Who’d Work with Animals or Children?

It is well-known that working with animals or children can be to court disaster.

As a civil celebrant, I am exposed to such risk almost all the time!

Regular readers of my posts may recall the wedding when a dog took a starring role.

Upstaged by a Canine

One couple wanted their dog, Blue, involved. The plan was that he would be the ring-bearer. However, his appetite was notorious, so it was deemed safer for him to be appointed “page-dog” instead. As he arrived, escorting the bride in, he suddenly broke free, sprinted up to the front and made a huge fuss of his owner, the groom. Lots of mutual love and affection in evidence. Of course, Blue ruined the bride’s entrance and stole the show – but nobody really minded!


I won’t even tell you how many times screaming infants – even at a funeral – have disturbed ceremonies. Somehow we get through it.

Other issues can be less predictable.

At a naming ceremony, a 12-year-old boy stood up to read one of the poems I had suggested. (This had been agreed in advance with the family.) What nobody had thought to tell me was that this boy was highly dyslexic. I could have picked a much simpler poem, had I known, or e-mailed it to him in advance, so he could practise.

Nonetheless, the boy showed remarkable courage and perseverance, but he did totally massacre the reading!

On another occasion – a big wedding – the couple were fairly unhelpful (throughout), but they’d told me the name of the ring-bearer and knew I was to call him up. However, I wasn’t introduced to him and failed to locate him beforehand among the 200 guests.

By chance, I did spot a boy, Alexis, (aged about 6), beautifully dressed up, carrying a velvet cushion. I asked him whether he was the ring-bearer. He didn’t know. He only knew that he didn’t have any rings and didn’t know what the cushion was for.

The ceremony began. Once we reached the rings section, I invited up the person named on my script. Nobody moved. No response, even when I repeated the summons. The couple beside me didn’t react. On the spur of the moment, I called out Alexis’ name, and he duly arrived – complete with cushion and both rings! Success!

Dumb animals

I have seen pictures of releases of doves and of butterflies. I am not fully sure about these, as I don’t know if inadvertent cruelty might be involved in using them. In principle, I think working with animals or birds of prey is probably OK, and can add some real character and charm to an occasion.

However, the risk of something going wrong is quite high!

The only time so far that I have worked with an animal, it was a bird. To be precise, Dusk, a barn owl. Her role was to fly up to the bride (from behind the unwitting guests) as soon as I placed a large leather glove over her wrist. Dusk would carry a small bag containing the rings. Once this had been removed, the falconer would dangle a piece of raw chicken and off would fly Dusk.

We did have a rehearsal on the eve, and it went like clockwork.

We took precautions, though. On the day, in my pocket was an extra bag with rings, just in case, but Dusk seemed to enjoy herself and behaved impeccably!

As the falconer said, these are actually wild birds, so their behaviour cannot be guaranteed, but I would happily work with Dusk again.

Even though she did upstage me!


I do like the fact that people have the choice to personalise their wedding (or ceremony) in whatever way they wish. It doesn’t have to include animals, birds or children, of course. The type of venue may make the ceremony stand out sufficiently.


There are some lovely rituals you can include that will make your wedding really different. A handfasting is just one example. Other possibilities include Unity Candles, a Sand Ceremony, the Loving Cup, and more. Your civil celebrant can explain these or suggest others.

Personalising the ceremony

Other ways of ensuring a tailor-made ceremony might encompass the choice of music and also readings. You can include the couple’s “story” or make use of selected participants (such as Blue!). Or even put in something unusual. Mid-ceremony, if the couple have drunk from the Loving Cup, everybody could be served some drink (if it can be done logistically) and then rise to drink a toast to the couple.

So there are many features you can incorporate or amend to make your big day really stand out. If you need ideas, your celebrant should be able to help you, but the important thing is to do what YOU want to do!

Photo: Matt Penberthy