It was a perfect day for a white wedding — even though the happy couple were not your average bridal party.
The sun shone down on Belfast Barge in early April as Captain Bob married his partner, Gino. All good so far… but Bob is actually a Lhasa Apso owned by barge manager Susan Doherty, and Bichon Frise Gino belongs to Susan’s friend Siobhan McGuigan.
The wedding was held to raise money for Moira rescue charity Almost Home, with around 30 guests in attendance — many of them bringing their own dogs.
A congregation including labradors, dachshunds, chihuahuas and many more watched the pair say their vows and sign their marriage certificate to officially become “hus-pups”.
BBC Newsline weather presenter Cecilia Daly officiated over the nuptials, assisted by her own dog, black lab Pedro, and the newlyweds also wagged their tails with delight at video messages from friends wishing them well.
“I’m overwhelmed by the support we’ve had for Belfast’s first gay dog wedding,” said mother-of-the-groom Susan. “Probably the first in Northern Ireland. Love is love.
“The whole day has been incredible. I’m just so proud of Bob, he was so well behaved, although he’s already tried humping some of the wedding guests so he’s not taking his vows that seriously.”
Bob and Gino’s love story began a year ago, when Siobhan adopted Gino from The Dog’s Trust. Soon the pair were inseparable. Like many good plans, Siobhan admits the idea for a dog wedding was cooked up over a couple of glasses of wine and snowballed as they decided to raise money for the rescue charity.
“We were joking about buying matching outfits for the dogs, and then we thought about wedding outfits, and that’s where the idea came from,” she explained.
“Gino and Bob have been best friends from the word go, they’re just inseparable, even though Bob has a busy job as captain of the barge.
“This wedding has been almost a year in the making, and we’ve had so much support and so many people volunteering to help us.
“On the morning of the wedding, I was so nervous; I was as jittery as any mother-of-the-groom would be.”
Guests arrived in their wedding best, with many of the dogs sporting bow ties, dresses and their best collars.
Bob made his way down the aisle in a smart tuxedo, while Gino donned a beautiful wedding dress complete with lace veil.
Also in the wedding party was best man Gizmo and bridesmaid Paddy — who wore an eye-catching pink tutu.
Gino is currently recovering from cruciate ligament surgery, so he was wheeled down the aisle in a pram converted into a wedding chariot for the occasion.
Bob looked solemn during the service, but Gino dozed through the ceremony and the exchanging of special collars symbolising their love. Saying the vows on Bob’s behalf, Susan said: “Gino, the first time I sniffed your bum I knew you were the dog for me. I promise I’ll always save you the last sausage in the bowl.”
When it came to Gino’s turn, Siobhan spoke about how Bob helped him settle into his new life, prompting a few tears in the congregation as she spoke of how Gino ended up in the rescue centre through no fault of his own.
She added: “Bob helped rescue me too — I’ll never forget running round the garden with him as I settled into my new home.”
The pair pledged to love each other, go for walks together and share treats, before being officially declared “hus-pup and hus-pup” by Cecilia.
They made their way back down the aisle as newlyweds to the sound of Puppy Love and a standing ovation.
Then there was a champagne reception and photographs in the sunshine outside the barge. Gino was happy to snooze in his pram while Bob milled around.
The party enjoyed a full wedding breakfast, with Gino and Bob taking pride of place at the top table, beneath an archway of balloons.
There was also a cutting of the cake, doggy bingo and a raffle to raise extra funds for Almost Home, before the loved-up pair enjoyed their first dance.
“They’ve been like an old married couple for a long time,” laughs Susan.
“They’re both getting on a bit now so Bob loves nothing more than curling up on the sofa with Gino for a cuddle after a long day working on the barge. He takes his duties as captain very seriously.”
Bob was back on duty on the barge this week, but the happy couple are hoping to enjoy a belated honeymoon in Ballycastle.
“They’ve had the most incredible day but they’re both shattered now,” said Siobhan. “We’re so touched by how this wedding has captured people’s imaginations.
“Friends who weren’t able to be with us watched the ceremony via a live video link — I even had a friend get up at 6.30am to watch the wedding from Alaska.
“I’ve a wee caravan in Ballycastle so we’re hoping the dogs can have a relaxing honeymoon up there at some point, with a few romantic strolls along the beach.
“They’ll definitely need to unwind — especially Gino. He had cruciate surgery on his two back legs in December and January, and it’s been a long recovery process.
“At first, he couldn’t walk at all, I was carrying him out to the loo, and he’s still not allowed off the lead. I think it was the thought of marrying Bob that kept him going.”
The event has raised at least £700 for Almost Home, with donations still coming in. To support the fundraising, search Belfast Barge on Facebook