Must Love Dogs: Tips for a Dog Friendly Wedding

As many of you know from seeing my posts on Instagram, Chris and I included Boots and Ranger in our wedding ceremony. And how could we not?! They’ve been such a huge part of our lives as individuals and as a couple; they’re family!

Including your pup on your wedding day is obviously a very personal decision- you know your dog best, so consider how they’ll react to the amount of guests you plan on inviting and the nature of the venue. This was a balancing act for us- both Ranger and Boots have their own special needs, so we included them in ways we knew would work for them. Here are some of the things that I found important as we planned our day with our pups in mind!

1. Know your venue!! If having your dogs in your wedding is a priority, don’t even entertain the idea of a venue who’s less than thrilled with it. Having the dogs in the wedding was hugely important for us, so it was the very first thing I asked when I reached out to venues. If they said no, I didn’t read anything else they had to say, because I didn’t want us to fall in love with a place who wouldn’t happily accommodate our babies. Our venue, Nature Pointe, was lovely, and our venue coordinator, Courtney, even let us bring the dogs out to practice several weeks before the wedding! It made all the difference. Boots did have an episode of separation anxiety screaming when he walked away from me with my triplet sister/Maid of Honor to walk down the aisle, but it all ended up okay and everyone who knew him chuckled. I attribute that to the time we spent practicing!

2. Choose your vendors wisely. As I said above, our venue coordinator was not only understanding, but excited about helping us to include Boots and Ranger in our special day! As we reached out to other vendors, I always mentioned right away that our dogs would be a part of the getting ready process and the ceremony. Why? Because as absolutely foreign as it is to me, some people are afraid of dogs, especially big dogs like Ranger. Some people have far worse dog allergies than I do. Some people just… don’t like being around them (which I will never understand, but there’s no accounting for taste I guess!) The girls and I got ready at me and Chris’ house, so the dogs were around everyone who came in. I ensured our amazing photographers, hair stylists, and makeup artists were not only accepting, but comfortable and excited about the fact that there would be dogs around all day! I would highly recommend our incredible vendors:

3. Assign a Canine Point-Person! Based on our pups’ needs and our venue’s requirements, we knew that the dogs would need to leave prior to the reception beginning. I think this is really important as it ensured that they got to relax after such a big, busy day, and that we were able to attend to our guests without worrying who was taking care of them. Our dear friend Kelsey knows the boys super well and is well acquainted with their special needs. She made sure to be on hand after the ceremony to help give the dogs breaks from family photos, and drove the dogs home to rest when the ceremony and photos were done. She made sure they got the stuffed Kong’s that were waiting for them and returned to the reception, letting us know they were safe and sound. Having a trusted person who the boys love on hand made such a big difference for Chris and my peace of mind and their comfort!

4. Keep your dogs comfortable. This is one way in which we could have done better, admittedly. Our ceremony was outdoor and it was HOT. I wish we’d thought to provide something for the boys to lay on, but thankfully they both found some shade. We made sure to have water bowls in each dressing room and actually had one behind the alter as well. We didn’t dress them up, because neither is comfortable in clothes for long periods (with the exception of Boots’ winter sweaters.) Instead, we got them bow ties that matched the groomsmen & bridesmaids! We chose not to do the traditional Air Force saber arch because we knew it would be scary for Ranger. If you want to include your dogs in your wedding, considering little details like that is important because it’s not just about what you want, it’s about whether or not they’ll be comfortable and safe.

5. Include your dogs in the details! Though our boys were luckily able to be present with us on our wedding day, we also included them in smaller details. Our wonderful officiant, Pat, told our love story, making sure to mention how special it was that the dogs were included as they’d been what brought us together. We chose to do a hand-fasting for our unity ceremony, and when we picked that, Chris joked that we should use a dog’s leash instead of a scarf! At first that sounded silly, but the more we talked about it, the better an idea it became. So we did! We also got the cutest little silhouette topper from Etsy shop Rustic WD Art – they custom made it to my specifications as much as possible. Some other great ways to include your pups might be weaving an old name tag into your bouquet, or having custom drinks done with your pets incorporated into the names.

It’s hard to tell what it is from this angle, but I always have a little bit of Boots with me- his exact paw print is tattooed on the inside of my left wrist!

All in all, I think the most important thing was that our family and friends were completely behind us including the dogs in the wedding. One of the first comments made after we got engaged was, “So will Boots be walking you down the aisle?!” If our families thought we were being silly or obsessive, they (thankfully) didn’t say so- they seemed to truly understand why it was so important to us. For that, Chris and I are truly blessed!!

New Mexico brides, please feel free to reach out if you have any questions about our vendors or anything else! I’m happy to share what worked for us through the very hectic process of wedding planning.

Yours truly,

The new Mrs.,

Boots’ Gotcha Day Story

Hey friends! If you know me and Boots, you probably know chunks of this story. If you don’t know us personally, welcome to our world! If you clicked the link that brought you here, you know that 8 years ago today, Boots came into my life. I’m going to take it all the way back to the beginning and tell our story today!

For you to understand this story, I need to set the stage. Two things happened in the spring of 2011 that opened my heart, and both of those things truly sucked, but thank god for them. I was lucky enough to go to an agricultural college to get my Animal Science degree and I loved it! I was afforded so many opportunities there to grow and learn, and one of those was to get a yearling fit for a sale at the end of the spring semester. I didn’t grow up knowing horses, so the whole experience was hard for me. Like most things that are hard, however, it was incredibly rewarding and my horse, who I gave the barn name Wildfire, became a huge part of my life. I didn’t have to be at the barn every day, but I was. I was lonely and lost in many ways during the time and though I was having a great time overall in college, I really needed the love and affection and structure that caring for another being every day provided for me. I’m sure y’all see where this is going now. My whole family came down to watch the sale, to watch this beautiful horse that I’d worked so hard with and poured my heart and soul out to. I guess I thought it would be like a Disney movie and my parents would see how much she meant to me, and how good she was for me, and surprise me by buying her for me– spoiler alert, that did not happen. Cut to me, alone in her stall, trying not to cry in front of the tough rude guys at the barn. I loaded her for her buyer and cried all the way home, and then I cried some more. I cried for days and weeks over Wildfire- she came to me just when I needed her and changed me for good.

The next terrible thing that happened was a bit more predictable and looking back, not as devastating as watching my horse ride away with someone else. There was a boy. He was older than me but for the purposes of this story, definitely a boy. I really liked this boy and in my naive, 19 year old heart, thought he felt the same way too- I wish I could go back and protect poor baby Jessica. While I can’t say he cheated on me, exactly (If only one person thinks the relationship is exclusive, it’s not cheating I guess?) I felt cheated on. Publicly, with the Facebook pictures to prove it! At the time I was heartbroken and humiliated and weirdly willing to “give things a try at the end of the summer” when the boy in question got back from a prior commitment. (Sidebar- come on little Jess, you deserved better!) Anyway, on July 8th of 2011 this person and I had our last bit of contact for the summer and I was confused and hurt and insecure and sad. I didn’t know how I was supposed to be feeling.

That was where my heart was at the day that I met Boots. It was July 9th, 2011- 9 days before my 20th birthday. I was grouchy and annoyed in general, and was not in a pleasant frame of mind when I received a text from someone who remains a good friend to this day (Love you KT!) She had left a pair of earrings at my house and needed them, ASAP, for a performance she was doing at our local farmer’s market. I remember both my sister and I being super irritable about this- you have to understand, our college town stayed 100+ degrees in the summer and our 20 year old car had leather seats and barely any A/C. But off we went, with the earrings in hand, and safely delivered them to our lovely friend.

This next part of the story I truly can only chalk up to fate. The local shelter always had a booth at the Farmer’s Market, but it was usually at the very far North end, opposite from where we’d come. Our friend’s gig was at the center stage. We weren’t walking the whole market, it was too hot- there’s no way we should have run into the animal shelter booth. By some mystery of the universe, however, they were set up on the South end of the market, just about the last booth we had to walk by before returning to our car.

I saw Boots immediately. He had no name, only an ID number. His kennel card said he was a 3 year old girl. He was curled in a tiny ball- all I could see were his big brown eyes looking at me. He was quiet. I don’t remember him choosing to approach me- I probably reached through the kennel to pet him- and I proclaimed to my triplet sister that we needed to adopt this dog.

It didn’t go any further at this point, but I must have grabbed a piece of paper with the shelter’s info or something. Embarrassingly enough, it devolved quickly into an argument, then a screaming match between my sister and I. The two of us and my triplet brother shared a duplex and they absolutely didn’t want me to adopt a dog. I was working that summer, so my sister would be the one who needed to take him out during the day. I definitely remember hearing the argument that I was not responsible enough to have a dog, and it’s true, I wasn’t. I liked to party and stay out until the sun came up. I was deeply insecure and got my validation from shallow and fleeting BS. So no, I was not responsible enough for a dog. But like hell was anyone going to stop me!

I was a BRAT about the whole situation- a big part of my argument was that my name was the one on our duplex’s lease (I mean to be fair, it was- I’d done all of the legwork to get us into the pet friendly Campus Family Housing section!) I basically said that I was adopting the dog whether she agreed or not. Our parents, as the people who were actually paying said lease, were called. Our triplet brother, who was spending the summer interning, was called. Many arguments were heard. Finally everyone decided they would deign to allow me to go adopt this dog (look at that 19 year old attitude slipping back in there! 😂)

Nicole and I raced across town to go adopt- naturally, the shelter was as far as it could physically be from our campus housing. When we arrived, I breathlessly asked for “the 3 year old female black and white terrier from the farmer’s market” and was met with blank stares. There was no 3 year old female black and white terrier but there was a male- would I like to see him? For whatever reason, I was stuck on the idea of a female. So I saw him- they took us to a little bonding pen outside. He didn’t engage with us, and if I remember right, he went and lifted his leg on something. I was not terribly impressed. Next I looked at a 3 month old female heeler pup and thank GOD I immediately realized that she was more than I could handle at that time. Then I looked at a 6 year old female long haired chihuahua- she did not look well, and I was smart enough to realize that at 19, working at a vet clinic part time for minimum wage, I was not prepared to handle what already appeared to be special medical needs. So it was back to Boots. I don’t know what ultimately made me do it- as Caroline Knapp says, fate has an uncanny way of bringing us what we need if we’re open to it. Something inside of me knew. Something in our souls recognized each other in that first moment I saw him. (Don’t worry y’all, my husband is well aware of how poetically I wax about my baby and I speak the same way about him frequently!)

We had to run back across town and get permission from Campus Family Housing to have a dog in our duplex, then go all the way back again to the shelter for paperwork. Keep in mind we were still in our old, air conditionerless Volvo! Once they had the housing paperwork, there was surprisingly little else that they needed from me. I had to sign that I’d bring him back for his neuter and that was pretty much it. I was terrified for a brief second when I realized the seriousness of the commitment and was told there was no going back. They chipped him, wrapped him in a towel, and handed him to me, and out of the shelter we went.

I only had female names picked out and thank god Boots is a boy because the girl names I’d picked were horrendous (Dixie Rose was one of them, God help me. I was 19, okay!!) I’d insisted my sister drive because I didn’t want my dog to sit in her lap and bond with her at all, a deep insecurity from our family dog, Cali, only having eyes for her and our dad. Of course, Boots loves to sit on whoever is driving so that was a moot point. We called our mom to update her on the proceedings, and it was her who named Boots for one reason, without seeing him- back then, I only wore cowboy boots! So Boots he was.

PetSmart was raided- a bag of food and a little red collar was purchased. Boots hated going through the automatic doors. And then we were home, and I really didn’t know what to do! I didn’t have supplies for him but we also didn’t want to leave him alone to go get supplies. We ended up taking him to a restaurant our performer friend was working at- she was flabbergasted by us bringing him inside of a restaurant. That was his first evening with me!

The first night he was home will forever hold a special place in my heart. I made a bed for him in a cardboard box- I hadn’t been able to go buy a crate- and bedded it down for him. I placed him in and walked out for just a second, only to return to him with his paws on the side of the box and his eyes big and worried. I comforted him and he settled, then I laid down to bed. I talked to him that night- I promised I would always be there for him, that I’d never let anything happen to him. I promised I’d never leave him. I told him I loved him and that I’d make sure to tell him so every night. And that was it- I was sunk.

From that night on we were about as inseparable as could be. He had worms, so we treated them. He had to get neutered of course, and leaving him overnight after having him for a month was the longest night of my life at that time! He began to show us his vocal abilities- screaming when I’d go into the bathroom or take a shower or leave the apartment without him. Thankfully that’s eased quite a bit.

Boots has changed my life. He’s been with me through moments of joy and triumph, and been the only one who stayed with me no matter what in moments of darkness and depression. As I’ve said before, he helped me start to feel inherently valuable because of who I was, instead of how others viewed me. He showed me loyalty I’d never known to that point in my life, and that as long as I had him, I’d be okay.

Happy 8th Gotcha Day, baby boy. Thank you for being my best friend, my dæmon, a piece of my soul outside of my body. You’ve taught me so much and I will forever continue to be grateful. Here’s to many more years of adventures together!

A Dog Named Beautiful – Book Review

To start, this is my first book review so bear with me! I’m not exactly sure how to do this, so sharing my unbiased opinion will have to do.

I can’t remember how or where I first learned about Rob Kugler and his dog, Bella- people are always tagging me in stories about the profound bond between humans and dogs, and I’m sure I found out about the two of them the same way. I remember crying when I read their story- they were still on the road together when I first found them on Instagram in 2016- and I cried again when I saw the post that Bella had passed. Rob has a gift for story telling, and my heart broke for his.

As I’ve continued to follow his adventures on Instagram, I was thrilled to see that he was writing a book about he and Bella’s adventures! I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it, and downloaded from Kindle the day it came out.

As I said before, Rob definitely has a gift for storytelling and I truly enjoyed getting to read his backstory and Bella’s entrance into his life. When you’re close to a dog, when they’re your heart, they witness so much of life with you; so many changes in a way that’s not often experienced in human relationships. As someone who has that bond with my dog, I was honored to peek into someone else’s bond.

I come from a military family, with a brother who served an Army Infantry tour in Iraq and a fiancé in the Air Force, so I connected with the book in that regard as well. “A Dog Named Beautiful” shares an important perspective on military service that was certainly valuable for me to read. I don’t want to reveal major aspects of the book to those who haven’t read it yet, but I am truly grateful for all of those who’ve served our country and their families.

The original story that I saw on Huffpost or Buzzfeed or wherever it was, introduced me to so many possibilities! I did start writing a bucket list for Boots, though at that time it was probably weighted pretty heavily in the direction of things that would make me happy. As I’ve grown older and wiser, and as my relationship with Boots has continued to grow, my bucket list for the two of us has shifted to what I know he’ll enjoy. This book will definitely remind you of how precious the finite amount of time we get with our dogs is. I’m certain it will inspire many people to hit the road with their pups- I really hope Boots and I have that opportunity one day (Ranger isn’t a big fan of the car.) Something I really enjoyed throughout the book was the universal way that loving a dog deeply bonds humans- dog people just get it. I’m not surprised at all by the amount of people who opened their homes and hearts to Rob and Bella, as I know Chris and I would do the same if we had the opportunity.

If you know anything at all about Rob and Bella’s story, you know that there are very hard, sad moments in the book. I really felt as though I was going through them too. It taught me a lot about terminal illness, hospice, and end of life care in dogs. Despite working with them for a living, I really wasn’t aware of some of the options available to help your pup have the best last moments possible. Being able to honor your bond is so incredibly important, and the ways in which Rob described doing so definitely taught me some things. The grief process is very personal, but I did appreciate Rob sharing the reality of it with all of us.

I spent an entire self care day on the couch with Boots and my iPad on my lap- I finished reading it in about 6 hours total because I couldn’t put it down! I think anyone who has a special dog and a life altering bond with them will really enjoy this book.

If you pick it up, let me know what you think!

When Your Heart Dog Is a Senior

I adopted Boots when he was 2ish and I was 19- his adoption fee was my 20th birthday present to myself. I had grown up with dogs, but had never had one of my own. My childhood dream was always to have a little dog who was constantly by my side- a dog who would sleep in the bed with me and go with me everywhere. By the time I met Boots, that dream had long since been pushed to the back of my mind, but still, I knew he was my dog. The minute I saw him for the first time, I knew.

Since then, we have grown up together in every sense of the word. It’ll be 8 years in July and each one of them has taught us something new. I was a little bit of a wild child when I adopted Boots- I was spreading my wings for the first time as an “adult,” and I can’t say I was the most responsible in my first few leaps from the nest. Boots didn’t make me become responsible- I don’t necessarily believe anyone can make that happen. But what Boots did was love me and show me that I was valuable to him and within our bond. The bond with him changed me.

Boots is inching closer to 11 now, and I’ll be 28 this summer. In a lot of ways, we’ve both slowed down and mellowed out a bit, though in others we’re just as tightly wound as we were back in 2011. Boots’ eyes have the blue haze characteristic of a dog his age, and I’ve begun fielding questions about when Chris and I will start trying to have human babies. Things have changed in big, big ways.

And it’s hard. I can say with 100% certainty that I have never loved another being in the way that I love Boots. I don’t mean that to offend my fiancé or my family or Ranger, though I know that they all understand it. Boots isn’t my “fur baby” and he’s not just my best friend- to describe it more accurately, Boots is more like a piece of my soul who just happens to live outside my body. He’s my Heart Dog.

Last night we had a bonfire and Boots, for the first time in almost 8 years, chose to remain on his blanket inside, watching us out of the sliding glass door instead of coming and sitting outside. He gets tired at the end of walks sometimes these days, and I don’t attempt more than a 3-4 mile hike anymore. He has a dental cleaning coming up and the idea of putting him under anesthesia is terrifying to me, despite knowing it’s what’s best for his long term health. It’s both difficult to recognize and impossible to avoid the knowledge that he is getting older, but I’m trying so hard to make every step of our journey good for him, no matter what. I think that sometimes we can’t let go of not only who our dogs were when they were young, but also, who we were. Neither of us is who we were 8 years ago.

There’s no message to this blog post today- maybe it’s just me shouting into the void or trying to see that I’m not the only one who’s ever made this transition with their Heart Dog. If there is a message, maybe it’s to honor your pup’s dogginess, honor what makes them who they are for their whole lives, not just when they’re young and active. Be there for it all, as they are for us. I think that’s the best thing we can do.

Let’s Talk About Enrichment!

What is Mental Enrichment? To me, it’s the process of making an animal’s environment interesting and stimulating so as to decrease boredom and provide outlets for species normal behaviors. It’s letting your dog be a dog in all of his or her glory!

If you had asked me in 2011 when I adopted Boots what enrichment was, I really would have had no idea. And for college me and baby Boots, that shockingly worked out alright because he was getting TONS of environmental enrichment without me realizing it- going everywhere with me that I could possibly take him, being walked often, interacting with many people, going for rides. Now that I work a 40 hour week in a job where he and Ranger can’t come along, I prioritize getting them out for their walks and adding other mental enrichment to their lives. I realized recently that like me at 19, many people don’t know what enrichment is, or how to start in an inexpensive way, so here’s my cheap and easy introduction!

Use Puzzle Feeders instead of bowls! Your pup can solve a puzzle to get their food instead of quickly eating it out of a bowl! Not only does this provide mental stimulation, but it also slows down hasty eaters. Some great puzzle toys are Kongs, the Kong Wobbler, and snuffle mats, but you can also DIY it and use a muffin tin as a puzzle bowl! My boys were shocked and dismayed when I introduced puzzle feeders for the first time because they weren’t used to having to figure something out to get their food, but they quickly got the hang of it, and yours can to! Now they’re excited when the Kongs or snake toy come out.

Take your dog on a Sniffing Walk! Think about how much time you spend watching TV, scrolling social media, and reading books- sniffing novel things is the canine equivalent! Next time you take your dog for a walk, let them lead the way and sniff whatever they want to their hearts content. If you want to learn more about the amazing way that dogs use their noses and why sniffing is so vital for them, check out “Being a Dog” by Alexandra Horowitz! I used to worry that people would think ~tHe DoG iS wAlKiNg YoU tHoUgh~ and you know what, they are! It’s THEIR walk!! Let it be!

Play hide and go seek! This can be done with people or treats and is a blast either way. If you have a helper, have them take a treat and hide in an easy location, then ask your dog to “Go find the person!” When they do find your helper, they should give them a treat and praise. You can also do this one on one using just treats- with your pup confined, hide one treat in an easy spot. Ask your dog to “Go find it!” and they’ll be rewarded by eating the treat when they do. As they get better and better at finding hidden people and/or treats, gradually increase the difficulty of the hiding spots. We don’t do this as much as we used to anymore because Boots has a hard time when it’s not his turn, but I definitely want to reintroduce this game when my fiancé and I have a less crazy schedule so he can help me!

Practice Good Manners! Running through the cues that your dog knows, like Sit, Down, Shake, etc. is not only mentally enriching for them, but also helps them to be better citizens of our human world. Using positive reinforcement like treats and affection to train is fun for both humans and dogs! You can also work on new and fun tricks with books like “101 Dog Tricks & How to Teach Them” by Kyra Sundance or by finding a force free, positive reinforcement trainer in your area to take classes with. A good way to find someone credentialed is by searching on the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers website, or on the Karen Pryor Academy website. I’ve loved being in training class with Boots, and Chris is dying to get back in another class with Ranger, but even without class, there’s so much to learn and do at home and through Youtube videos!

I hope you go down the rabbit hole into the wonderful world of Canine Enrichment! It will make you and your dog’s life so much happier, I swear!

Til next time,