Table of Contents:
- Finding the Right Dog from the Right Person
- Brussels Sprout: Smarter Than the Average Dog
- A Serious Health Scare
- More Than Just Followers: Building a Community
When Sigrid Neilson first met her beloved Brussels Griffon, the aptly named Brussels Sprout, she thought he looked like a yam with eyes.
“He was the runt of the litter, but I loved him immediately,” Neilson recalls. “Sprout stood out from the rest of the litter, and just stared at me so intently from the moment we saw each other. It felt like he picked me.”
Neilson had grown up with a mix of dogs, from both breeders and rescues from shelters, but she had always wanted a Brussels Griffon.
“The breed is very snuggly and sweet. They have a lot of personality and are very humorous. They’re often referred to as ‘velcro dogs’ because they stay by your side and follow you wherever you go,” says Neilson. “I had met a few Brussels Griffons here in New York City, and it sealed the deal for me.”
Finding the Right Dog from the Right Person
Although Neilson is an advocate for adopting rescue dogs and a foster “mom” herself, she knew that she wanted a Brussels Griffon and chose to go through a breeder. She decided to tap into the American Brussels Griffon Association network to research reputable breeders, and eventually found a small breeder in Florida whom she connected with over the course of several months.
Not all breeders are created equal, however. “There are definitely red flags that people need to look out for should they decide to find their dog through a breeder, particularly now with the ease of the Internet. If you choose to work with a breeder, it’s crucial to do your homework and ensure you’re not supporting a puppy mill,” Neilson says.
For those interested in finding a puppy from a breeder, Neilson suggests considering the following tips to ensure the best experience:
- Be Wary of the Internet. The Internet is a great place for research, but anyone willing to sell or ship you a puppy through a website is not likely legit. “This is a living, breathing creature, not a new phone or pair of shoes,” says Neilson. “If the process feels like an online shopping experience, that’s concerning.” Instead, Neilson recommends first checking with the association connected to the breed of dog you are looking for, and searching their list of breeder names. Many breed associations have a referral program, and speaking directly with the individuals who run the program can be a great resource.
- Create a relationship with the breeder first. If a breeder brings up money in the early stages of your inquiry, it might be a red flag. “The breeder should be asking as many questions about you and your home as you are asking about them,” says Neilson. “It’s really about forming the relationship, and should not feel transactional.”
- Expect for it to take a while. Don’t expect to connect with the first breeder you find, and even if you do, you shouldn’t expect to pick up a puppy right away. “The most important part of the experience is finding the right fit, and that can make for a very involved process, particularly since most responsible breeders don’t have litters very often.” If a breeder has a constant flow of multiple litters at a time, that also might be a red flag.
- Find Other Ways to Support Rescues. If you choose to get a puppy through a breeder, you can and should be supportive of animal welfare and rescue groups. “Find a way that speaks to you, whether it’s volunteering, donating, or otherwise,” Neilson suggests. “When I got Sprout, I made a commitment that I would donate to the Brussels Griffon rescue association each year for his birthday.”
Brussels Sprout: Smarter Than the Average Dog
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Once Neilson finally got Brussels Sprout back to her NYC apartment, he adjusted to city living pretty quickly.
“Sprout is an old soul, he can be kind of serious at times. He’s very cerebral, very cautious. He thinks a little more deeply than most other dogs,” says Neilson.
In fact, Sprout was such a mature dog that, as a puppy, Neilson asked doggie daycare not to put him in the puppy room because he wouldn’t vibe with their energy level. Instead, she requested that he hang out with the older dogs, where he thrived.
Neilson soon discovered that his intelligence extended beyond social situations, as she noticed Sprout trying to cheat his way through tricks she was teaching him. “He started to think about the fastest way to get the treat, and he cut corners to do it,” Neilson recalls. “He tried to game the system!”
She began taking him to agility classes after he proved to be quite confident on the equipment during his obedience training. Neilson was impressed by the fact that little Sprout took to the agility training classes so quickly and naturally, which also allowed the pair to enjoy more bonding time. Sprout excelled so much in his agility classes that Neilson decided to start entering him in competitions.
“He is very brave despite his size,” says Neilson. “It’s been a great experience. It’s a competition, but it’s not cutthroat. People are very friendly and supportive, and Sprout is adorable, so I think people really get a kick out of watching him run.”
A Serious Health Scare
In 2018, at just 2 years old, Sprout was diagnosed with syringomyelia, also known as a chiari-like malformation, which is a neurological disorder. The condition is not uncommon in Brussels Griffons, along with other breeds, including King Charles Cavalier Spaniels and Yorkshire Terriers, among others. Syringomyelia can affect coordination, balance, and lead to general weakness over time, but can also be managed, especially in mild cases. The key is to try to catch symptoms early and begin medical intervention.
“Sprout’s condition is the one time that being a hypochondriac really paid off for me!” laughs Neilson. “Many of the symptoms are things that all dogs have to some degree, like scratching, head shaking, or butt scooting, but over time I started to notice behavior that seemed patterned. Like, he’d start with head scratching, then a head shake, then a butt scoot, and it just felt different than normal behavior.”
Neilson started recording these episodes of patterned behavior on her phone and was able to show her vet exactly what was happening when she took Sprout in for a visit. Sprout’s vet recommended that they see a specialist, and they went for a neurological consult to get an official diagnosis.
“It’s still complicated to understand even though he’s been living with it for 2 years. We see the neurologist once a year now, although, if we have concerns, we’ll make an additional appointment,” says Neilson. “The medicine greatly helps, and we have a team of vets that we love and trust, which is so important when your dog has a degenerative disease. You have to remain vigilant and stay on top of treatment. I am glad I listened to my intuition and caught it early.”
Neilson was aware that syringomyelia was a potential health predisposition in Brussels Griffons before bringing Sprout home.
“Every breed comes with its own potential for health problems,” says Neilson . “Make sure you thoroughly research the breed before bringing them home and talk to the breeder about any issues beforehand to better understand any potential health conditions and how to deal with them.”
More Than Just Followers: Building a Community
Brussels Sprout might be Instagram famous, but he’s so much more than a pretty face. The community created by his account has fostered a sense of support and helped to spread cheer.
“So much of what we do is inspired by our followers,” says Neilson. “A follower recently asked us to set up a Sprout-themed virtual background for their Zoom calls and it evolved into becoming a fundraiser for Mask A Hero, which is a nonprofit that helps provide N95 masks to healthcare workers in the US.”
The effort has raised over $800 so far. Additionally, Neilson donates all the proceeds from purchases of Sprout swag, including an annual calendar, to various rescue and animal welfare organizations, proving that it’s possible to use your influencer platform for a good cause.