Never work with animals or children

Never work with animals or children

As a civil celebrant, I come across a lot of unpredictable elements that people choose for their ceremonies. Animals or children are known to be dangerous (and even more unpredictable) protagonists. Ask any actor!

I think I’ve got away with it lightly so far. I thought I’d have a problem with a dog, and I did have issues with children, Later next year I’ve got a ceremony during which the ring-bearer will probably be an owl. That could be interesting!


One couple decided to include their dog, Blue. (Sorry, I don’t know the breed.) He suddenly broke free during the ceremony, sprinted up and made a huge fuss of his owner, the groom. Lots of mutual love and affection in evidence. Of course, Blue stole the show.

Fortunately, everybody laughed, and nobody seemed to object to the interruption and slight delay. It could have been worse, as Blue had originally been intended to participate as ring-bearer, but his appetite was such that it was considered  unwise to entrust this role to him.


I have had to carry on against a background of screaming infants at a funeral. That was difficult, and people were clearly being disturbed. I was considering asking the mother to leave with the children, but somehow we got through it.

There have been very vocal children at a wedding (but that doesn’t seem so bad) and also at a naming ceremony. Incidentally, at the latter event, 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 let on was that this boy was dyslexic. I could have picked a much simpler poem, had I known.

Nonetheless, the boy showed remarkable courage and perseverance, but he did mangle 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 going to call him up. However, I didn’t know him at all and couldn’t locate him beforehand.

I did see a boy, Alexis, (about 6), beautifully dressed up, carrying a cushion. I asked him whether he was the ring-bearer. He didn’t know. He only knew he didn’t have any rings.

The ceremony began. Once we reached the rings section, I invited up the person named on my script. Nobody came up. No response. The couple said nothing. Thanks to a moment’s inspiration, I called out Alexis’ name, and he duly arrived – complete with 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 is probably OK, and can add some real character and charm to an occasion.

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

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So I tend to agree with the actors who say: never work with animals or children!


What I do like, though, is 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 or birds, of course. The choice of venue may individualise the ceremony sufficiently.


There are some lovely rituals you can include that will make your wedding really stand out. A handfasting is just one example. Other possibilities include Unity Candles, a Sand Ceremony, the Loving Cup, Jumping the Broom, 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; including the couple’s “story”; using selected participants (such as Blue!). Or even including something unusual. Mid-ceremony, if the couple have drunk from the Loving Cup, everybody could be served some drink (if it works 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!