Doing it doggy style for a cause

By Megan Ferringer

The bitter mid-November wind and gloomy overcast were little more than minor hiccups to the hundreds who gathered in Oak Park, Ill., on Nov. 8. The 200 attendees arrived late morning, bundled up and optimistic; they weren’t going to let a bit of unfavorable late-fall weather complicate their plans for a downtown wedlock ceremony-doggy style.

No white flower bouquets were tossed and no triple-tiered wedding cake was cut, but 87 dog couples were married in Oak Park. Beside providing nuptials for love-locked canines, the event served as a significant fundraiser for Oak Park’s Animal Care League, raising more than $6,000, and also an attempt at breaking a Guinness world record.

“The event generated a bunch of enthusiasm on a local level with the public,” said Tom Van Winkle, director of the Animal Care League. “But the whole Guinness Book of World Records opportunity added a great twist that gave the mass dog wedding a larger platform to promote Oak Park’s Animal Care League.”

The event, officially titled “I Do, Doggone it!” was one of the many fundraisers the large animal shelter holds each year, and Van Winkle said this is their largest and most significant event.

Hundreds of owners were invited to bring their single canines in hopes of sparking a chemistry with fellow mate-seekers interested in tying the knot.

Pat Zuback, the director for Downtown Oak Park and coordinator for the event, said those interested in participating paid a $5 registration fee for their dogs as well as a $5 “speed-dating” fee for those yet to find their “life partners.”

“I saw this one freezing dachshund, so his owner took him to the nearby pet boutique and bought him a sweater. He was rushed off to speed dating, and I later saw him happily matched up with another little dog in a pink outfit,” Zuback said. “It was actually very surreal.”

More than 170 dogs were “married” on Nov. 8., and although bordering on the line of absurd, owners decided to go along with the extravagance of the event by pampering their pooches beforehand with white lace dresses, pink manicures and red rose boutonnieres-the pets went dapper for their few love-binding minutes of walking down the aisle.

“The vows were read to the dog couples and that whole spiel,” Zuback said. “The whole thing was definitely for the good-humored pet owners, and it was all very tongue-in-cheek. They were even given marriage certificates.”

Zuback said that the event started out small and was nothing more than the Animal Care League’s annual fall fundraiser, but once the Guinness Book of World Records became interested, the event went international, drawing great attention.

The current mass dog wedding record recorded by Guinness World Records stands at 178 couples, which was established in May 2007 in Colorado. Although the Oak Park event fell short, marketing director for the event, Matt Baron, said that the event was a bigger success than they could have hoped for. The involvement of Guinness brought in greater publicity, which had people from all over the area interested in taking part.

“Although it was a disappointment that we fell short of the record, it’s still never-say-never to trying it again,” Baron said. “It’s a great fundraiser for the city, plus I would like to see Oak Park be a part of setting this record.”

The involvement of more than 200 people helped downtown Oak Park bring in $6,000 for the Animal Care League, which will be used to support the shelter’s animals by covering food and medical costs.

The shelter is a nonprofit organization that houses homeless cats and dogs in the area, and according to Van Winkle, their funding comes from the generosity of the Oak Park community to help keep the shelter running.

“Many of the people at the wedding donated extra money to the Animal Care League, which brought in nearly $2,000 in donations alone,” Zuback said. “People definitely came in the spirit for the event.”