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Say “I Do” to the Dog: Pet Care Services for Weddings

image that says say I do to the dog pet care services for weddings

Just one of the articles from Pet Care Pro Quarterly, IBPSA’s digital magazine for pet care services professionals. Read the current issue online here.

“Dogs at Weddings: How to Include Your Dog in Your Wedding” (Country Living)

“The Do’s and Don’ts for Including Your Dog in Your Wedding” (Southern Living)

“28 Meaningful Ways to Honor a Pet at Your Wedding” (Martha Stewart Weddings)

 Wait, that wasn’t everything Martha needs you to know…

“Everything You Need to Know About Having Your Dog in Your Wedding” (Martha Stewart Weddings)

“12 Tips on How to Include Your Dog in Your Wedding. Say YES to the Pet!” (American Kennel Club)

Just twelve? Let the wedding professionals handle this, AKC…

“50 Adorable Ways to Include Your Pet in Your Wedding Day” (Bridal Guide)

“61 Too-Cute Ways to Include Your Pet in Your Wedding” (Brides)

And from the doctor in the house…

“How to Safely Include Dogs in Weddings” (PetMD)

Weddings are big business and pets in weddings are a big thing. According to The Wedding Report, in 2018 there were 2,201,772 weddings in the United States and the average wedding cost was $24,723. Some area economies are fueled by their local wedding industry. One town in Texas that boasts 35 wedding venues within a 15-mile radius was formally recognized by its state legislature for being a nuptial nexus. (Dripping Springs is officially the Wedding Capital of Texas.)  And in those millions of weddings in the U.S. and around the world are lots of pets, particularly dogs.

In the July 2016 Philadelphia Inquirer article “Couples want their pets in their weddings, and doggone it, vendors will abide,” Gina Sole, a local wedding planner, reported that pet-inclusive weddings comprise about 30 percent of her business. She further noted that while she’s included a couple of cats, most are dogs acting as ring bearers or part of the processional. Most important for pets in weddings success she said, according to the article, is “having someone available who isn’t part of the wedding who can keep the dog walked and fed before the ceremony.” For couples marrying in the popular wedding destination area of Charleston, South Carolina, pet boarding facility owner, Gray Moore, and her team at Dog Tired are those someones.

Among the services offered at Dog Tired, the dog enrichment center started by Moore ten years ago, along with boarding, daycare, grooming, and training is “wedding nanny.” A service, she says, she has offered from the beginning. With a background that includes working in the vacation rental field where, Moore recalls, she “dealt with a lot of brides and grooms,” and because dogs are part of the family, she knew that offering the wedding nanny service would be a natural fit for her pet care business.

“It’s always an inconvenience for anyone in the wedding party to have to handle the dog (or dogs),” she says. “They can’t enjoy the time with family and friends or the bride and groom or the party itself.” But the Dog Tired wedding nanny takes on the “really large responsibility” of ensuring the pets are safe and happy, settled and alert for “great poses for the photographer” and, she notes practically, “not jumping on the bride and groom or the food tables.”

With a decade of wedding-related pet services to Dog Tired’s credit, Moore notes that 2019 has been their biggest wedding season to date. In May, the team was booked to provide services for six weddings in one weekend. Moore attributes much of their wedding nanny service success, particularly during the past year and a half, to her longest time employee and Pet Sitting Manager, Kate Thomas, who has been with Dog Tired for close to seven years. Says Moore, the Dog Tired wedding nannies “are well-trained, educated, and ensure the dog’s safety during transport and the wedding and for portraits.” Dogs looking good in wedding portraits is due in no small part thanks to wedding nanny efforts just outside of the shot. As Moore describes, “we look pretty silly dancing and making weird noises behind the photographer to get the dog’s ears to perk up!”

Dog Tired offers an array of wedding-related pet care services including, among many more, providing a dog taxi to the wedding venue, boarding at the facility the night before the wedding, and making sure furry family members put best paws forward with clean ears, trimmed nails, deluxe baths, and cranberry facials.

Wedding pearls of wisdom

For other pet care providers considering tapping into the wedding market, Moore has some words of advice when saying “I do” to offering associated pet care services:

Ensure pets are allowed onsite at the wedding venue before booking a client.

Be professional before, during, and after the event. Introduce yourself to the bride and groom, wedding planner, and the photographer. And be sure to follow up with them after the wedding for referrals and photographs. Pro tip! The photographers own the rights to the images, so stay on their good side and don’t publish them without permission.

Network with local wedding planners over anyone else. Develop relationships with a solid ten planners that will refer to you―take them gift cards and goodies for all of weddings they send you. Focus on those planners who do refer you clients and don’t waste time on those planner connections that go nowhere. Make some flyers for local veterinarian offices and market to the LGBTQ community, too. Moore advises there is a huge need for this service in the latter community and it’s an untapped market.

Make sure your insurance covers pets in your staff’s vehicles and that they have their own car insurance. Require them to use seatbelts or crates with the pets and sign a release.

Be flexible with packages you offer based on the needs of the couple. For example, the pets don’t have to be in the wedding for you to provide a service. For example, you can assist with the “first look” photography session, bridal portraits, and have a list of recommended items for the wedding (e.g., arrange flowers with the florist for the dog).

Make sure you ask lots of questions about the pets on an application created just for your wedding-related pet care services. Get the details. Is the dog neutered? On medication? Moore recalls one intact dog on medication for his anxiety as “a handful!” Is the dog good with strangers or kids? If not, be cautious of the services the couple wants to purchase. After reading the application and/or meeting the dog(s), guide the clients on what you think would be best. If you have two medium-to-large dogs to care for, charge extra and have two pet care providers onsite. It’s less stressful, even for the experienced providers.

If the couple is willing to pay the extra money, Moore “highly suggests” a practice round with the dog prior to the wedding as this may help the dog be more relaxed. If they won’t splurge for a practice, she says, “at least tire the dog out before the wedding with a ball session or walk for an additional fee, and charge separately for the pet taxi based on distance and time.”

She also suggests that the dog not be at the event for more than two hours maximum. “Sometimes you can have a hyper dog and the two hours is just too long,” she advises.

If the dog is, in fact, a “naughty” dog, encourage the couple to include the pup in first look photos or bridal portraits only or just for the ceremony. There are so many ways you can work with the clients, she notes, “just see what they request.”

Do not allow the dogs off leash ever, she says, even for the photographs. Have the client sign a separate contract with this listed, with dates and times and the wedding planner’s information. This is usually one of the last things planned by the wedding couple, so you may have to schedule quickly but, she says, it’s “usually quick and easy.”

Weddings are glamorous affairs, but your role is most assuredly not. Moore offers these final real-world pet care tips:

Bring a gallon of water, water bowl, and treats.

Bring a squeaker toy to help with ear perking for photographs.

Bring your own phone for candid pictures for the bride and groom and social media accounts.

Bring waste bags for potty breaks and walks.

Never leave the dog in a car unattended without you.

While wedding guests may be milling about the lush grounds at the elegant summer wedding, sipping cool cocktails in their chicest sun dresses and finest seersucker suits, your job is to be in the car with the slobbering dog, blasting the air conditioning. It’s what happens after pet care providers say, “I do.”

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