Rita Janecek and Joseph Schaar pose behind Carol the bear and handler. 

We've all heard stories of animals showing up in places they don't belong, like a loose tiger on the highway or a moose making its way into a grocery store. But what about when a wild animal is personally invited to a special occasion, like your wedding?

Animal lovers and travel enthusiasts Rita Janecek and Joseph Schaar did just that by personally inviting Carol the grizzly bear to be the ring bearer at their wedding. The couple wed at Myakka City's Bearadise Ranch, a sanctuary for rescued bears, on March 21. Ranch owner Monica Welde led Carol, a bear born at Bearadise, down the aisle, where she passed off the rings and posed on her hind legs for a photo-op. 

Bearadise Ranch was not the couple's first choice in venue. Janecek and Schaar had planned to marry in the small town of Knik, Alaska, atop a glacier. "The photos would have been amazing," says Janecek. 

But with state lockdowns due to the coronavirus, they were unable to make their dream wedding a reality. 

Both have traveled to Alaska several times, and consider themselves among the original ecotourists. "Rita is definitely an animal lover," says Schaar. Even as the couple began dating five years ago, one of their first dates consisted of introducing their dogs. So animals were a necessary feature on their special day. 

Bearadise Ranch had been an alternative venue on the couple's list. They had met Welde a few years prior and decided to call her about dilemma. Within five days, Welde had planned an entire wedding for Janecek and Schaar, which consisted of a small ceremony with 15 guests. 

"Monica did an amazing job," says Janecek. "She helped with food, entertainment...everything."  

Schaar wedding at Bearadise Ranch. 

Bearadise Ranch hosts events and educational presentations, but this was one of the first weddings to take place at the venue. Established in 1926, the family-run sanctuary primarily cares for bears on-site, some of which have been featured in television shows and commercials. The ranch also has plenty of space for bears to roam.   

While some guests seemed uncomfortable at the sight of a wild animal walking down the aisle, the bride and groom remained calm and collected. "We have encounters with wildlife while traveling, especially in Alaska," says Schaar. "My grandkids that attended loved it," says Janecek. 

Even though the newlyweds didn't get the destination wedding they imagined, they still had a ceremony they will never forget. "This is each our second time getting married," says Janecek. "We didn't want something big and fancy, and not just a standard Florida beach wedding."  

"Although we had to change our wedding plans, we still managed to pull off getting married in a way that is as unique as we are," says Schaar. "It was more fun than we could've hoped for." 

To learn more about Bearadise Ranch, click here or call (941) 322-2462.  

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