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Belgium’s National Lapdog by Nic Downs

Simply put, there was more to Belgium than waffles.

Bustling cities, picturesque farmland, towering cathedrals, linguistic diversity, world-class beer—they all vied for my attention as I backpacked through a lovely little country no larger than the state of Maryland.

One evening, while browsing through a historic library in the seaside town of Ostend, I ran across a book—well, what was left of a book, considering it’d been published in 1912—entitled Le Griffon Bruxellois: Notre Compagnon Cheri. On the cover was the image of a small, terrier-like dog underneath the Belgian flag. As an animal lover, I was immediately intrigued. Now, if only my French would hold up! Cheri, I remembered, meant beloved, and compagnon meant companion—a decent start!

What began as curiosity, however, soon turned to full-fledged fascination. For several hours I sat reading, engrossed in the history of a breed whose scruffy coat and gentle, loving demeanor had long since made it a national favorite. Remarkably, the library curator, an elderly Flemish woman with enough accent to befuddle even the best of us, noticed my book and paused beside me, her eyes full of excitement.

Beste hond ter wereld,” she said.

I smiled. “Sorry, I don’t speak Dutch.”

She looked even more interested. “Ah, you’re American?”

“Canadian, actually.”

“I said it’s the best dog in the world.”

“You have one?” I asked.

“Of course! I keep her here with me.”

“No, you’re pulling my leg.”

“Not at all.”

The woman, as if eager to prove me wrong, led me to her office, opened a small cage tucked away in a corner, and scooped up a strikingly familiar little animal. I observed the creature in her arms and then glanced at the cover of my book. Identical!

“Her name is Ella,” she said, trying to keep the pup from wiggling out of her grasp. “She’s about six months old. We found her wandering through a train station in Torhout, about fifteen miles south of here.”

“Abandoned?”

“Yeah, most likely.”

“What a shame.”

The woman shook her head. “No. If they hadn’t abandoned her, I wouldn’t have a friend.”

“Good point.”

She then set Ella on the floor, retrieved a piece of beef jerky from a jar, and grinned at me. “Watch this.” The dog fell into a frenzy, running in circles, jumping and salivating with anticipation. “Rustig!” she commanded. The dog froze. “Sta op!” With this second command, the dog stood on its hind legs and balanced itself for a good fifteen seconds, staring at the treat above.

I was thoroughly impressed. “Did you teach her that?”

“Yep. She learned it in less than an hour.”

“Must be a Belgian thing,” I joked. “Dogs in my home country would’ve taken a week!”

~

If you’re interested in Belgian culture and happen to be a dog-lover, then the Brussels Griffon, a feisty little lapdog known to bond with its owners like adhesive, just might be the perfect companion for you. The breed, as its name suggests, originated in and around Belgium’s capital city during the latter half of the nineteenth century. At the time, it was commonplace for farmers to keep small, agile, terrier-like dogs on their property to eliminate mice, rats, and other pests. Such dogs, experts believe, were almost certainly the ancestors of today’s Brussels Griffon, which was officially recognized by the AKC in 1910 as a member of the Toy Group. With a good health record, even temperament, and a lifespan of up to fifteen years, the breed continues to enjoy popularity in both Europe and the United States. The Griffon even appeared in the 1997 hit movie As Good as It Gets.

For more information on the breed, visit the American Brussels Griffon Association (ABGA) website at www.brussels-griffon.info

 

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