When Kayla Casciano and Alex Heroff met their puppy, Minnie, it was love at first sight. The couple of nine years took her home that same day in December 2018.
As the puppy became a part of the family, Casciano and Heroff began to wonder how they could include her in their upcoming wedding — with Heroff being an Eden Prairie firefighter and Minnie a 6-month-old Dalmatian, how could they resist? — but the logistics posed some challenges.
“We didn’t want friends and family to watch her because we wanted people at the wedding to be able to enjoy it,” Casciano explained, and they didn’t feel comfortable hiring a stranger.
That’s where Lara Leinen and her company, Doggy Social MN, came into the picture. Doggy Social MN is a Minnetonka-based wedding pet attendant service that helps pet owners include their furry family in wedding celebrations.
Since starting the company in May 2018, Leinen has assisted in more than 50 weddings, she told Eden Prairie News.
“I didn’t know how needed it was,” she reflected. “When I did start the business, I thought I’d made it up.”
Leinen’s wedding day attendant service covers everything from planning timelines to escorting dogs to venues and supervising them during celebrations.
A staff member at Casciano and Heroff’s wedding venue referred them to Doggy Social MN. Leinen’s first step was to discuss goals and ideas with the couple to understand what they want out of Minnie’s involvement. She then created a timeline of where and when she, or one of her two employees, would be with Minnie throughout the day, and shared it with Casciano and Heroff.
The plan is to have Minnie walk down the aisle during the ceremony and mingle with guests, all with supervision from Leinen.
“Now that it’s two months away, we’re getting very excited,” Casciano said. “We’re hoping that she walks down the aisle successfully.”
Dogs often pick up on the energy and excitement of the day, Leinen said, and the attendant pays close attention to the pet’s behavior as the day progresses. Leinen tries to meet every dog before the wedding so she can get to know the pet’s habits and behavior. Typically, excitement leads to panting, which can be dehydrating, so Leinen makes sure to provide plenty of water and bathroom breaks for the dog.
She hasn’t had to use “Plan B” yet — removing an overexcited dog from the venue — but has had plenty of practice handling overexcited or tipsy guests, who will sometimes try to feed the dog food or drinks from the party. The key here is redirection, Leinen says, and to that end she keeps dog treats handy so the guest can give the dog a more appropriate snack. Most of the time, “They have no idea I just told them no,” she added.
While safety is always the first priority, Leinen also helps dress dogs for photo shoots, provides lists of nontoxic floral arrangements and takes photos of the pet’s experience to provide the “pup’s perspective” to show the couple any cute interactions they missed.
For Amanda Clark, seeing photos of her happy dog and guests was the highlight of her wedding.
“I don’t think I could make a day so perfect,” Clark said.
Clark married her husband, Wesley, in December 2018, alongside their 4-year-old rescue dog Emily. She met Leinen through her work as a wedding photographer and quickly signed up for Doggy Social’s services. She’s heard her fair share of “horror stories” about weddings gone wrong when a dog gets out of hand, and having a professional care for Emily — and handle the dog’s hour-long trip from the couple’s home to the venue in St. Peter — relieved the stress of the day.
“I have so many clients who say, ‘I wish my dog could be here,’” Clark said. “She’s our child, I don’t know what we would do without her.”
Leinen chalks the service’s popularity up to a cultural shift in the way pet owners see their dogs. Instead of a dog living primarily outdoors and guarding the home, dogs have become more akin to family, she explained.
“Our dogs are on our laps watching TV with us,” she noted. “(Couples) can’t imagine their day without them.”
It was her own dog, 18-month-old Asbjorn, who inspired her to create Doggy Social MN. She’d worked as a wedding coordinator before and advice and help from other local business owners were essential to getting Doggy Social MN off the ground.
“I can’t emphasize enough having the relationships with different vendors,” she said.
For now, Leinen calls Doggy Social MN a “passion project,” albeit one she spends 60 hours a week on. She also works as an event manager for Sidewalk Dog, a website that tracks dog-friendly businesses and events in Minneapolis, Denver, Chicago and Seattle. She’s made contact with similar businesses in California and Florida, and has plans to expand in the future but is taking it slow for now to make sure every wedding is as perfect as it can be.
“The events are incredibly fulfilling,” she said. “I always get a little teary-eyed at the end of the day.”