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Happily Humane Ever After

Couples bring compassion to the culture of weddings

All Animals magazine

by Arna Cohen

What is a wedding? A celebration of love, of course, with a side order of obsession over bridesmaid dresses, cake flavors, music, and where to seat relatives who aren’t on speaking terms. But for the compassionate couples profiled here, all that took a backseat to making sure that their nuptials celebrated their commitment to animals as well as to each other. Whether it was enlisting a furry ring bearer, crafting animal-themed favors, or forsaking gifts in lieu of donations to animal charities, these newlyweds found ways to weave their personal philosophies of humane living into the centuries-old traditions that make a wedding what it is.

  • Stacey Kane

Colin Berry & Jason Ahalt
Married April 9, 2011, in Memphis, Tenn.

Animals are central to Colin Berry’s and Jason Ahalt’s lives. Colin, HSUS director of innovations, met the Maryland state K-9 officer in 2005 at a weeklong cruelty investigation class. Animals continued to mark important milestones in the couple’s courtship through the years. In fact, it was after they rescued a crab that Colin realized Jason was “the guy.” She found the solitary crustacean, meant for the dinner table at a picnic, beneath a plastic bag in a cooler. Without hesitation, Jason grabbed his keys and drove Colin to the Chesapeake Bay to set the crab free.

So it was only natural that the couple wanted their wedding to celebrate not just their relationship but the animals who were an integral part of their personal story. They named the guest tables after eight animals and created a booklet explaining how each one had played a part in their growth as a couple. Guests were given copies as wedding favors, and Colin and Jason donated the money they would have used on traditional favors to eight animal welfare organizations. And of course, their beloved dogs, Gracie and Scruffy, walked them down the aisle to the Beatles’ song “All You Need Is Love.”

  • Tom Sadowski

Colleen Paige, Wedding Planner

Today’s couples see no reason to exclude furry family members from participating in The Big Day. Paige’s company, The Wedding Dog, provides full-service wedding planning with a twist. An animal behaviorist based in Portland, Ore., Paige will not only plan your event, she’ll train your pet to walk down the aisle and design a fabulous floral collar, tiny tux, or couture cape for your four-legged attendant.

Incorporating an animal into the ceremony can be really fun, says Paige, but it adds an unpredictable element. She should know: She’s trained cats, birds, a horse, a donkey, a goat, and a pot-bellied pig for wedding duty. The pig did well in rehearsals, but on wedding day, she couldn’t resist stopping to smell—and devour—the aisle flowers. The best man’s efforts to nudge her toward the altar resulted in loud squeals of porcine protest and peals of laughter from the bride and groom.

An avid animal lover, Paige is always thinking of ways her wedding work can help save lives. With her clients’ wholehearted support, she’s invited rescue groups to attend receptions with adoptable dogs and once staged a concert at a wedding, raising $3,500 in “ticket sales” for a local rescue.

  • Diana Garland Photography

Molly Matthews & Chris Ewald
Married Sept. 2, 2011, in Wintergreen, Va.

One of the first things that drew Chris Ewald to Molly Matthews was her love of animals and dedication to volunteering at her hometown animal shelter. He soon joined her in walking dogs and helping out at adoption events at the Humane Society/SPCA of Nelson County’s Almost Home Pet Adoption Center in Lovingston, Va. Nearly two years later, while planning their wedding, the couple had a special request of their guests: Instead of gifts, they asked that donations be made to the shelter that means so much to them.

Family and friends gave more than $6,300, an amount that could have covered a good chunk of the wedding costs or several mortgage payments. But Chris and Molly, now living in Morgantown, W.Va., had no second thoughts about their decision. “I never felt like we gave up anything,” says Chris. “… It was so much more of a rewarding gift than anything tangible we would have gotten.”

  • M&M Photography

Lindsay Wolf & Steven Smith
Married November 15, 2009, in New Hope, Pa.

In addition to honoring love, friendship, and family, Lindsay Wolf and Steven Smith wanted their nuptials to reflect what they found most important in life. For Lindsay, this meant a meal aligned with her do-no-harm values. As their wedding gift to each other, she asked her omnivore fiancé for a vegetarian reception; Steve readily agreed.

Lindsay’s parents supported the idea, while Steve’s were somewhat resistant, she says, concerned that “family members, especially older ones, wouldn’t come or bring gifts if there wasn’t filet mignon as an option.” With patience and persistence, Steve was able to bring his parents around to the couple’s viewpoint that celebrating love should matter more than a meal. The caterer, who had never prepared a meat-free spread, worked closely with the couple to create a delicious menu. Lindsay “felt really cool” when the venue was then able to offer the dishes they’d developed to other couples looking for similar options.

Weeks before the wedding, Steve gave Lindsay another gift: He decided to follow a vegan diet. And it wasn’t long after the wedding that Lindsay’s mom and Steve’s parents adopted a vegetarian diet. “What I found with my lifestyle,” says Lindsay, “[is] the more that I’ve shared it positively, it’s had a ripple effect.”

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