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In 2013, while walking in New York City, Laura Burkart saw a Brussels Griffon who stole her heart. The toy breed oozed personality with big black eyes and a look that said, “I’m your best friend.”
The chance encounter and a growing obsession with the breed eventually led Burkart to throw a lavish Kentucky Derby-themed party this year for 70 of her closest Brussels Griffon pals.
“The breed’s human-like expression drew me in, and right away, I knew I didn’t want to be a dog owner—I wanted to be a Brussels Griffon owner,” Burkart says. “It helped that I loved the 1997 rom-com ‘As Good As It Gets’ with Verdell, a red-coated Griff.”
Gala Griff Gathering
After waiting a year to get her own Brussels—a black, rough-coated one named Hendrik Von Griffon—Burkart began organizing meetups for NYC Griffs, a New York-based social dog club for Brussels Griffons and their owners. The latest meetup was the biggest one yet.
This year’s Kentucky Derby, which is traditionally held on the first Saturday in May, inspired the Griffs Derby Meetup at The Sanctuary on Roosevelt Island. Located on the East River with a clear view of Manhattan, the outdoor facility is an ideal spot for two- and four-legged guests who are ready to dress up and party.
“We needed to find a dog-friendly location that could accommodate our large crowd, and this one fit the bill,” Burkart says. “Wedding venues usually rent for $2,000, so we started a GoFundMe page to help give everyone a good time. Not everyone wants to spend $100 for a dog party.”
Burkart spent weeks planning the perfect dog party, but bad potential weather threatened to put a damper on the outdoor festivities on the morning of the outdoor event.
“On May 7, I woke up to a torrential downpour,” Burkart recalls. “With 50 mph winds, I didn’t think anyone would show up.”
Fortunately, the day was saved and the Sanctuary set up a large tent and heat lamps. Of the 90 RSVPs, 70 Brussels and their owners came out for a good time with both dogs and their owners clad in their best derby fits—over-the-top hats included.
Despite the weather, the 3-hour, multi-tiered soiree included swag bags and photo booths complete with derby-themed backdrops. The Griffs lapped up the dog-friendly ice cream and cake while the adults appreciated the mint juleps, and Andrea Caceres, a well-known NYC illustrator, created digital portraits of the dogs.
“I wanted everyone to leave with something,” Burkart says.
Griff merch, games, and a costume contest added to the day’s fun. With no shortage of rose and horse motif ensembles, the dogs didn’t mind vying for the “Who Wore It Best” award.
Traveling From Out of Town
The canine sniff-fest not only honored the oldest sporting event in the U.S. but special Griff guests Twixie and Cowboy, who “tied the knot” last summer, also traveled from out of state for the festivities. Known as the Midwest Griffs, the bearded couple were in the Big Apple on the same weekend.
“When Griffs come to town, we throw parties in their honor, too,” Burkart says.
More than 70 Griffs and 140 owners trotted to the horse race-nuptial from as far away as Los Angeles, Chicago, Austin, Seattle, and Toronto.
One of the most famous NYC Griffs, Brussels Sprout, was also on the guest list. “He’s a smooth-coated black-and-reddish-brown Griff with 180,000 followers,” Burkart says. “Known for doing amazing tricks, he’s appeared in music videos and has written a book.”
Other big-name Instagram Brussels included Crumb, Omar, and Scully, a smooth-coated female whose over-the-top-floral bonnet scored second place in the hat contest.
Burkart’s Brussels Hendrik, now 5 years old, arrived at the meetup in custom-made emerald green jockey silks. The large H on his chest undoubtedly helped him pull ahead in the costume competition and ultimately winning the “Best Rough Costume” award.
Why Brussels Griffons?
For Burkart, throwing a Griff bash was more than a way to spend a Saturday.
At just 12-pounds, in smooth or rough coats, and in four distinct colors—red, black-and-reddish-brown (called “belge”), black and tan, and black, this little breed with a large personality is popular in New York City, despite being 97th in of the most popular breeds.
“They’re loving, kind, and easily bond with their people,” Burkart says. “Enthusiasts of the breed wanted to get together socially, and the club was a way to meet other Griffs.”
Although the Sanctuary may be a far cry from the historic twin spires of Churchill Downs, this Kentucky Derby-themed event proved a real winner for the breed and raised $500 for the Brussels Griffon Rescue in the process.