In the movie As Good As It Gets, Verdell, a tiny Brussels Griffon, charmed its way into the loveless heart of an acerbic recluse played by Jack Nicholson. The adorable Griff, played by a Griff named Jill (plus several stunt dogs and stand-ins), was probably the first example of the breed many moviegoers had seen. Prior to the movie, the breed was the darling of only a handful of serious fanciers. Suddenly it was thrust into the limelight.
After witnessing the destructive impact movie and TV exposure has had on breeds like the Rottweiler, Dalmatian and Jack Russell Terrier, devotees of Brussels Griffons began to fret. They worried too many people, once they saw the breed, would suddenly want one. They worried the Griffon might degrade, as other breeds have,vthrough ignorant and unscrupulous breeding by those who care more for dollars than dogs. Unfortunately, it seems the breeders' worries may be well-founded.
The increase in interest is alarming, as evidenced by the influx of inquiries to National Brussels Griffon Rescue Chair Marjorie Simon. "The movie came out just before Christmas '97 and in just the first month rescue had over 500 calls," Simon said. "We averaged 30 calls a day." For a breed with only about 550 dogs registered per year, that is too big a jump for devoted breeders to take in stride.
"I really hope this popularity does not hurt the breed too much," said Bethann Lane, the National Brussels Griffon Club volunteer who replies to information requests from the public. NBGC used to average about a dozen inquiries a month, but since the movie that number has increased tenfold. That causes Lane to worry: "When demand exceeds supply, the profiteers step in to fill the void. They don't care about the dogs, they just want to make money." With money the sole motivation, quality suffers, particularly with a breed like the Brussels Griffon with a fairly small gene pool.
How can a potential buyer tell whether a breeder is knowledgeable and ethical? To begin with, avoid any breeder who refers to the dogs as "Brussels." Griffs, Griffies, Griffons, yes, but nobody who really knows the breed ever calls them "Brussels."
Another clue: Expect a breeder to ask many somewhat personal questions about you, your family and your home situation. Do not be offended. Reputable breeders love their dogs like children and would never knowingly place one inappropriately. "They are a very, very sensitive little creature," Lane said. "Someone needs to have the time and the interest to tune into a Griff."
Other clues: Be suspicious if a breeder is in a hurry to place puppies.
Except in unusual situations, breeders do not send Griffons to new homes until they're at least 12 weeks old. Reputable breeders also will not risk that pups sold as pet quality might later be used for breeding. "If a breeder doesn't mention spay and neuter and limited registration for pets, look elsewhere," Simon said.
This article was first published by Dog Fancy magazine.
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