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Dogs say, 'I do'

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Reverend Lynn Turner with Buddy and Ashley. (Courtesy of Tammy High)

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Ashley Nunn on her wedding day. (Courtesy of Tammy High)

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Reverend Lynn Turner with Buddy, the groom. (Courtesy of Tammy High)

The bride was radiant. Some guests said it was the sunlight bouncing off her cascading white chiffon veil, others commented that it was a “pregnancy glow,” because Ashley Nunn was carrying octuplets. The groom’s excitement was visible: Buddy Lewinski drooled and wagged his tail vigorously as he waited for his bride to reach the altar.

Ashley, a blackmouth cur mix, and Buddy, a tri-color beagle, were married in Katy, Texas, in 2002 by the Rev. Lynn Turner, a licensed minister who marries both pets and people (although not to each other). These unions, called “Bow-wow vows,” are on the rise in the United States and are often accompanied by a cadre of professionals like pet marriage counselors, pet wedding planners, pet caterers, pet trainers and pet priests.

“Holy Muttrimonies, Bark Mitzvahs and pet ceremonies in general have really started taking off,” said Diana Guerrero, animal behavior expert and pet-trend watcher. “People treat their pets like their own children. Sheltering organizations, church leadership, party planners are saying, ‘Holy hot dog! Here’s all these people with pets and they’re spending a lot of money, let’s welcome them in.’”

Guerrero who has written several books on pets, including "Blessing of the Animals: A Guide to Prayers & Ceremonies Celebrating Pets and Other Creatures," said that Census and other data show that about 30 percent of American households have children under the age of 18, whereas 63 percent of households accommodate pets.

The pet industry generates $40 billion of revenue annually and markets an array of products and services for an entire lifespan of milestone events, from birthdays to funerals.

“Pets are becoming children for many families that don’t have children, or whose kids have grown up and moved out,” she said.

But pet weddings are about more than profit, said pet marriage counselor Shirley Scott, in Walla Walla, Wash. “Marriage for an animal is almost like marriage for a human,” she said. “An animal union is more like a blessing under God.”

Scott’s clients include pet owners who want to mate their pets and don’t want “illegitimate relations” in their home. Others want companionship for their pets and some pet owners just want a public ceremony to emphasize how esteemed their pets are. The owners go to Scott for advice about the matches they have found for their pets and whether or not they should get married.

“Animals are attracted to certain animals,” said Scott. “When looking to mate two animals, it is important that their energy is compatible. This isn’t an arranged marriage, we can’t force them together.”

The love connection between Ashley and Buddy was “obvious,” said Tammy High, the dogs’owner, citing Ashley’s bulging belly. “It was a fun thing to do,” she said about the couple’s shotgun wedding. “We did it because that’s what a human would do.”

High’s pets were married in an outdoor summer wedding organized by Yvonne David, the director of “Special Pals,” a no-kill animal shelter in Katy, Texas. Pet weddings have become so popular, said David, that she arranges one every year.

“We want to let people know that animals are human too,” said David.

Once a match is made, it’s off to the wedding planner. In Los Angeles, the Beverly Hills Mutt Club charges between $700 and $1,000 for the big day. This price range covers the cake, the marriage license (an actual human license, except that the pet wedding isn’t registered with the state), charms and outfits for the bride and groom. Truly pampered pets can travel to Oahu where the Rev. Kermit Rydell will perform a beach wedding.

But some owners prefer to plan the pet nuptials themselves. Bakeries around the country offer edible wedding cakes for humans and animals, with some doggie cakes costing as much as $200. Designers offer canine and feline wedding dresses and gowns and even Swarovski jewelry to complete the look. To make sure the guests don’t come empty handed, PetSmart offers a bridal registry.

While pet weddings are on the rise, they don’t end up in doggie divorces, nor do they require “pre-niptuals” said Guerrero, adding that while pet weddings are generally a fun trend that help raise awareness about animals, some people get “hot under the collar about animal-related ceremonies.”

A few priests and rabbis have expressed concern about the way their communities will react to the ideas of pets getting married, said Guerrero.

But while some humans may find the ceremonies absurd, pet owners said pets generally enjoy the occasions.

“Buddy has a picture of the wedding next to his bed,” said High with a laugh. “He licks the photo before he goes to sleep.”