Anna and Aaron Shoopak knew their 10-year-old dog, Brandy, would be part of their wedding. The only question was if she'd be the ring bearer or a flower girl.
"She's a part of us. She's a part of our family," Anna Shoopak, a 29-year-old dentist, told TODAY. (Her now-husband is a 29-year-old orthodontist. You can only imagine how great their smiles are.)
That's not an unusual feeling these days in this pet-loving country where we will spend an estimated $63 billion on our animals this year. Which is why you'll find an array of websites offering, say, 29 tips for including your dog in your wedding. But even with good advice at your disposal, it may not be so easy to figure out things like who will be responsible for taking care of your dog during the ceremony.
Enter Kelly Maronpot and Ilana Mobley, 26 and 25 respectively, who are childhood friends and obsessive dog lovers. While working at a fancy hotel in Tampa, Florida, the pair kept hearing that guests wanted to include pets in their weddings, but felt overwhelmed by logistics.
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"Everyone they would trust with their pet is already involved in their wedding festivities and so they figured it just wouldn’t be possible," Maronpot told TODAY in an email.
The pair saw opportunity, and two years ago founded FairyTail Pet Care — which, among its services, offers pet wedding packages designed to make sure your critters can be part of your big day, without worry.
"We provide transportation, constant love and care, lots of exercise and playtime, a wedding bandana, help the pets pose for photos, and help to include them in the ceremony," said Maronpot.
They've been part of about 30 weddings so far, each memorable in its own way — like the couple who got surprised with a puppy by one of their guests, or the one with a hairless service cat who walked on a leash and used the toilet.
"We had so much fun including him in his parents' special day, and we are definitely open to working with all sorts of animals," Maronpot said.
Just recently, the pair met pet photographer and shelter pet advocate Adam Goldberg — and together they came up with a brand new feature to offer animal-loving clients: wedding photos from the pet's perspective, with 20 percent of the media package donated to the animal-related charity of the couple's choice.
"The wedding photographer is unable to get these types of photos because he or she is preoccupied with the family," said Goldberg. "Shooting from the dog's point of view is something most have never seen."
The team launched the project on the side, initially offering the service for family and friends. Last weekend was their first official shoot, when the crew looked after and photographed Brandy during the Shoopaks' wedding at a yacht club in Clearwater Beach, Florida.
Brandy — who got the role of flower girl in the end, and was also a sort of bridesmaid — enjoyed exploring the beach with her attendants and official pup-arazzi, and then walked down the aisle with a groomsman.
"We brought her off to the side and she watched intently, tongue hanging out, as her mom and dad said “I do,'" said Maronpot. "It’s as if she knew that the day was something really special for her family."
Having Brandy there was special for her family, too.
"It was really nice, seeing her walk down the aisle," said Aaron Shoopak. "We especially love the pictures of her watching the wedding, and seeing us."
"It was perfect," said Anna Shoopak.