Dr. Stephanie LaFrage of the ASPCA

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Courtesy of ASPCA

For brides like Jennifer Hudson—who told Access Hollywood that she is planning to include her dogs in her wedding—celebrating their new unions wouldn't be complete without acknowledging their beloved cats and dogs. In honor of the ASPCA's new wedding favors program, Senior Director of Counseling Services Dr. Stephanie LaFrage gave us advice on involving your furry friends in the wedding and merging your pets in your new home. —Kathryn Papanek

What are some ways that a couple can go about involving their pets in their wedding?

It is quite natural to want to include your pet in one of the most important events of your life. However, their presence should symbolize their status as 'a member of the family' and not just as a novel wedding accessory. If your pet is willing and able, enlist them as a ring bearer or flower girl. Even you decide it's not appropriate for your pet to be physically at your wedding, your pet can certainly be incorporated into..

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the wedding theme and decorations. You can use dog tags as place cards for your guests, or dog bone-shaped cookies as favors.

What factors should a couple take into account when determining whether they should include their pets in their wedding?

Consult with your veterinarian or animal behaviorist about your pet's comfort zone. They will be able to give you an idea of very subtle and very specific signs of stress in your animal. If your pet tends to get easily unnerved by changes in environment or social situations, then perhaps a lively scene such as a wedding might not be the best place for them. If you want your pet to serve a specific function such as ring bearer or flower dog, rehearse the expected behavior several weeks in advance. Make sure you also know which treats will help motivate your pet to perform the specific function.

You have a cat and your future husband has a dog. How make sure that the animals will get along when you merge your two households together?

The merger of a dog and a cat into one household has the greatest chance of success if the transition is made very slowly, over weeks or even months. Completely separate the pets except during short, closely supervised introduction sessions with the dog on leash. Both pets should be given a reason to like spending time together, so bring out favorite treats and toys during introduction sessions and put them away when the sessions are over. Gradually increase the duration of the sessions and the amount of freedom the animals have together if both seem relaxed and nonchalant about the other's presence.

What should you do if your future husband is allergic to your pet?

This is an extremely important issue that must be resolved before you merge your households. If his physician says he should not live with your animal you may have to choose between the pet and this man. Almost any well socialized pet can be successfully "rehomed" once the owner grieves for her loss. If your husband is allergic to this pet, you probably will have to remain without a pet as long as you stay married. Make sure you accept that reality before marry or you will be continually frustrated and resentful.

Dogs seem to be the most common animal that people include in weddings. Are there ways a couple can include or acknowledge other types of animals as such cats or birds?

The nature of cats, birds, snakes, pocket pets and fish make it very hard to arrange a wedding to accommodate their needs for safety and comfort. As an alternative the animal can be included in the photographs or maintained in a separate room that guests can visit in a controlled manner. Children need to be prevented from overwhelming any animal.

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