BISSELL Blocktail Party smashes previous fundraising record

There were an estimated 300 to 400 dogs at this year's BISSELL Blocktail Party, including this happy pup. (Photo by Jennifer Waters/Grumpy Pups Pet Photography)

There were an estimated 300 to 400 dogs at this year’s BISSELL Blocktail Party, including this happy pup. (Photos by Jennifer Waters/Grumpy Pups Pet Photography)

Just approaching the beautiful grounds of Mangiamo! restaurant in East Grand Rapids on Tuesday night, there was a sense the night would be special. The weather was perfect … 80ish degrees and blue sky, and the outdoor area of the restaurant, as well as the check-in area in the parking lot, already were abuzz.

To say the 10th anniversary of the BISSELL Blocktail Party was a success is a gross understatement. This year’s event for the BISSELL Pet Foundation that provides grants to West Michigan animal advocacy organizations not only broke last year’s fundraising mark of $250,000, it obliterated it.

When the early numbers were crunched on Wednesday, the day after the party, Blocktail had raised an amazing $500,000. An estimated 900 people and 300 to 400 dogs attended the event, with a private sponsors party the previous evening raising additional funds.

“The stars aligned for us this year,” said Cathy Bissell, founder of the BISSELL Pet Foundation and creator of the BISSELL Blocktail Party. “We had the perfect storm without the storm. We knew we wanted to raise more money, but never imagined we would double funds raised from last year.  We could not have done it without the amazing support from our volunteers and most importantly our community.”

it was a family affair for BISSELL Pet Foundation founder Cathy Bissell (right), who welcomed her daughter, Alissandra Kruer (center) and mother, Mary Jane McDonald (left) to the party.

It was a family affair for BISSELL Pet Foundation founder Cathy Bissell (right), who welcomed her daughter, Alissandra Kruer (center) and mother, Mary Jane McDonald (left) to the party.

Bissell said when online ticket sales stopped, 290 had been purchased. The event drew 100 walk-up ticket sales, and the rest were included in the sponsorship packets. If you’re interested in sponsoring the event next year, and attending the private sponsorship event, check out the Blocktail website for information.

Because it was the 10th anniversary of the event, Bissell opted to take a risk and add a private sponsorship event, including a concert by Kenny Loggins and his new band, Blue Sky Riders, the night before Blocktail. That event was a huge success as well, and something Bissell plans to incorporate into future Blocktails.

“We thought we might lose money on that part but we knew we had to so something special for the 10th anniversary, and we ended up making money,” Bissell said.

A live auction at the private event generated $60,000, and Loggins and his band played well beyond the hour and 15 minutes required in the contract. Bissell said she spent a year trying to find the right sound for the event, and fell in love with the band’s CD (the only one currently available). The name of the CD — “Finally Home” — was a sure sign Bissell had found the right band to play the event. The BISSELL Pet Foundation’s motto is “Until every pet has a home.”

“I worked all year to find the right sound, and Kenny Loggins loves animals,” Bissell said. “His new band has an amazing female vocalist, Georgia Middleman, and she and her husband, Gary Burr, are songwriters. … I started listening to their sound and I loved it. By the time I finished listening to the disk I was waking up and singing their songs and saying to myself, ‘They’re good. They’re really good.’ We decided to book them, and they were fantastic.

“When I talked to Shannon Reincke and Heather Garbaty, (committee co-chairs for Blocktail), they listened to the CD and came back with the same thought. And they loved the fact it was ‘Finally Home,’ because that’s our mission.”

Bissell said the band played for two hours, something Loggins himself said was unprecedented.

“They were just having fun watching people dance and kept playing,” Bissell said.

The lead-up to the Blocktail Party was a hit and the main event itself was spectacular. In addition to the cocktails for people and “yappitzers” for the four-legged guests, several local food vendors were on hand, offering guests a variety (yes, including vegan) of selections, all included in the price of a ticket. Bissell said by the time it was said and done, the vendors ran out of food — and that’s a good thing.

“It’s great for them because they don’t want to have to pack up leftover food, and it just shows the people loved their food,” Bissell said.

Chris LaPorte, grand prize winner at ArtPrize 2010, was on hand to draw caricatures of guests' dogs.

Chris LaPorte, grand prize winner at ArtPrize 2010, was on hand to sketch caricatures of party-goers’ canine family members.

Also on hand for the event was ArtPrize winning artist Chris LaPorte, he of the famed “Cavalry, American Officers, 1921” mural that won the grand prize at the 2010 event. LaPorte offered himself for a different type of work … he drew caricatures of guests’ dogs on site.

“For him to come and do caricatures, how cool is that?” Bissell asked. “It was his suggestion. And he offered a ‘Cavalry’ print that we auctioned off the night before at the live auction.”

As Blocktail continues to grow in popularity, the atmosphere at Mangiamo! remains fun and relaxed for people and their pets. With so many dogs on hand, that’s not easy to pull off.

“I think people are pretty careful,” Bissell said. “If their dogs aren’t going to mingle in a crowd, they don’t bring them. If they know if they have a dog that likes people, that’s how they play it out. Why stress out your dog?

“We haven’t had any issues, and you never know, because dogs on leashes can be more aggressive in that situation. But if you see a dog and yours doesn’t like it, you go to a different area. Thank god Mangiamo! is so big and beautiful.”

The best part of Blocktail is what it does for West Michigan pets in need. Grants from the event help organizations like C-SNIP, a low-cost spay and neuter services for low-income families, to animal rescue organizations large and small.

“This event has been part of our community for 10 years and we hope we can show a significant reduction in the number of pets in need of homes in the next 10 years,” said Blocktail co-chair Garbaty. “Everyone who attended the party or supported our cause came through to make a difference for pets. That’s why this party is so special.”