A hush fell on a giggling crowd at the Lord Baltimore Hotel as the bride prepared to make her entrance.
More than 300 guests stood at the start of a harp processional. Many took out their phones and start filming as Lily, 1, trotted into a grand ballroom in a rhinestone collar and custom silk wedding dress to meet her groom, a three-legged dog named Nugget.
Nugget, described by his owner as a “good ole fashioned Baltimore mutt,” seemed more interested in the meaty treats he was being fed at the altar than the tall boxer-rottweiler mix headed his way. But as a weepy officiant read the couple’s vows, Nugget responded with several resounding bowwows.
The nuptials between these two rescue dogs Saturday was the main attraction of a black-tie gala held by the nonprofit Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter, the largest animal shelter in Maryland. The fundraising idea was conceived by Bailey Deacon, BARCS’ director of philanthropy and communications, over a bottle of wine in 2019 and met with great success the next year.
The coronavirus pandemic placed the event on a two-year hiatus, but the BARCS dog wedding made a triumphant return Saturday by raising $60,000 for the nonprofit, double the amount from its first event. Tickets for the sold-out event ranged from $75 to $150 per person.
The scrappy organization is popular in Baltimore for its adoptable pets and charitable programs, such as paying medical costs for stray animals. Employees estimate 30 animals are surrendered to the shelter each day, about 10,000 animals per year.
“BARCS is an underdog. We never have enough funding. We have more animals than staff,” Deacon said. “We felt like if we do a gala, we have to be fun. We have to be more BARCS than a typical gala.”
Canine matchmakers set up Nugget and Lily for a first date at Bark Social in Canton. They assure it was love at first butt sniff. BARCS employees say both dogs were on the brink of death when they were brought into the shelter in 2022. Their lives and puppy love showcase the animal rescue organization’s mission to cover exorbitant medical costs.
“There’s not a budget for that. It costs thousands of dollars, and BARCS figures it out every time by relying on our community,” Deacon said.
Baltimore Police officers were searching a house last May when they found Nugget, about 6 weeks old and severely injured. Another dog had attacked Nugget days before, causing major bite wounds and a fractured leg that had to be amputated.
“He lost his leg because of abuse,” said Debra Rahl, Lily’s owner and a BARCS director of special events. “There are times when a dog like that would be euthanized.”
Amethyst Tymoch fostered, then adopted Nugget during his recovery. He showed no sign of being held back by the disability as he bounced down the aisle Saturday to the “Game of Thrones” soundtrack.
Animal services discovered Lily in June, abandoned by her family and trapped in a vacant apartment with another dog. The two went without food or water for weeks. Lily weighed 26 pounds and was emaciated. Bones protruded on her entire body, and she was too weak to stand.
Rahl carried her outside to go to the bathroom, fed her multiple small meals a day, and eventually adopted her. Now, Lily is 60 pounds and a “ball of energy” who loves people and other dogs, Rahl said. Rahl, a 16-year employee who lives a mile away from BARCS, has fostered many animals over the years, including a baby goat on an emergency basis.
As a couple, Lily and Nugget complement each other. Nugget’s white coat and small size are aesthetically balanced by Lily’s dark fur and tall stature. Tymoch handmade a blue silk waistcoat to fasten around Nugget’s missing leg.
“It’s ‘Bridgerton’ hot,” Tymoch said of the style, which was inspired by the Netflix show set in the Regency era of England.
She fashioned a blue flower and belt for Lily’s dress, which matched the design on a five-tier wedding cake.
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During the ceremony, BARCS employees walked five adoptable kittens wearing blue tutus down the aisle, causing Nugget’s ears to perk up. Dusty blue is a wedding trend for 2023, Tymoch said.
“This is the most absurd thing ever,” Michelle LeRoy said with a laugh while snapping photos of Lily after the ceremony.
Like many in attendance, LeRoy supports rescue animals. She and her husband have adopted senior animals for the past six years, giving older dogs and cats comfortable lives before they die. Her 16-year-old Chihuahua, Evie, is still kicking, despite having no teeth, she said.
“I made a promise to my husband when we came here that we wouldn’t walk away with a new pet,” LeRoy said.
Preston Gazaway adopted his St. Bernard, Gracie, from BARCS five years ago after she was thrown out of a van. She risked being euthanized because of a biting issue, Gazaway said. He saved Gracie by training her not to bite.
“There are plenty of dogs out there” to adopt, Gazaway said.
BARCS organizers say the dog wedding will become an annual event. As for the happy couple, vows included taking long, slow walks around Baltimore; sharing tennis balls; and eating wet food for the rest of their lives.