February 14th has a tendency to split the nation into those with a significant other and those with a significant none. But for those of us who will not be booking a meal for two on that special day, there is always the possibility of celebrating the love of others, or even of another species…
We are a nation of animal lovers and Ann Clark is no exception: “I’ve always loved animals and I’ve always dressed animals – right from being a small girl. You know when you’re a child and you have a dream, well mine was to have about twenty or thirty cats in the house.”
Perhaps thankfully, the twenty or thirty cats have never quite appeared, but after her fiftieth birthday, Ann stumbled onto a scene which would force her to see love and life in a 25-year career in something completely different. “I was driving past this shop in Liverpool where there were all these white balloons, little strollers, little animal outfits, and there were two Chihuahuas who had just got married – they were having champagne and there was a pink limousine waiting outside. I thought, wow, that’s a really, really good idea. So I drove back home and I said to my partner, “Right, you know, we’ve got our cattery, and we’ve built that, can you build me something to do with animal weddings?”
Ann Clark is one of a kind. Perhaps unsurprisingly she is currently the only animal registrar in Britain and runs Kitz-Katz, her business, from her home in Desborough, alongside her cattery. Ann has registered marriages for everything from two rabbits, whose marriage was attended by over 75 guests, to an affluent pair of Essex born-and-bred dogs. No expense spared, their owners splashed out over £20,000 on their ‘special day’.
“At the end of the day, it’s not just humans who are in love, is it?”
Within months of her sighting of the love-struck Liverpudlian couple, a pagoda had been erected in the Clarkes’ garden in Desborough, and Anne, with personalised vows in hand and wearing her new dog collar – the vicar variety that is – was preparing for her first service. However, the relationship between Jack Russells Scooby and Scrappy soon displaced any second thoughts that the vicar might have been having. “They were absolutely, totally devoted to each other. When the bridegroom was being taken down the aisle, he was pulling on his owner’s lead. His bride was down the bottom, behind a tree, and he wanted to get back to her, because when they go out for walks, they share the same lead. I don’t think I’ve ever seen two animals as in love – they really were inseparable.”
As Scooby and Scrappy began their new life together, word of the animal vicar began to spread and before long, Ann was pencilling in dozens of bookings. Every wedding is different and Ann works tirelessly to make each couple’s day is personal and memorable. “We’ve got photographers, we’ve got a limousine company if they want it and we’ve got caterers. We have somebody who does bakes cakes which the dogs can eat, and then obviously we make cakes for the humans as well”.
On occasions, Ann’s efforts have led her to some near-misses. “There was one particular wedding when I was standing on the bridge and I had a secret tail on, so after I had said, “Please stand for your bride and groom”, I said, “Woof!” and asked the canine guests to wag their tails. As I turned round to wag the tail I was wearing, I lost my footing and I only just managed to stop myself from falling into the pond.”
The business became something more than a laughing matter when a certain Essex girl, and Diva Dogs boutique owner, Louise Harris, asked Ann to ensure that her dog’s special day was as extravagant as the life she was accustomed to. £20,000 was spent on the wedding with Lola, Louise’s Yorkshire terrier, wearing £1,000 of the total budget in the form of a diamond-encrusted bridal gown. A further £400 was required to cover the costs of the security team for the event. Ann could not believe the scale of the event. “I already knew that Louise was very flamboyant, she was very outgoing. As well as her Diva Dogs Boutique she does the collars for the dogs in TOWIE (The Only Way is Essex) and she does a lot of work on television.”
“But I was gobsmacked with that wedding, it was absolutely unbelievable. She really pushed the boat out, they had a doggy crèche there, they had dancers, they had a chocolate fountain, they had everything.” Sadly, the two newlyweds were fated to learn that having “everything” would not be enough to hold their marriage together. All involved were reminded of the importance of pre-nuptial agreements in such cases, when the dream wedding was followed by a far from amicable divorce. “Both parties of both dogs emailed me virtually at the same time and asked about the divorce proceedings. There were political problems between the owners.”
Ann has had to learn the hard way that a dream wedding does not always precede a happy ending. The vow of “Till death do us part” has somewhat more resonance for newlyweds who can expect little more than a decade, if that, of married life. Among her bereaved, Ann can count a widowed cat and Lottie, a dog who now grieves for her lesbian lover, a terrier known as Madame La Nine. These two dogs were the only couple that Ann has brought together by means of a civil partnership ceremony.
As a result of her experience, Ann is beginning to learn which animals are easier to wed than others. “We had two cats get married. When you have your normal moggie, and they’re okay in their own habitat, but you try and get them to sit still and do the wedding and you know, it doesn’t work, they got quite stressed, so we had to perform the service fairly quickly.”
For Ann, it is important to maintain a light-hearted tone throughout every service. “You can’t take this too seriously, and I don’t think anybody takes it too seriously. I’ve not got any kind of official licence and I won’t have a cross up. I wear a vicar’s collar, but I won’t have anything else religious around. If somebody asked for a cross for their animal’s wedding, I would say no.”
Despite Ann’s religious sensitivity, however, she has not escaped her critics. “I’ve received hate mail in the past. They’ve said all kinds of things. Apparently I’m sick, I need to get a life and that I’ve got to be crazy to do this. At the end of the day there are people who are going to think that. But from my point of view it’s my business and I’m performing a service that somebody requires. Everybody’s got a right to think whatever they want to think but at the end of the day, it’s fun, I’m enjoying what I do and I’m not hurting anybody. I think if I was marrying humans to animals then that would be a problem.”
The motives for continuing to serve as an animal registrar, for Ann, are clear. “I am very privileged to see so many animals celebrate their love, because, at the end of the day, it’s not just humans who are in love, is it? Turtle doves and swans, they mate for life, don’t they?” Ann always does her best to ensure that the unique love shared between two rather inarticulate individuals is put into words on their big day. “I write personal vows for each couple and I base these on meetings with the animals which are organised before the ceremony.”
Although the animals are the recipients of the majority of the attention at Ann’s weddings, many of the bipedal guests enjoy the romantic summer afternoons as well. “I had one chap who said to me, at one of the weddings, he told me, “I have never had a Sunday afternoon in years where I’ve smiled from beginning to end.” That was absolutely brilliant”.
It is responses such as these which motivate Ann to look forward to the future of her business, and there is a lot to look forward to. “I really want to look into doing christenings and there are a number of individual weddings that I am also really excited about. There’s even a possibility that we’re going to have an Elvis-themed wedding.”
It is the institution of marriage which Ann is so fascinated by. She believes that we are witnessing a period of time in which the religious foundations of marriage are being deconstructed, giving more couples freedom to claim it as their own. It is, in effect becoming malleable to suit the purposes of individual couples. “I think you should be able to marry whoever you want to marry. As long as it’s legal, there shouldn’t be a problem.”
In 2011, the royal wedding attracted 24.5 million viewers on terrestrial television alone. The New York Times estimates that the true number of viewers must have come close to three billion. To conclude our interview, I asked Ann why she believes that we all love weddings so much.
“Well, we all like a good party! We all like a good cry and we all like to feel sentimental. If you’ve got a human, or an animal, in marriage – you want to show their love and share it with everybody. For lots of people, it renews their marriage, everybody’s got a funny story about their wedding, and it just adds to that feel good factor. You feel good, you dress up, you feel happy, you feel happy whether you’re going to the wedding of an animal or a human being. I guess we all like a bit of romance!”
Indeed one imagines that for Ann, “all” will include a wider range of ‘lovers’ than most of us ever thought, or probably ever will think, exist…