Maybe Not White Tie, But a Whole Lotta Tails
Pet Owners' Marriage Ceremony Is Veiled in Irony
By Adriane Quinlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 29, 2006; Page C01
BALTIMORE -- During a 2004 debate about same-sex marriage, a Republican state senator in New Hampshire warned of a slippery slope and asked, "What about a person who loves their pet? Should we allow them to marry?" Why, yes, responds a burly man in a kilt -- traditional Scottish wedding garb -- who is waiting onstage in a bar to wed his male puppy, Mickey. "I have a closer relationship to Mickey than two of my three wives," explains David "Big Dave" Sanderson, who named the mongrel after puppy-eyed Mickey Rourke in the 1987 film "Barfly."
Sanderson was one of seven owners who swore undying devotion to their pets in rituals Thursday night at the Ottobar, where three dogs, two cats, a tarantula and a turtle were (unlawfully) united with human caretakers in what bar owner Mike Bowen called the city's first "interspecies marriage ceremony."
From left, Calob, Sarah Cathcart, Shannon Reilly, Angela Devoti and Fionnuala Fox (holding Chachi) in a sing-along after marrying their pets at Ottobar. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
The tongue-in-cheek event had nothing to do with bestiality, participants said, but had something to do with animal rights, something to do with equal rights, and a lot to do with being single and thirty-something, weathering the taunts of the happily married and going home every night to your dog.
"Same-sex, interspecies, I don't care. Love is transcendent," said Steve Diamond, putting down his drink to pet his four-inch tarantula, Barbarella. "I'll be a good husband to her," he pledged. "I'm the one who does all the cooking and cleaning."
Perched on Diamond's arm, Barbarella was silhouetted against the animated film "All Dogs Go to Heaven" projected on a back wall. From speakers overhead, dogs barked renditions of Beatles songs, and near the stage, animal crackers "trotted" across the pale pink frosting of a wedding cake.
After a few dogs met, sniffed and tussled in the back room while their owners watched, about 30 drinkers clumped around candle-lit party tables sheeted in pink and sprinkled with confetti, and turned to face the altar as Baltimore musician Snacky Hillman climbed onstage, adjusted his black toupee, set down his martini, and struck a few chords on an electric keyboard.
Each couple was led by "flower girl" Sarah Perrich. In her dirty white dress, sucking on a bottle of Yuengling and tossing plastic petals half-heartedly, she looked less flower girl and more Courtney
Love in the video for "Violet." Beneath a bower laced with Christmas lights and roses presided the "honorable reverend" Bowen, outfitted in a judge's dark robes and a white winter scarf. Earlier that day Ottobar employee Angela Devoti had ordained him as a minister, online, through the Universal Life Church (ULC.org).
"Do you want to see my certificate?" Bowen said, pointing a finger to his chest. "'Cause I printed one out."
The state of Maryland allows "commitment ceremonies," but they carry no legal validity. Said John Wank Miller, supervisor of Baltimore's marriage license department: "The annotated code of Maryland gives you a definition of marriage that has nothing to do with animals."
The nuptial event was the result of an escalating dare. One fateful day at the Ottobar, Devoti gushed to Bowen about her cat, Emilio, and Bowen snapped back, "If you love it so much, why don't you marry it?" Devoti, maturely, said, "Well, maybe I will." Then Bowen retorted: "Well, you should do it. I'll do it. I'll marry you to your cat. At the Ottobar. In a public ceremony."
"My attempt," Bowen recalled, "was to make her look crazy and alone."
But when Devoti started spreading the news, jealous friends wanted in. Fionnuala Fox already had her Chihuahua Chachi's name tattooed on her left arm; why not take it a step further and get hitched? Fox mailed handmade invites, registered at local stores and dressed like a real bride -- one who happens to favor the snow-white four-inch thigh-high platform boots of a streetwalker. Having just split with a boyfriend, she saw this as an opportunity to, she said in the gravelly voice of a young cynic, "be married at least once in my life."In recent years animal owners have increasingly treated their pets as "humans in disguise," patronizing a rising metropolis of dog bakeries and pet hotels. There are historical precedents: Roman emperor Caligula supposedly both married and appointed to the Senate his horse Incitatus ("To excite"). Two quirky news stories floated around the Internet during the past year: In December, a 41-year-old Brit jokingly married a male dolphin to mock her single status, and in June a traditional Hindu wedding of 2,000 guests celebrated the betrothal of a woman to a snake that she believed had cured her long illness.
Today, the Web site MarryYourPet.com, created by British freelance writer Dominique Lesbirel, is the hub for pet marriage. Lesbirel warns it is "not to be taken as a joke." A series of screens lets couples click through their vows, and for a fee Lesbirel will send a T-shirt and a certificate of marriage. Within 10 days of its inception two years ago, the site had received over 100,000 hits and several angry letters from readers who had misinterpreted it as condoning bestiality, though Lesbirel said she had only intended the marriage "as a metaphor for committing to your pet for life" -- to better raise awareness about cruelty to animals.
"You have to take your love where you can find it," she said from her farmhouse in Greece, which she shares with a dozen stray cats.
Her site illustrates the divide between the over-the-top attachment owners develop for their pets and the increasing difficulty of human romantic relationships these days. The Baltimore ceremony was a playground for romantic cynics; it could have served as the setting for Adam Sandler's drunken "Wedding Singer" performance of "Love Stinks."
Big Dave Sanderson wanted to use his marriage as a platform for protest. From the stage, he noted how many of his gay friends are "denied this by those hypocrites, the religious right." The event may have started as a joke, but Devoti sees the day coming when pet marriage will put offenders in cuffs (or the doghouse). "We thought we might as well marry our pets before laws go through and this turns into a huge congressional debate," she said.
Geoff Danek lumbered onstage in a Speedo and scuba goggles, with a plastic bucket in one hand and an acoustic guitar in the other. In the bucket was his red-eared slider turtle, Randy, who rested on a bed of gravel as Danek serenaded her thus: "We've been through heaven and hell / Now we're both growing out of our shells."
At the chorus, "Marry me, Randy," the Rev. Bowen harmonized, then clapped his hands, saying "Yahtzee!" With that, they were married, and a happy couple waddled off to a waiting limo -- actually Bowen's own black SUV -- which drove the pair around the block. The shaving-cream message on the back window: "Just Married . . . 2 my pet."
Inside, Sarah Cathcart stood onstage in a thong and leather chaps. "I will never be able to tell you," she said to her golden retriever, Calob, "how much I completely love you."
An hour later, a few feet from the bar where Cathcart was getting a drink, Calob, an old dog at 11 years, hunkered down and fell asleep -- a blissful wedding night.