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Locals compete for $100,000 dream wedding

Couple’s moms join the campaign for votes in national contest



Darin Henderson and Carl Cox (Blade photo by Michael Key)

To celebrate the legalization of same-sex marriage in the District, Freedom2Wed is sponsoring a contest to give one lucky gay couple the wedding of a lifetime.

From hundreds of entries nationwide, six couples have been chosen to compete for the top prize. Among the finalists are Carl Cox, 43, and Darin Henderson, 46, a local pair who hope to represent their hometown as the winners. If they get the most online votes, they’ll receive a wedding package sponsored by area businesses that’s worth $100,000 and includes everything from rings to an all-inclusive ceremony and reception.

The event’s chief organizer, Michael Kress, photographer and owner of MBK & Associates, believes that the compelling stories of the diverse finalists “collectively emphasize why same-sex marriage is a historic marker for civil rights in this country.”

Together for four years, Cox and Henderson, who found each other on, have always valued open communication. When they initially started talking online, Cox was honest about not being ready for a long-term relationship — but Henderson was undeterred.

On their first date, Cox ventured from Baltimore to meet Henderson and the two enjoyed an unexpectedly intimate dinner at Blues Alley in Georgetown.

“Darin was persistent and extremely likeable,” Cox says.

After hitting it off that night, they started dating, and with time Cox became less guarded.

“[Darin] was gentle and took down my wall one brick at a time,” Cox says. “He was honest, made himself available, treated me with respect, and was completely invested in every moment we were spending together. It was something I wasn’t accustomed to.”

Henderson never doubted that Cox was worth the effort. A little over a year before they met, Henderson had a series of small heart attacks and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

He was out of work for six months and over that time, he reflected on what he wanted out of life. When he returned to work healthy, he was ready to embrace something entirely new.

“It was the right time for me to meet him,” Henderson says. “He offered a balance to me. I’m more serious and Carl is the funny one, always kidding around and cracking jokes.”

Henderson was especially attracted to Cox’s humble personality.

“He’s so warm and genuine, and he has such a big, kind heart,” Henderson says. “Carl would give the shirt off his back to anyone. He’s a passionate and loving person. Even when he was trying not to display that to me, it’s what I felt.”

After splitting their time between both cities for two years, Cox moved to D.C. The couple now lives in their Northeast Washington home near Union Station, along with their boxer, Cody, and cat, Buddy. They were engaged this January.

“We wanted to wait until [marriage] was legal in our hometown,” Henderson says.

While vacationing in Puerto Vallarta, Cox sealed the deal by getting down on one knee and proposing to Henderson. Although they were already domestic partners and had exchanged rings, they still wanted to celebrate with their loved ones.

“Getting married is so important to me because when I am 60 or 70, I want to have that memory of when I told him how much I loved him in front of our friends and family,” Henderson says.

Declaring their love with family in attendance is non-negotiable for these self-proclaimed “mommas’ boys.” Their mothers, who appeared in the video entry for the contest, were more than happy to vouch for how much the couple deserves to win.

Henderson’s mom, Cherrie Henderson, insists that Cox, who calls her “Momma Two,” has always been like a son to her.

“It was comfortable from the start. We have a lot of fun together and they include me in a lot,” she says. “They compromise, share everything, and look out for each other. If I could have a relationship like that, I would be so happy.”

To do her part, Cherrie Henderson has been tirelessly campaigning for the couple in her hometown of Richmond, Va. She’s been calling and sending letters to gay bars, posting fliers and handing out contest details. Unbeknownst to the couple, she also wrote “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” promising she’d dance for the TV host in exchange for getting the word out about the couple.

Cox’s mom, Nancy Cox, of Annapolis, Md., is pulling for them to win because “it would give them the opportunity to have something they can’t have on their own,” she says. She says she’s inspired largely by the couple’s honesty.

“They’re special because they are who they are. There’s nothing phony about them.”

Blessed with a supportive network of family and friends, Cox and Henderson have always been open about their sexual orientation.

“I’ve never been ashamed of who I am, so I tote my flag, so to speak,” Henderson says.

Both men try to stay involved in LGBT causes. Cox, who owns Baltimore-based design firm Incite Creative, Inc., does pro bono work for organizations like Moveable Feast, a meal delivery service for homebound people living with AIDS. And Henderson, a director of operations for Xerox, is a member of the company’s LGBTA employee caucus. He also testified before D.C. City Council on behalf of same-sex marriage, earning him major points with Cox.

“I was proud of him then and am proud of him today,” Cox says. “As a result of his testimony and that of hundreds of others, marriage equality can now be enjoyed and protected here in D.C. … a place we call home.”

Counting the days until they walk down the aisle, Cox and Henderson are hoping that with the votes of the local community, they’ll have the wedding they always dreamed of.

Regardless of the outcome, they’re just happy that Freedom2Wed is celebrating the diversity of love on a national scale.

“The contest is putting the word out, telling the world that we have every right to express our love,” Cox says. “Marriage is about two individuals who want to share their lives with each other, and it doesn’t have to be between a man and a woman. Win or lose this competition, that’s the main message to get out there. Love is love.”

To vote for the couple, visit Votes will be accepted through Sept. 30.


Real Estate

City inspection codes: How easy is it to fail?

Be sure to check ventilation, smoke detectors, and more



Landlords are required to install and maintain smoke detectors in their rental properties.

In the District of Columbia, rental properties are required to meet certain health and safety standards. These standards are set by the District’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA).

If you own a rental property in the District of Columbia, you may be required to have your property inspected by the DCRA to ensure that it meets these standards. The inspection process typically involves a DCRA inspector visiting the property and checking for any hazards or code violations.

It’s important to make sure that your property is in good condition and meets the District’s health and safety standards, as failing a rental property inspection can have serious consequences. If your property fails the inspection, you may be required to make repairs or upgrades in order to bring it into compliance. If you are unable to do so, you may be forced to stop renting out the property until the necessary repairs are made.

Overall, the likelihood of failing a rental property inspection in the District of Columbia will depend on the condition of your property and whether it meets the applicable health and safety standards. To minimize the risk of failing an inspection, it’s important to keep your property well maintained and address any potential hazards or code violations as soon as possible.

In the District of Columbia, landlords are responsible for maintaining their rental properties in a safe and habitable condition. If a rental property is not in compliance with the city’s health and safety standards, the landlord may be cited for code violations.

Some common code violations that landlords in the District of Columbia may be cited for include:

• Lack of adequate heating or ventilation: Landlords are required to provide sufficient heating and ventilation systems to ensure the health and safety of their tenants.

• Electrical or plumbing issues: Landlords are responsible for ensuring that their properties have functional electrical and plumbing systems. All plumbing fixtures must be properly sealed, in other words, no holes in the walls. All water heaters require pressure relief valves

Structural issues: Landlords must maintain their properties in a safe and structurally sound condition.

Pest infestations: Landlords are required to address and eliminate pest infestations in their rental properties.

Lack of smoke detectors: Landlords are required to install and maintain smoke detectors in their rental properties. Detectors must be placed 36” from ceiling fan blades and away from the path of the HVAC registers.

Proper locks: All exit and security gate locks must be easy to operate and must not require a key to exit.

It’s important for landlords in the District of Columbia to be aware of these and other code violations and take steps to ensure that their properties are in compliance with the city’s health and safety requirements.

Scott Bloom is senior property manager and owner, Columbia Property Management. For more information and resources, go to

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Canino Dog Boutique offers healthful food, accessories

Cati Sesana opens new store on Belmont Street in Northwest



Cati Sesana owns Canino Dog Boutique at 1409 Belmont St., N.W. (Photo courtesy Sesana)

Cati Sesana was sitting at home trying to help her mom find a local shop in D.C. that would have a cute sweater for her dog but couldn’t find much outside of the big-box stores. Last month, she opened Canino Dog Boutique to solve the problem.

“I was like ‘Let me do some research,’ there are shops like this in New York but I don’t know of one in D.C.,” she said.  

However, Sesana had a long journey from researching the pet boutique business to her opening day. Sesana played water polo at George Washington University and majored in music, so she didn’t know much about starting a business. 

One of her first tasks was figuring out what she was going to sell. 

“Initially I was just going to do accessories or apparel and not treats or food,” she said. “But I got really deep into pet nutrition and what’s going to make your dog live the longest.”

She recalled the initial trouble she had with finding food for her dog, Aiko and wanted to eliminate that worry for her customers. 

“I only carry two dog food brands, so I kind of get rid of that overwhelming decision-making that’s like, ‘What do I do? What’s right for my dog?’ so I only carry brands I know and trust,” she said. 

As for her apparel and accessories, she only sells products from small and local shops that don’t have distribution in major retailers. One of the local shops Sesana purchases from told her that she was their first retailer and that since then, business has improved. 

“By shopping here, you’re helping other small businesses and it all kind of domino effects,” Sesana said. 

As a first-time business owner herself, Sesana knows all about the obstacles of trying to get a small business off the ground. 

 “The biggest challenge was finding a landlord that would give me an opportunity,” she said. 

Sesana visited spaces in a lot of high foot-traffic shopping areas, like Georgetown and met plenty of landlords who loved her concept but didn’t want a first-time business owner. 

“I think the pandemic scared landlords from giving smaller businesses a chance, because so many closed,” she said. “But then the personality of a neighborhood kind of disintegrates a lot. … Why would I come to 14th Street when I can shop from Lululemon online?”

Finally, Sesana was given a chance for a space just off of 14th Street on Belmont Street. Conveniently located next to Streets Market and across the street from Doozydog! Club.

On Nov. 6 she opened her doors and has worked every day since then. The store is open Monday through Friday, from 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 4-7 p.m. and on weekend 10:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. Sesana is currently the only employee. 

“I am the company graphic designer, customer service, and dog walker!” she said, motioning to her dog lying in his doggie bed. 

After Sesana closes the store, she is out into the night playing the drums in a band. 

She says that being a musician has given her the right mentality to get through the long days at her boutique. 

“Slow days are tough, but I can zoom out and see the bigger picture,” she said.

Canino Dog Boutique is located at 1409 Belmont St NW, Washington, DC 20009

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Real Estate

Top tax benefits of homeownership

Mortgage interest, property tax deductions, and more



Thinking of buying a house? Here are some of the many tax advantages that come with homeownership.

As we are closing out 2023 and getting ready to start 2024, now is a good time to review what tax benefits most homeowners are getting. There are several categories that you can look at to see if you will benefit from being a homeowner. According to, here are some of them:

  • Mortgage interest.  Most newer homeowners are paying more on the interest in their monthly mortgage payment than on the principal, so this could be a big tax benefit.
  • Home equity loan interest – HELOC (home equity line of credit) loans are like a 2nd mortgage on your home. Many homeowners can use it to make upgrades to their house and interest on these loans is deductible if you used it for that purpose.
  • Discount points – for those of you that purchased in the last year or so these may apply, as these are the price paid to lower an interest rate on a loan.
  • Property taxes – depending on where you live, your state and local property taxes may be a big source of tax deductions for you.
  • Necessary home improvements – even if you did not use a HELOC to improve your home, some of your expenses in this category may be deductible.
  • Home office expenses – as more and more people are working from home, this should not go unexamined in your search to find tax deductions.
  • Capital Gains – a capital gain is the difference between the value of a home when you sold it versus when you borrowed it. So, if you sold your home for a significant profit and did not roll over those gains into a new property within a short period of selling the old property, then ask your tax professional up to which amount of these profits are not taxable.

We asked Tina Del Casale ([email protected]), a DMV-area lender with Sandy Spring Bank, what she thought about the tax benefits of homeownership, and here is her answer:

“Most homeowners wish they knew sooner that most every major home improvement can reduce your future capital gains when you are ready to sell your home. While the deduction for a single person is $250,000, and for married couples is $500,000, the DMV has seen property appreciation that outpaces those numbers. So keep ALL your receipts for replacement items like your HVAC, windows, doors, roof, major landscaping and updating bathrooms and kitchens. You will thank me later! Of course most importantly consult a tax adviser for up-to-date information!”

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to either of us if you have more questions and happy holidays! Let’s get you home for the holidays.

Joseph Hudson is a Realtor with the Rutstein Group of Compass. Reach him at 703-587-0597 or [email protected].

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