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Meet the Northern Ireland woman who makes pooches the guests of honour at owners' weddings



Joanne Cairns who runs Petticoat Tails, holds her dog Vernon

Joanne Cairns who runs Petticoat Tails, holds her dog Vernon

Joanne Cairns who runs Petticoat Tails, holds her dog Vernon

Joanne Cairns, from Maghaberry, will dress up the pets, chaperone them for photos and even care for them while couples are away on honeymoon.

‘You can go to town on outfits or keep it simple’

Dog lover Joanne Cairns couldn't imagine her wedding day last year without having her four beloved pet pooches there to share it. Figuring out just how to allow her dogs to be part of the celebration proved tricky, but triggered an idea which led the mum-of-one to give up her job in teaching to launch a unique new wedding service.

Petticoat Tails pet chaperoning service is the first company of its kind offering to bring your pets to your big day - and Joanne will even teach them to sit for photographs and dress them up for the occasion.

Launched just a year ago, the service also includes caring for your pet in her home - where there is a dedicated dog lounge complete with relaxing background music - the night before your wedding and while you go on honeymoon.


Katrina’s fiance Connell

Katrina’s fiance Connell

Joanne, who lives in Maghaberry, has just started promoting her new service at local wedding fairs and has been delighted by the interest.

She has already created special days for a number of brides by chaperoning their pets and has several bookings for next year.

Joanne, who married her partner David Cairns, a civil servant, in an intimate civil service at a local restaurant last summer, has one son Owen (17) from a previous marriage.

She grew up in Lurgan where there was always a Labrador pet in the family and her love of dogs developed through her teens when she became a volunteer for the USPCA. Today she still volunteers for Rosie's Trust, a charity which helps terminally ill people keep their pets.

She also trains dogs and competes in agility tests where she has represented Ireland at European and world level as well as qualifying for Crufts, also at European and world level.

She has four dogs, three of them rescue, which she adores - two red and white border collies Flynn and Souk, a Patterdale cross Scamp, and a long-haired Chihuahua called Vernon Dog Little.

She says: "My whole life revolves around the dogs and they are such a big part of our life and our family, that for them not to be at our wedding just didn't seem right and I really wanted them in the pictures as something to remember.

"The problem was, who was going to look after them? I didn't want them running around annoying my guests and because all my family were going to be there I didn't know who I could get to bring them and take them home again.

"We just had a small wedding of 25 people and in the end I asked a friend who wasn't going to it and she agreed. Then we had the issue of transport and how she could get them all there.


Katrina Hay with her dog Beauty

Katrina Hay with her dog Beauty

"They also had to be groomed to get their photos taken so that they looked as good as possible. It struck me there was a lot to it and that it could be a service that I would be happy to offer to other brides and grooms."

By the time her own wedding took place in June Joanne had already made her mind up to launch her new business. She took a year's career break from her job as an English teacher and focused on launching Petticoat Tails as a business.

Part of the service also involves training dogs to sit and stay for your wedding photographs.

She has a range of props and doggy clothes and can even have outfits specially made to match the bridal party.

She says: "There are so many things I can get from very simple things like matching leads and bandanas to getting dresses to match the bride or bridesmaids.

"Bandanas are very popular and we can do a lot of slogans such as 'top dog' or 'dog of honour' and 'my humans are getting married'.


Some of the doggy wedding outfits Joanne has used

Some of the doggy wedding outfits Joanne has used

"We also have dickie bows and full tuxedos with a shirt, bow and jacket.

"You can really go to town with the outfits or keep it simple.

"We are always very careful that the dog is kept happy and if they were distressed we wouldn't dress them up as much."

Joanne has a doggy lounge in her home dedicated to her pets.

It opens directly onto the garden to give them the freedom to roam and play.

There are sofas and a futon for the dogs to lounge on and a radio is constantly playing in the background to keep them relaxed. It is to this very calming dog-friendly environment that she takes the pets the night before the wedding and prepares them for the big day.


Some of the doggy wedding outfits Joanne has used

Some of the doggy wedding outfits Joanne has used

Explaining how it works, she says: "The dog has a sleepover and I make sure it is exercised and fed and it lives in our home with us. If it needs groomed I organise that and on the day of the wedding I will bring the dog and keep it out of the way until the bride is ready for it for the photographs.

"I work with the dog to make sure it looks right and is doing what they want for the pictures.

"I then take it away again and it lives with our dogs for as long as the couple want. It's a home from home for them, not a boarding service.


Some of the doggy wedding outfits Joanne has used

Some of the doggy wedding outfits Joanne has used

"In our business the dog is treated as one of our own and we worship our dogs."

Bespoke packages for Joanne's bridal service start from £150. You can find out more at www.petticoattailsireland.com

‘It’ll make big day extra special knowing Beauty is looked after’

Katrina Hay says she thought she had won the lottery when she spotted Joanne at a local bridal fair recently. Katrina (32) from Cookstown is planning to tie the knot with her fiance Connell Early (35), a plumber, in November next year.


Joanne Cairns and her husband David on their wedding day with three of her dogs

Joanne Cairns and her husband David on their wedding day with three of her dogs

The couple will celebrate their big day with 240 family and friends in Killymoon Castle.

And while they have planned the perfect day, there was just one detail that was worrying them - what to do with Katrina's beloved pet terrier Beauty.

Katrina says: "When I saw Joanne at the bridal fair I couldn't believe my luck and I actually felt as if I had won the lottery.

"We had planned that my mum would go and check on Beauty after the service and again after the photos had been taken and later that evening.

"It wasn't ideal and I am sure it would have ruined the day for her but we didn't have any other choice. I know that at some point I too would have left my own wedding to go home and check on her.

"Beauty doesn't like strangers and is a nervous dog and when I brought her to Joanne's house she took to her straight away and loved her dogs and was even lying up on the dog bed.

"It is going to make our wedding day extra special knowing that Beauty is being well looked after and that she will be part of it too and have her picture taken with us."

Beauty is very precious to Katrina because she is her first dog.

Katrina spent her childhood asking for a pet dog but it wasn't until she moved into her own home that she was finally able to have her wish.

Beauty, who is now 12, came to her from a rescue centre at the age of just seven months old. She had endured a traumatic start in life.

Katrina says: "I was asking for a dog for as long as I can remember and when I moved into my own home it was one of the first things I got.

"I knew I wanted to adopt a dog and when Beauty came to me she had fur loss and was very skinny and very timid.

"She had been beaten and starved and had a bad start. I've never left her before and leaving her on my wedding day was always going to be hard.

"Everyone we know will be at the wedding so there was nobody I could ask to go and stay with her.

"Joanne is keeping her the night before our wedding and on our wedding night and I know she will love it and it will be like a holiday to her."

As Katrina's parents are originally from Scotland, she was thrilled that Joanne was able to source a very special bandana, collar and lead made in the family tartan for Beauty to wear to the wedding.

It says everything about how cherished her dog is that people affectionately refer to Katrina, Connell and Beauty as "the three musketeers".

Katrina adds: "Joanne was not only able to source our family tartan for beauty but she was able to personalise it and on the lead we have 'The Three Earlys' and on the collar, the date of our wedding and on the bandana 'dog of honour'.

"It's a wonderful service and it is just amazing to know Beauty has someone to look after her and is going to be part of our wedding. I couldn't speak highly enough of Joanne, she has been fantastic and what a brilliant idea."

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