News & Politics

Here Comes the Dog

Some couples give their pets a big role in the wedding

Of the friends and family who watched Melissa Henderson and David Navarre tie the knot, Henry seemed the most excited.

“I could see his tail going a mile a minute,” says the bride.

Henry, the couple’s Cavalier King Charles spaniel, was the ring bearer in their October wedding. Henderson and Navarre had an elegant outdoor wedding at the Mansion at Strathmore in North Bethesda. Henry wore a collar of green ivy, custom-made by the florist, and carried the rings in a silk pouch around his neck.

After Henry and the groom walked down the aisle, the dog took a front-row seat.

“There was never a thought that Henry wouldn’t be in the wedding,” Henderson says. “We love him like he’s our child.”

Henry went along on the couple’s weekend visit to the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond.

According to the American Kennel Club, nearly 20 percent of dog owners include their dog in their wedding. While dogs are most common, bridal planners also see cats, rabbits, birds, horses, and reptiles. A pet might serve as flower girl or best man.

But it’s risky: Pet author Diana L. Guerrero once heard of a couple’s cockatoo flying away with their rings. At Bethesda native Julia Burch’s reception, her three dogs sampled the buffet.

Wedding planner Sara Franklin of Social Scene in Arlington says many couples who consider including pets change their minds when they realize the challenges. “If something goes wrong, couples have to be ready to take it in stride,” she says.

Janie Layao and Neil Villarin didn’t let their barking Jack Russell terriers spoil their reception at DC’s Fairmont Hotel.

The Reston couple’s dogs, Sophie and Tyson, were involved with the wedding from the start. When he proposed, Villarin tied tags around their necks that read will you marry daddy? and please say yes!

Sophie and Tyson posed for photos for the couple’s save-the-date cards. Sophie wore a tiara with a veil and a floor-length bridal gown. Tyson wore a tuxedo and bow tie, with a handkerchief in the pocket.

On the wedding day, the dogs made their grand entrance at the reception along with the bridal party. Layao surprised Villarin with a groom’s cake topped with icing replicas of the dog duo wearing jerseys from the couple’s college alma maters.

Robyn Aimes and Paris Davis of Woodbridge included Junior as the “ferret of honor” in their 2002 wedding. His official role? Greeter and guest-kisser for the couple’s 50 guests. The four-pound ferret wore a small bell around his neck and a daisy-shaped hat.

“It was a blessing for our family that Junior was included in the wedding,” says the groom’s mother, Ann. “He died of cancer two years later.”

Lynn Pirozzoli, owner of the Black Horse Inn in Warrenton, arrived at her ceremony on horseback. The lifelong equestrian couldn’t imagine her nuptials without her favorite horse, Zack, a 32-year-old chestnut thoroughbred.

Flanked by a huntsman, the bride rode sidesaddle from the inn’s barn to the bridge, where her groom was waiting.

“He was such a gentleman,” says Pirozzoli of her horse. “There was no one else I would have wanted to accompany me.”

Editorial intern Emily Leaman ( has a miniature pinscher named Scout and a cat named Tabby.