completely responsible for them,” Patrick says.
His best man and Koi’s maid of honor escorted the frisky canines down the aisle.
“The dogs were so excited because they saw a bunch of people they wanted to see,” Koi says. “Buddy was sniffing every person on his way forward.”
After making their appearance, Buddy and Bella posed for a few pictures and went home.
“We know our dogs really well, and they can handle a small group at a time, but with a large group, they get kind of overwhelmed,” Koi says. “So we thought it was important to walk down the aisle and then get back home.”
Since the reception venue wasn’t dog friendly, Patrick and Koi displayed life-size cardboard cutouts of Buddy and Bella dressed in their wedding outfits near the entrance to the room.
Choosing an appropriate venue is important for couples who want to include pets in their wedding, but brides and grooms also need to consider their pet’s temperament, says Ann Becnel, a New Orleans-based dog trainer and owner of ABC Dogs (www.abcompaniondogs.com).
“The type of dogs that are going to do well are very stable-minded,” Becnel says. “They should do well in new environments. Since the wedding is long, the dog has to be able to relax.”
Couples who decide to include their dog have options, she says.
They can find a confidante or an experienced handler who will escort Fido down the aisle and sit with him during the ceremony. (A chew toy will keep the canine busy.)
Or they can train the pup to perform a “recall down the aisle,” without becoming distracted by guests, and a “strong stay” to avoid getting rambunctious during the vow exchange. But they would have to work on this about six months in advance, and practice at the venue with a few people present, Becnel says.
“A lot of people want immediate results, but that just isn't the way dog training works,” Becnel says. “They have to be realistic about their timeframe.”
Couples also should make sure the celebration takes place in a safe, pet-friendly environment, and consider whether the dog will want to participate.
“When the big day comes, if the dog is too anxious or gung-ho, (the couple) should abandon the idea so that they're not on ‘America's Funniest Home Videos,’” Becnel says. “They shouldn’t expect the dog to perform miracles on the day of their wedding.”