Elk Grove, California. The French Bulldog business is booming thanks to Jaimar Del Rosario, a breeder whose puppies can sell for tens of thousands of dollars. When he leaves the house to meet a customer, his checklist includes veterinary papers, a bag of puppy food, and his Glock 26.
“If I don’t know the area, if I don’t know the people, I always carry a gun with me,” Mr. Del Rosario said recently during the afternoon, showing off Cashew, a 6-month-old French bulldog, a new “fluffy” variety that can cost 30,000 dollars or more.
With their perky ears, pick-me-and-cradle look, and short-legged crocodile gait, French Bulldogs have become the “that” dog for influencers, pop stars, and professional athletes. Faithful companions in the age of work from home, French Bulldogs always seem to be ready to post on Instagram. They are currently the second most popular dog breed in the United States after Labrador Retrievers.
They are also forcibly stolen from their owners with alarming frequency. Over the past year, French Bulldog robberies have been reported in Miami, New York, Chicago, Houston, and I think especially all over California. Often dogs are taken at gunpoint. In perhaps the most famous theft, Lady Gaga’s two French bulldogs, Koji and Gustav, were torn from the hands of her dog breeder, who was wounded, strangled and shot to death in a sidewalk attack in Los Angeles last year.
The cost of owning a Frenchie has been a strain on a family’s budget for years – puppies typically sell for between $4,000 and $6,000, but can fetch several times more if it’s one of the new trendy breeds. However, owning a French Bulldog increasingly comes with a non-monetary cost: the paranoia of a thief trying to climb over a garden fence. Hypervigilance while walking the dog after reading about the latest kidnapping.
For unlucky owners, French Bulldogs are a confluence of two very American traits: the love of companion dogs and the ubiquity of firearms.
On a cool January evening in the Adams Point neighborhood of Oakland, California, Rita Varda was walking Dezzy, her seven-year-old French girl, near her home. An SUV pulled up and its passengers got out and rushed towards her.
“They had a gun and they said, ‘Give me your dog,'” Ms Varda said.
Three days later, a stranger called and said she had found a dog roaming the local high school. Ms. Varda now takes self-defense classes and advises French Bulldog owners to carry pepper spray or a whistle with them. Ms Varda says she doesn’t know why Dezzy’s kidnappers abandoned him, but it could be due to his advanced age: the French have one of the most shortest lifespan among dog breeds, and 7 years has long been in the teeth.
In late April, Christina Rodriguez was driving home from work at a cannabis dispensary in the Melrose area of Los Angeles. When she pulled up to her North Hollywood home, someone opened her car door and took Mulan away., her 2 year old black and white Frenchie.
Ms. Rodriguez said she did not remember many of the details of the theft. “When you have a gun in your head, you just lose consciousness,” she said.
But CCTV footage in her area and near the dispensary appears to indicate that the thieves followed her for 45 minutes in traffic before pouncing.
“They stole my baby from me,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “It’s so sad to come home every day and not see her greet me.”
Patricia Sosa, board member of the French Bulldog Club of America, said she was not aware of any annual thefts. Social media groups created by French owners are often full of warnings. If you have French, says one post on facebook group dedicated to lost or stolen French Bulldogs, “don’t lose sight of it.”
“Criminals make more money stealing Frenchies than they do shoplifting,” the report said.
Ms. Sosa, who has a breeding business north of New Orleans, said the temptation to cash in on the French Bulldog craze has also spawned an entire industry of bogus sellers demanding deposits for dogs that don’t exist.
“There is so much scam going on,” she said. “People think, ‘Hey, I’ll say I have a Frenchman for sale and make five, six, seven thousand dollars quickly.’
Ms Sosa said breeders are particularly vulnerable to theft. She doesn’t give her address to clients until she has thoroughly researched them. “I have security cameras everywhere,” she said.
French Bulldogs, as the name suggests, are a French offshoot of small bulldogs bred in England in the mid-1800s. An earlier version of the Bouledogue Français, as it is called in France, was favored by Parisian butchers as a pied-catcher, and then became the toy dog of artists and the bourgeoisie, as well as the canine muse that appeared in the works of Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
Today, the American Kennel Club defines French Bulldogs as having “a square head with bat ears and a roach back.”
In the world of veterinary medicine, the French are controversial because their favored traits – large heads and bulging puppy eyes, sunken noses and skin folds – create what Dan O’Neill, a canine expert at the Royal Veterinary College London, calls “ultra-predisposition” to medical problems.
Their heads are so large that mothers have trouble giving birth; Most French Bulldog puppies are born by caesarean section. Their short, muscular bodies also make natural conception difficult. Breeders usually artificially inseminate dogs.
What worries researchers like Mr. O’Neill is the dog’s flat muzzle, which can make it difficult to breathe. French Bulldogs often snore even when fully awake, they often tire quickly and are susceptible to heat. They may also develop a rash in the folds of the skin. Due to their bulging eyes, some French Bulldogs cannot blink properly.
Mr O’Neill leads the group veterinarians and other dog handlers in the United Kingdom, which encourages potential buyers to “stop and think before buying a flat-faced dog”, which includes French Bulldogs, English Bulldogs, Pugs, Shih Tzu, Pekingese and Boxers.
“There is a crisis in flat-faced dogs,” Mr. O’Neill said. French Bulldogs, he concluded in a recent study, have four times the rate of disorder than all other dogs.
These pleas and warnings have not stopped French Bulldogs from skyrocketing in popularity, thanks in large part to social media. As in the United States, the French Bulldog in the UK is head to head with the Labrador for the title of most popular breed in recent years.
Ms. Sosa blamed poor breeding for poor results. “Well-behaved dogs are relatively healthy,” she said.
Mr. Del Rosario, a breeder in Elk Grove, a suburb of the city south of Sacramento, says professional football and basketball players have been among his most loyal clients. He sold puppies to players from the Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Houston Texans, New York Jets, and Arizona Cardinals. Four years ago, the San Francisco 49ers acquired Zoe, a black and brindle Frenchie who serves as the team’s emotional support dog. Two years later, the team added to their list of newlyweds, a blue-gray French bulldog puppy with brown eyes. list of dogs.
Mr. Del Rosario’s most expensive Frenchie was “lilac” with a purple-gray coat, light eyes that shone red, and a pinkish tint on the muzzle. She was sold for $100,000 to a South Korean buyer who wanted the dog because of her rare genetics. This dog was one of several hundred puppies that Mr. Del Rosario has sold over the past decade and a half.
He left seven Frenchmen for his extended family, including two daughters, aged 9 and 10. The girls play with the French at home, but Mr. Del Rosario strictly forbids them from walking their dogs alone.
“I don’t care if you go to the mailbox,” he said. “No, they just can’t kick the dogs out themselves.
“With all this stuff going on with these dogs, you just never know.”