LOS ANGELES — When pet owners dress up their dogs in miniature white dresses and tiny tuxes, some believe the barks that signal “I do” reveal true puppy love.
These animal lovers say their pooches can feel real longing for other pets, but experts aren’t so sure. Most people agree a wedding is just for fun or charity when the groom is drooling and the bride’s gown needs tailoring for her tail. After all, “you may now lick the bride” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
Doggy nuptials are gaining attention as Valentine’s Day approaches and people find new ways to pamper their pets.
“Pet marriage or weddings are for people,” said Dr. Bonnie Beaver, executive director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and a professor at Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
Owners host weddings because it makes them feel good, she said, though most get planned for dogs instead of cats. People can’t know what dogs are thinking, but studies have shown they do experience emotion, Beaver said.
“Fear is a classic example,” she said. “But we don’t know if they experience it as you or I would.”
Others say it’s all about the animals — even if that means the first dance is a walk around a patch of grass instead a waltz.
“The weddings are for the dogs,” said Adina Slotsky, the owner and CEO of Hollywood Pet Parties. Though birthday parties, dubbed “barkdays,” are much more popular, she said.
When owners plan doggy nuptials, aka “puptials,” they can go all out. There are groomsmen and bridesmaids of every breed — and even some people who get down on all fours — flowers, music and a reception with food both people and pooches can enjoy, ranging from apple slices to baby back ribs with spinach.
All pet weddings move quickly because of short animal attention spans. With all the distractions, dogs are leashed.
A simple wedding costs about $300, Slotsky said. But it can easily grow to thousands of dollars if guests are plentiful, the venue is top-notch, the food is extravagant, a band plays and a florist creates centerpieces, she said.
One thing pet owners don’t have to worry about is divorce. But because animals have unique personalities just like people, there is no guarantee two animals will get along, Beaver said.
No studies show pets like or love one another, but “it is very common for two or more individual animals to spend a great amount of time together and show signs of stress if separated,” she said.
But some stick by the belief that dogs love, including Carol Bryant, co-founder of Wigglebutt Warriors, the fundraising division of dog health website Fidose of Reality.
“I do believe that dogs can love and be in love with each other,” said Bryant, whose cocker spaniel married another dog for a company fundraiser.