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Wedding Pets: Should I Include My Dog In My Wedding?

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It is becoming increasingly popular for brides and grooms to customize their wedding to express the one-of-a-kind love they share. From first dance flash mobs to portraits with the pets, a wedding is a couple's opportunity to celebrate their relationship with family, friends and even Fido.

Many couples are joining the growing trend of incorporating their pet into their wedding; they are imagining the playful candid shots the photographer can capture and the great frame that will adorn each picture on the living room wall. Thoughts of Fido frolicking with you and your new husband on the happiest day of your life can certainly paint a beautiful picture.

Unfortunately, the muddy paw prints on your once spotless wedding dress seem to paint a more realistic picture -- and one you would rather avoid. As a professional pet sitter, I can guarantee that if the right preparations aren't made for your pet, you'll be in for a wild ride of unfortunate events.

Very few brides imagine their wedding to be a day filled with chaos and pandemonium. And even for the ones who do see the champagne glass as half empty, they still hope for the best. I'll never forget the couple whose dog gave in to the temptation of his sweet tooth. That's right; the pup pounced on the gorgeous wedding cake at the outdoor reception and literally dove right in. Although now it may seem like a funny story worth repeating, the couple was mortified at the time.

As you prepare for your wedding and review every detail: the décor, the dinner, the dancing... don't forget the dog -- or cat. Before Fido or Fluffy can strut their stuff down the aisle, make sure your pet is properly prepared for the event ahead. It is not uncommon for brides and grooms to overlook the possibility of their furry friend getting a case of cold feet/paws on the Big Day. Although you may take pride in your pet as the friendliest of fur balls and boast about his track record of good behavior, there's nothing like an overwhelming crowd of wedding guests to chase away Mr. Charming.

Luckily, there's still time to prepare your pooch for his best performance yet. With a little help from a professional pet sitter, he can be the loveable, well-behaved, four-legged guest of honor he was meant to be!

Brides and grooms should confirm that pets are welcome in the church or facility hosting your wedding ceremony. If there is a strict policy prohibiting pets, not even the saddest of puppy-dog eyes will help bend the rules. A fellow pet sitter who was hired to escort a couple's pup to the church for their wedding ceremony ended up walking the dog for several blocks as they waited for the wedding party to exit for pictures. Unfortunately, the bride and groom didn't confirm that their dog would be allowed inside. Instead, they assumed it wouldn't be a problem.

For every horror story, there's a fairytale that outweighs the cringe-worthy weddings of others. Several members of the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS) have shared their positive experiences with me -- weddings where everything goes well and Fido isn't face-first in the fondant.

The common factor is the couple's extensive preparation.

Follow this check list to prepare for your Big Day:

The Pet Parents' Check List of Dos and Don'ts before the Big "I Do"

• DO have realistic expectations of your pet. Even the most well-mannered pup may let out a bark or two
• DO hire a professional pet sitter -- keeping tabs on Fido and Fluffy does not have to be your job!
• DO prepare a travel bag of must-haves for your pet (include treats, toys and comfort items). Your pet sitter will be sure Fido and all his accessories make it safely to the ceremony and back home
• DON'T stress! Ok, this may be an unrealistic tip -- but you can at least reduce your stress. You're the bride... no one expects you to be superwoman!

Also consider the following before including your pet in your wedding:

Pet Behavior
Consider your pet's personality and behavior. Is he obedient and well trained? Will he feel comfortable around your guests? Professional pet sitters with experience incorporating pets into weddings are available to be your pup's care taker for the day. You'll have more than enough on your mind; the last thing you need to worry about is your pet's performance.

Style vs. Safety
If you plan to accessorize your pet with wedding day attire, be sure it fits properly and doesn't create discomfort. Don't jeopardize safety for style! A fancy new collar may be all your pooch needs to make his look extra special.

When the ceremony concludes, give your furry guest of honor an after party of his own. Your professional pet sitter can safely escort your pup home while you enjoy the wedding reception; you'll have the flexibility you need to socialize with guests, without neglecting the needs and comfort of your pet.

Ensure that your special day is the fairy tail it's meant to be. Visit the NAPPS website to find a professional pet sitter near you. www.petsitters.org.