Pooch power: Therapy dogs bring quick relief in the ER
By Sean Malin
On Dec. 4, 2021, Twixie and Cowboy, both 2-year-old Brussels griffons, were married at the Dallas home of the bride (Twixie), in the backyard. She wore an appliquéd lace bodice with a ruffle of layered tulle at the waist. The groom donned a handmade silk-cotton tuxedo and top hat.
In front of a makeshift chapel set up for the occasion, a ceremony was led by Sam Palmeter, whose Brussels griffon, Grinch, attended and is a friend of the couple. Fig, another Brussels griffon, served as a flower girl.
Later, four-legged guests enjoyed a meal of puppy chow from Vestals Catering in Dallas (which also caters events for humans), as well as a puppuccino bar and activities including a ball pit.
The nuptials cost about $25,000. Twixie’s owner, Tara Helwig, 37, a fitness coach in Dallas, and Cowboy’s owner, Makayla Wilson, 22, an epidemiology data analyst in Phoenix, split the bill.
The two and their canines met at a Brussels griffon hangout in February 2021. The dogs soon became “boyfriend and girlfriend,” said Helwig, who started planning the wedding with Wilson after the owners and their pets visited each others’ homes.
Of the 40 Brussels griffons invited, 37 attended. “It just turned out to be way grander than anticipated,” Helwig said.
Wilson, who handled the guest list, said that she and Helwig intended to throw “the most epic dog wedding.”
“We were not just going to do a photo shoot,” she added. “We wanted to do more than that.”
Celebrating a union of two animals, or even an animal and a human, is not a new concept. But as the pandemic forced many human couples to put ceremonies on hold, more people began to “think outside the box and write their own rules, and that’s especially true when it comes to pet weddings,” said Hannah Nowack, an editor at the wedding planning and registry website The Knot.
Last June, employees of Village Pet Supplies & Gifts in Luzerne, Pennsylvania, hosted the “Holy Catrimony” of Toby and Noelle, two local cats, at the store. Noelle’s owner, Melissa Sulima, an attorney in Pittston, Pennsylvania, had the idea after her cat became enamored with Toby, who lives at Village Pet Supplies, in videos that were shared on its Facebook page.
Following a string of successful in-person dates, every human who witnessed their chemistry agreed that the cats belonged together, “and it just exploded from there,” said Sulima, 42, who adopted Noelle in 2019 from Rescue Warriors Cat Rescue in West Pittston, Pennsylvania.
The couple was wheeled into their wedding on June 19 inside a red wagon. Noelle wore a dress handmade by a co-founder of Rescue Warriors, and an employee at Village Pet Supplies led a ceremony that included reciting both cats’ vows. Afterward, cupcakes and cider were served to the 40 human guests.
“They had it decorated beautifully,” Sulima said of the venue. “I was blown away.” She added that the two felines were only married for six months: Last December, Noelle died suddenly of complications from hyperthyroidism; she was thought to be around 7-years-old.
Despite efforts to find another companion for Toby, who is 10, Sulima believes he will never remarry. “Toby is Noelle’s husband ’til the day he passes,” she said.
To attend the cats’ nuptials, human guests were asked to donate $15 to Rescue Warriors. Philanthropy was also an impetus behind a mass dog wedding in September 2021 at Lions Park in Villa Park, Illinois, where 80 pairs were married — a little less than half of the 178 couples that were wed at a 2007 event in Littleton, Colorado, which marked the largest dog wedding ceremony, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
Leslie Allison-Seei, 61, the president of a sweepstakes and promotions agency in Villa Park, organized the nuptials in part to support area rescues at a time when some had started to see more pets being given up.
Early in the pandemic, “shelters got emptied because people went out and adopted dogs,” said Allison-Seei, who volunteers at Northern Illinois Samoyed Assistance, one of 10 rescues that received a donation following the event. “But as people started to go back to work, they turned those dogs back in.”
After paying a $25 registration fee, dogs (and their owners) arrived at the wedding to find a roving photographer and an arch covered in flowers, where Nick Cuzzone, the president of the Villa Park village board, led a ceremony.
Before Cuzzone pronounced any dogs wed, those that arrived as bachelors or bachelorettes had the opportunity to meet potential life partners in an area designated for “doggie speed dating,” said Allison-Seei, whose 3-year-old husky, Brack, married Boo, a 5-year-old Samoyed, that day.
“It was spectacular,” said Allison-Seei, chair of the Villa Park Community Focus on Unifying Neighbors Commission.
As with any wedding, experts say that anyone organizing a ceremony for pets or animals should prioritize the needs of the couple.
“If they don’t like to be dressed up or they find crowds of strangers stressful, it’s better to skip the wedding dresses, the guest list, and anything else that would make them uncomfortable,” Ingrid Newkirk, the president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said in a statement.
In considering their needs, others note not to discount companionship. Ellie Laks, the founder of animal sanctuary The Gentle Barn, staged a wedding between two cows, Dudley and Destiny, at its facility in Christiana, Tennessee, in 2016. Laks, 54, compared their relationship to “a storybook” romance, explaining that, if animals could talk, many may choose to say ‘I do’ for the same reasons as humans.
“Humans and animals have the same desire for love and friendship, the same ability to feel sadness, happiness, and fear, and the same need for a good life,” she said.