Jackie and Tim Martin have been married 18 times, but they have never been divorced. No, they're not polygamists--just a monogamous couple who have renewed their wedding vows on 17 occasions in ceremonies held at animal shelters in 17 states.
Last month this Southern California twosome traveled to Auburn, Nebraska, to say, "I do" at the Hearts United for Animals shelter founded by Carol and Dennis Wheeler.
"Hearts United for Animals is a place of happiness, joy, and love. Hearts United is a place to celebrate joy of life and a perfect setting to reunite our human hearts," says Tim Martin.
The couple felt Hearts United was an appropriate place to repeat their vows because "it's what we do," Jackie explained. "Each year we reunite our hearts in marriage and do so while we reflect our love for each other and animals." The Martins selected Hearts United because of the shelter's programs like Sanctuary Sweethearts and Legacy of Love. Sanctuary Sweethearts are dogs not suitable for adoption that are cared for and never euthanized. Legacy of Love makes certain that animals are nurtured after their human family members die.
The idea for a wedding among the animals came when they visited Shambala, Tippi Hedren's animal preserve in 1990. When Tim and Jackie told Tippi that they usually included animals in their wedding ceremonies, Tippi invited them to wed at Shambala.
That ceremony began with the bride and groom riding atop Timbo the elephant. Natasha, a Siberian tiger, was the maid of honor who signed the wedding certificate with her paw print.
Subsequent weddings have included bear and wolf cubs, llamas, horses, a cheetah, horned owls, and two ferrets as attendants.
Some of the organizations that have hosted the weddings include Noah's Ark in Fairfield, Iowa; Montana Large Animal Sanctuary and Rescue; International Society for the Preservation of Mustangs and Burrows in South Dakota: PIGS, a sanctuary in West Virginia; and International Primate Protection League (IPPL) in South Carolina.
"Being married in the midst of 33 gibbons in South Carolina was a real treat," says Tim. "And we even made Fox News for about 10 seconds." Also witnessing this sixteenth wedding held beneath a gauzy white arbor were two canine mascots and over a dozen human guests. The couple pledged "amidst the glory of nature [to] take each other to be lawfully wedded partners for the rest of-and best of-their lives."
After reading Fit for Life in 1988 the Martins started making changes in their lifestyle that moved them toward vegetarianism. The journey became complete after they heard John Robbins speak in Hawaii.
"We've been practically vegan most of that time, although realizing that it's extremely difficult to be pure vegan with all of the different processes food and products go through," says Tim. "We do use a camera. We do the best we can."
Tim admits to his former life as a carnivore who could "eat four prime ribs in one sitting." Now when someone asks him how long he has been a vegetarian, he answers, " Not nearly long enough."
Their "newrewed" tradition began with a barefoot wedding ceremony on a Maui beach. Tony Robbins, popular motivational speaker, agreed to be their best man.
When they are not renewing their marriage vows, the two are involved in their own jobs in education and the legal system. Jackie teaches special education while Tim refers to himself as a "courting specialist" performing research and doing filings for attorneys.
They share their home with Charlie, a rottweiler-shepherd mix who "determines who sleeps where on the bed." Anyone visiting their home will quickly realize the situation when they read the doormat that says, " A spoiled rotten dog lives here."
The Martins are looking forward to tying the knot for the nineteenth time next year in a location where both animal and human friends will share their joy.